Success for Launceston College at Westminster
This Easter Monday saw the culmination of eight months of training and dedicated hard work, for 10 students of Launceston College as they successfully completed the ultra-marathon; the Devizes to Westminster 125 mile, International Kayak Marathon. Previously, this race has been available only to club paddlers, some military and scouting organisations and students of elite private schools. Launceston College is the only state school in the country to offer students the opportunity to compete in this prestigious event.
“This is now the fourth year we have entered and once again our students have shown incredible resilience and determination in the completion of this endeavour, we could not be prouder of them. What these 10 students have achieved is, in the true meaning of the word, awesome.” said Bryan Maywood, Principal.
The junior doubles race takes place over the four days of Easter, starting with kit checks and registration on The Wharf in a sleepy Devizes from 6am on Good Friday, with the crews on the water to start their journey at 8am. Cheered on by their support crews of parents and staff, the students paddled away heading for Newbury covering 34 miles of the Kennet and Avon canal and 33 portages; over lock gates and around low bridges whilst negotiating barges and narrow boats. Will Johnson and Charlie Paul paused at the first portage, Wooton Rivers, to remove their spray decks, and were fed bananas for extra energy by their support crews, before paddling through the 502 yards long, Bruce Tunnel. Bryan Maywood, the principal, ran along beside one of the crews for 19 miles from Crofton into Newbury giving additional moral support to our youngest entrants to the race, Millie Haydon and Rosie Sheldrake, both just 15 years old.
Having camped overnight and cooked their own meals, the crews were all packed up and ready for the next stage of 36 miles into Marlow by 6:30am. Parents and staff collected the kit and our determined students paddled away. The last of our students to leave were George Ellis and Ieaun Blewitt, the fastest Launceston crew, competing for the second year running.
This section of the race sees considerable changes to the scenery as the calm canal weaves through the bustling centre of Reading and the Oracle Shopping Centre, and then widens into the start of the Thames. Suddenly, on a sunny Saturday afternoon, pleasure boats rather than barges fill the water and create a very different atmosphere from the canal. However, our crews all arrived safely at the Longridge site in Marlow to set up their tents for a second night.
Easter Sunday, day three, saw the longest paddling distance of 38 miles and, leaving as early as they were allowed, Ruby Mead and Rowan Barnes headed the field of paddlers for a large part of the day, though Eton and Windsor finally alighting at the Thames Young Mariners Site at Tedddington. Ellie Jones and Alice Wonnacott were our final boat to arrive and as their boat was carried from the river, Ellie headed to the medics to have the open, bleeding blisters on her hands patched up! The mood was buoyant as tents were pitched and meals prepared, with the paddlers knowing only 17 miles lay between them and Westminster Bridge.
Monday morning at 4:30am saw staff and parents arriving on site for the start of the final day. All paddling and emergency kit was rechecked by the organisers before the race begins as, although it’s the shortest distance, the 17 miles on the tidal section of the Thames is the most treacherous. Boats headed off in batches, with the fastest leaving first, providing a true race to the Bridge. Family and staff cheered them away and then drove into central London to await their arrival.
A rapturous reception heralded in the crews as they completed their journey under Westminster Bridge. Tears of joy and pride greeted the students, who all performed beyond expectation.
“Seeing our students achieve this is a joy and privilege, we are reminded of the reasons why we come into teaching” said Jack Jackson, Executive Principal, “Launceston College is proud to be able to offer this opportunity to our students, we will be back next year!”
For the Launceston College students whose journey began on Bude canal, some barely able to stay upright in a boat, in September, through to their triumphant finish at Westminster in the April sunshine, this is more than a kayak race. They have grown. The skills, knowledge and depth of character needed to rise to this challenge will remain with them for life.
2017 saw Year 11 students Millie Haydon, Rosie Sheldrake and Ruby Mead together with Year 12 students Rowan Barnes, Alice Wonnacott, Ellie Jones, Will Johnson and Charlie Paul race for the first time and year 12 students Ieuan Blewitt and George Ellis returning for their second race.
Our racing season is now in full flow starting with Waterside A on 19th February. We had five student crews and one staff crew enter the race on Sunday.
Waking up early to get to Great Bedwyn in Wiltshire for a 9am start for the 13.5 mile race on the Kennet and Avon Canal, completing 21 portages along the route.
Our crews all performed excellently with two crews beating the current Launceston College record for Waterside A.
Year 12 Rowan Barnes with Year 11 Ruby Mead completed the race in an impressive time of 02:39:22, with our year 12 returners George Ellis and Ieuan Bluett taking the Launceston College record with a time of 02:24:31.
Sunday 26th February saw the inaugural Celtic Cup race against Mount Kelly College.
Our kayaking crews were pitted against Mount Kelly’s on Tiverton Canal for a 13 mile race. Launceston College’s George Ellis and Ieuan Bluett won the trophy for the fastest overall crew across the course, but the Celtic Cup team trophy went to Mount Kelly College this year after a very close race. The trophy went to the fastest accumulative time of the three fastest crews from each school (one male crew, one female crew & then the next fastest crew), Both our male and female crews beat their Mount Kelly counterparts but we were pipped to the trophy by Mount Kelly’s impressive 3rd crew time. We are already looking forwards to next year’s race and continuing this new tradition between the two schools.
With Big Ben striking 8am on Easter Monday morning, the Cornish chant of ‘Oggie, Oggie, Oggie’ rang through the crowds, assembled on Westminster Bridge, as the third and final crew from Launceston College completed the grueling Devizes to Westminster Kayak Marathon.
For the second year Launceston College entered the International Kayaking Marathon, known as the DW; a 125 mile race which begins in rural Devizes in Wiltshire, on the Kennet and Avon Canal, on Good Friday morning. The route requires negotiating 77 portages, around narrow boats, swans and lock gates, travelling through the centre of Reading to the Thames. It continues through Henley and Marlow, avoiding weirs and luxury pleasure cruisers, finally finishing at Westminster Bridge on Easter Monday. The race is split into four stages; 34 miles, 36 miles, 38 miles and the final 17 miles on the Thames tideway. At the end of each day the crews must pitch their own tents and cook their food, then pack everything down in the morning before setting off at 7am for another exhausting day of paddling.
The final and most treacherous day is on the tideway and boats need to leave with the tide. To achieve this, our young paddlers were up at 2:30am ready for kit checks at 4am and to leave Teddington, in groups of nine boats, from 5am in the pitch black. It was an eerie sight. The boats were lit with torches, light sticks and headlamps as they set off, amidst cheers and roars of encouragement, for the most difficult part of the journey on the Thames. The DW is a challenge of both physical and mental endurance and all six of our students showed courage, determination and mature depth of character as they pushed through pain and exhaustion to complete the race.
Pushing themselves to their limits this year were: Tom Mead Year 11, Lydie Johnson, Yasmin Steven, Laura Jenkin, Frankie Gilbert in Year 12 and completing the race for the second time, Harry Gilbert in Year 13. Our students were supported throughout by parents, family and friends, as well as Mr Jackson, our Principal and Mr Rush our Deputy Head of Sixth Form; both of whom provided knowledge, sympathetic understanding and tremendous encouragement having completed the challenge themselves last year.
The crew’s journey started with training sessions in October in the dark winter evenings, in often near gale force winds and rain and ended with beaming smiles (and some tears) at the presentation of their medals, in the warm spring sunshine, on Easter Monday morning at Westminster. Launceston College could not be prouder of these students and their achievement.