125 miles of the Kennet and Avon canal and the River Thames, 77 locks to portage, temperatures of minus five degrees through the night and an unplanned capsize summed up the challenge presented to Belper kayaker Peter Montgomery (58) and his partner Nigel Smee (58).
The notorious Devizes Westminster International Canoe Marathon, in its 65th year saw 179 crews embarking upon this gruelling non-stop paddle, which finishes at the House of Parliament. The race rules do not permit any help at the 77 portages, but supporters such as their wives Jill and Fran were permitted to supply drinks and energy snacks and changes of kit at various points.
The cold wind and unexpected capsize under a low bridge all made for slow progress and it was questionable as to whether the duo would make it in time to reach the Tideway at Teddington Lock (108 miles). To be late here would mean missing the tidal window where the boat travels with the outgoing tide.
Despite being two hours down on their predicted times, they put in a really big effort in the freezing dawn of Sunday morning and made the tidal window with four minutes to spare. From Teddington, they paddled the 17 miles of the Thames to arrive at Westminster as the 80th boat out of 100 finishers. (Over 50 boats retired as a result of difficult conditions.)
Peter and Nigel were delighted to finish in one piece but more overwhelmed by the magnificent support for their four chosen cancer charities: Cancer Research, The Teenage Cancer Trust, Ashgate Hospice and Challenge Cancer. The charities will share over £1,800 worth of donations. For more information, go to www.dwrace.org.uk