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.