20 June 2008

The kayaking comeback kid

It’s very easy to lose all sense of time once you’re cocooned on your boat. For example, the other day, I only found out it was Friday 13th at 6pm that evening. How useful would it have been if I’d known at 6am. For if I had, I would not have gone and bought a kayak (not to be confused with a canoe. You sit in a kayak and use a two-bladed paddle, you kneel in a canoe and use a single-bladed paddle). And I certainly would not have gone out in it. I mean, I’m not superstitious but there’s no point tempting fate is there? But because I didn’t know, the following happened. At 5.15, I got into my new kayak. It’s a fluorescent orangey red, so you won’t miss me. At 5.24, I got out of my new kayak. The problem was, I didn’t want to get out. Well, I did, but I wanted to get out onto the bank. Not out of the kayak and into the rather bracing Llangollen canal. There is a difference.

It all happened so quickly that I’m not sure what exactly happened...I suspect this novitiate rather screwed things up, to be blunt. One second I was sitting upright inside the kayak, the next I was standing chest high next to an upside down kayak. But there wasn’t time to dwell on the cause as I was much more concerned with the effect – me in the water with no obvious way of getting out. Of course, if I’d been a lithe, athletic fifteen year old, I would just have sprung forth from the waters like a terpsichorean naiad but it’s been a long time since I was fifteen and the years haven’t been kind. My first attempts at levering myself out failed miserably so I hunted out a large rock with my feet to supply the necessary elevation to make a second assault on the towpath. I sprang up, scrabbling at the grass for a handhold, heedless of my shorts lowering themselves to half mast, and, with all the grace and elegance of a beached whale, I succeeded in regaining dry land and readjusting my knickers. The Llangollen can rarely have witnessed such a lack of decorum but by some blessed chance, my only witnesses were the lower lock gates that stood sentinel over the unfolding farce.

And yet the day had started off so well. I arrived at Brookbank Canoes, explained that I was a complete beginner and could they show me something that was big and stable, something with pootle-ability rather than go faster stripes. A coracle perhaps? The first one we looked at had a cockpit obviously designed for one of those emaciated size zero people. The nearest thing to size zero on me is my wrist. I looked at the sales assistant, she looked at me, properly this time, and wordlessly we both moved on. The next one she showed me was much more like it. The cockpit looked huge, although when I got into it, I could feel my hips brushing the sides. So, either the cockpit size was deceptive or early onset middle age spread has got a sudden move on. But it was extremely comfortable, with a high seat that supported my back, lots of legroom and it seemed to have a welcome degree of stability. I said to the assistant, ‘I bet it takes a lot to turn this over’ and she just smiled knowingly, obviously completely aware that it wouldn’t take a lot at all and that I’d probably find out for myself within the day, so why spoil my fun? How right she was. The good news is that I got straight back on the horse. I went out in it the day after and stayed dry, sensibly using the marina slipway to get out. However, if anyone could give me any tips on how to get out alongside a canal bank, I’d be very grateful. I tried to get out next to the pontoon on my return and I just knew that I’d take another ducking if I persisted. Remember that old children’s skipping song – wibble, wobble, wibble, wobble, jelly on the plate? Well, it was jelly in the kayak and very nearly out of it and in the drink again. What larks, Pip! Maybe I should’ve gone for a canoe instead? A hovercraft would be good...

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