8 May 2024

Team Day on the River


In 1993 The Sultan’s of Ping released their epic track ‘where’s me jumper’ unaware that 31 years later, on the 13.17 out of Portslade, our youngest participant Will Matthews, equipped with 2 lovely fleeced lined sweaters would deny lending a garment to the under prepared Alex Parker. There was to be no dancing at the disco as the tone was set for a tension filled afternoon on the Thames.

As enthusiastic participants arrived, our host eagerly ensured waivers were signed, collected, then disconcertingly taken out of the room and locked in a bomb proof safe. Once the safety of legal action was indemnified against, we went through how we might perish, get injured or horrifically sick. Unlikely to happen though. Apparently.



Playful laughs were exchanged and we were ushered downstairs for buoyancy aid fitting, paddle selection then onward to the pontoon for boat fitting. The kayaks appeared to come in 3 sizes; extra small, very small, or too small. Squeezing into a tightly fitting kayak on the pontoon gave rise to only one question; will I be able to get out of it, if it capsizes? These concerns were brushed away because if you find yourself upside down on the Thames with the hull of your boat facing upward, you simply tap the hull 3 times with your hands and someone will rescue you. Ha ha. No seriously.



So into the water. Brave Charlie, top of the SHW football fantasy league and therefore everything to live for was the first to be delicately slid into the inviting river water. His survival gave everyone confidence, because if he could do it, then surely we all could. Our hosts then started sliding SHW employees into the welcoming Thames like a BBC documentary releasing captive porpoises back into the wild.


With everyone afloat and once Paul Farrell was able to arrest spinning around like he had Kylie on repeat in his ear buds, we started to progress Eastward down the river.




We then came across the opening where the river Tyburn meets the Thames and a dark foreboding aperture with the stench of London’s hidden history wafting across us, or potentially it was the fact I was following Duncan Bannister at that moment, but either way the weight of history left it’s presence.


As we cleared Vauxhall Bridge, Claudia was taking on water at a rate of knots, completely unbalancing her impeccable rhythm and paddle control. How water entered her kayak is still open to debate. A snorkeller matching the description of a certain James Bryant was mentioned appearing close to Claudia’s boat (presumably in an attempt to refocus the SHW indignity of capsizing in 2023). However, this could have been a buoy bobbing alongside us, no one knew. Either way Claudia dealt with the issue, and we were again on our way.




As our host’s gained confidence that we may all survive, we were invited to form a kayak circle. As we started to form up, we were instructed to “grip your colleague’s rim tightly and pull them toward you”, and likewise “they grab your rim”. With all our rims firmly gripped, the SHW team bonding reached it's peak and we formed what can only be described as an adequate circle, but certainly no more. Everyone felt good about this, and no tribunals were required.


While appearances can be deceiving, Alex Denning couldn’t have turned up looking more nautically assured, and throughout looked like watersports were generally his comfort zone. Even the yacht club members were referring to him as Captain. Likewise Alex Bond, with shades and a demeanor of this being the easiest thing he’d done since fishing for pound coins in Croydon Canal, put those of us with a slight sense of terror to shame.


While we’ve also mentioned the Tyburn, the river Fleet also joins the Thames at Blackfriars and inspired the short poem:


"Sweepings from Butchers Stalls, Dung, Guts and Blood, 
Drown'd Puppies, stinking Sprats, all drench'd in Mud, 
Dead Cats and Turnip-Tops come tumbling down the Flood”.


Our contingent from Fleet were anything but, with Andrew Stent a commanding presence throughout, and Julia Kordes looking untroubled by any kind of wash, splashback or breakwater. Jack Clapham however aimed to ruin Fleet’s untarnished kayaking record with a dismount and flop onto the jetty at the end that left him with a cut finger and dented pride.


Others got out with considerably less fuss, Henry, Jack Manton, Lily, Tom Freeman, Barney, Thomas all managing the simple exiting of the water that Jack ‘I could probably dock and get out of this on my own without any help’ Clapham failed to achieve. But we’re not here to dig anyone out.


With mixed hot showers available, everyone got warmed up, towelled off and onto refreshments at the White Swan in Plimlico. The buffet was amazing, chat and laughter were had none of which were at the expense of anyone’s t-shirt or garments.


With trains, tubes, buses, taxis and hitch-hiking to get home, everyone reflected on a brilliantly organised kayaking event. Thanks to PN and FG.