There’s nothing like an unexpected race down an exciting river to hail in the New Year! I discovered this last weekend (Saturday the 7th of January) at the fantastic event that was the Clare Glens race, organised and run by Eoin Keyes, Orky and a gang of the excellent ULKC paddlers as rescue.
On Friday I arrived home tired from the first few days of post-Christmas placement, with the traces of Kerry hangover still lurking in dark corners, to the information that the following morning there would be a whitewater race nearby, and on one of my favourite rivers in Ireland: the Clare Glens. (Thanks for telling me Derv!). The Clare Glens is a short stretch of beautiful grade four whitewater, with waterfalls, slides and rapids, and in previous years the race had been an invitation only event which saw some of the best whitewater kayakers in Ireland compete (and frequently swim). So as I pulled up in the carpark on Saturday morning I was feeling quite excited, and even a little nervous.
This year the race was run on a very simple system – competitors pay a tenner in, the entry fee is pooled, and divided up into the prize money. There’s rescue on the major features (thanks again to the rescue boaters), and paddlers set off every 2 minutes. All nice and simple as explained in the briefing by the day’s MC. We changed, hopped in shuttle and proceeded to the footbridge below constriction, the start of the race.
Colin Wong, the winner.
So that is how at noon I was sitting in my boat on a muddy river bank spotted with the green of moss and incredibly rare ferns (which are fairly similar to normal ferns you are just not allowed step on them), poised with the nose of my flamboyantly yellow boat overhanging the murky brown river. Waiting for the start I noticed a slight nervous tremor in my hands and that and my stomach was expressing its desire to sit the race out. But then the countdown began and the helping hand on my tail slid the boat forward, launched it; with a bang it hit the surface of the water and the race was on.
The tactic I (and I suspect others) took is to paddle quickly and impressively till you get round the corner and no one can see you and then slow down so you aren’t knackered after the first three minutes. Nerves were still making things a little on the shaky side but some nice lines down the first few rapids relaxed them a bit and I started to enjoy myself. The great thing about the single timed run format of the race is that unlike the boater-cross you don’t have to worry about jostling people down rapids or tire yourself out trying to keep ahead, you can relax, take your own pace and concentrate on having fun and getting down without mishap. The downside is that for many of the rapids there’s no-one to rescue you if you do run into difficulty – rescue can’t cover the whole river and the next paddler is two minutes behind.
Rescue from boat and bank ready after Big Eas
However nothing too strange or startling occurred for until, when I was nice and warmed, up another footbridge loomed up ahead and I saw the brightly coloured evidence of rescue on the bank. This heralded the run in to the main falls or Big Eas (eas, pronounced ass, is Irish for waterfall for the non-natives reading this), a lovely 2 metre waterfall, where not only have many skilled boaters come to grief, but where I knew my parents would be waiting with dog and camera to cheer, or laugh if I swam. Fuelled by a malicious desire to deny them this spectacle, I charged through the first hole of the run in, slid gracefully down the slide, and promptly capsized, about 7m form the lip. One of the fastest panic roles of my paddling career later and I was back paddling, praying no-one saw that. Thankfully I manage to hit a nice line on Big Eas, and with newfound confidence and a certain amount of relief it was on to the next drop – Little Eas.
Little Eas being run on the right
As is inevitably the case when you start to feel confident I made a bit of a mess of it and ended up unexpectedly pulling myself along the rock face away from the hole on the left (the less said about how the better). Panting and slightly embarrassed by the rescue’s cheering, I continued on my way. I was starting to tire at this stage so thankfully the last few rapids passed without major incident and a short while later I passed under the final bridge to collapse in an eddy, thoroughly knackered.
Myself on Big Eas
It was a fantastic day, a fabulous river and an excellent race. Finding I had headed the (not very large) ladies’ category with a time of 11.52 was merely the smallest bit of icing on an entirely satisfactory cake. Well done to Colin Wong the winner with a time 9.25, Paddy McGovern only four seconds behind in second place and to Eoin Keyes who pulled the whole event together, as well as coming in third place. Full results are posted elsewhere.
Hey look, I won something!