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The Longbow Canoe Festival

great training trip, and being good 'river neighbours'

Every year Dart Sailability is very happy to offer support to the Longbow Canoe Festival, the charity canoe races at Totnes, and 2018 gave great weather for the event on Sunday, June 10th, not too hot, too windy, too sunny, or too cold. Apart from our long tradition of offering support to other local charities we use the day as a training exercise for our members to learn the river, and to learn to handle our Support boats in different circumstances.

This year Tim and Mark and Steve and Kathryn met at Noss to start the 90 minute trip up river to Totnes. Roger had done great work on Saturday ensuring that both tanks on each of Support 1 and Support 3 were brim full, and had made sure we had enough towing warps aboard in case we needed to offer heavy duty assistance. On the way up river we had the very useful privilege of seeing the mud banks exposed by the low tide.

This view of the mud took us back to school geography lessons. The water flows the fastest on the outside of bends and silt is deposited on the inside. And, as Tim and Kathryn discussed on the way up river, the steep mudbanks tend to denote the deeper water and the less steep the shallower.

We also were able to see very clearly that navigation buoys are not points to aim for and change course it. Instead they are a guide about the location of the deep channel, and we must steer a fair, continuous curve past them, leaving a good space away from the buoy as we pass. This is something we teach folk, but it's a great help to see the rationale by looking at the channel.

When we arrived at Totnes, despite the tide tables suggesting we'd have a metre below our keels, we found we needed ski sticks. For the last 100 metres it was engines off and raised and poling along the bottom like a punt. For the final half mile Steve showed us how to use a boathook while under way to probe for the depth. All of the trip was a great education, even for those of the team who know the river well.

We were on station at 11 as requested, and we collected Sue from the Rowing Club slipway as soon as we could punt over to get her. And then the team of five of us, together with a third boat from Dart Totnes rowing club patrolled the races as racing started at noon.

Safety cover for the event is mainly polite interaction with other river users. The objective is simple: to keep the contestants safe and to work hard to ensure that no other river users are inconvenienced by the racing, while keeping an eye all the time for unexpected events.

We had four large passenger boat trips going up to and down from Totnes, making eight large vessel movements to be aware of. We liaised with the race starting officer to make sure he and his team knew when the big vessels were to come though, and liaised by radio with their skippers so they knew where the four big racing canoes would be as they came past. Apart from that there were many other river users whose needs were our job to look after.

River users on the Dart are great folk. All we needed to do was talk to them early and make them aware there was unusual traffic at Totnes and they all just took the extra care they needed to take. This is a great opportunity to thank them, and also Dart Harbour who sent a River Officer up early on to offer assistance, too.

We did perform two rescues. We picked up a paddle that one team had dropped, and a very waterlogged baseball cap from a member of the China Blue racing team who had leaped into the river in joy at the end of the second final to celebrate their win! That's one more rescue than last year, where we only rescued a plastic barrier!

We dropped Sue back ashore and then made our way back to our base at Noss Marina, arriving just after 1800, tired, and happy to have done a good job, learned something new, and not having needed to perform any rescues of people in trouble. Low speed boat handling improved for all participants, and we 'showed the flag' as good citizens of the wonderful river Dart.

When the call goes out next year, please offer to join the Support Crew.

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