Spindrifting up the river

On Saturday 7th September 2013, clouds loomed in the sky over the Docklands, as 18 intrepid challengers prepared to paddle 21 long miles up the River Thames in a 40ft dragon boat.

With a grand total of 4 hours preparation in a boat together, an early dunking and a few premature blisters, were we prepared?

No.

Were we determined?

Absolutely!

We had set out to raise for an amazing cause, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, and we’d hit our target already. We couldn’t let this great charity down now – or have to call them in an hour of need and waste what we’d raised…

As the last team to carry their boat onto the water, we weren’t waiting long at the start before we got under way. All was smooth sailing as we crossed the start line, but the turbulent river decided to take us on its own dramatic journey. After a mere 20 minutes we hit trouble, or rather trouble hit us, as a number of larger waves rocked the narrow craft and we started to take on water… A LOT of water!  The water rushed in and quickly rose up to our knees.  Whilst some continued to paddle us on, those in the middle of the boat tried in vain to bail us out of our increasing predicament. Very quickly though it was evident, we had no choice, we had to stop and everyone had to bail.  But we only had 8 scavenged milk bottle bailers, and 18 people on board. The maths just wasn’t adding up. Those without a bailer reached for anything they could to use to turn the tide, anything and everything including new bottles of precious drinking water were being emptied overboard to use in this time of need.  The hive of activity and increasing panic was intense and frantic. Flashbacks of our very first practice where we accidentally capsized could not be suppressed as the water flooded into the boat. As some of the rescue boats started to circle us like vultures over their prize awaiting our inevitable sinkage, the water level started to subside. By the time it had lowered to ankle level, a sigh of relief could be heard through the wind and on we surged.

Through great adversity and from the brink of disaster our dampened spirits raised; competitive streaks and the early Autumn sun started to shine and from there the race for us really began. As we paddled through the first few of the 28 bridges and even started to overtake some of the other 330+ boats, it looked like there was hope, a chance.

Through the City of London, past iconic tourist attractions and the onlooking, supportive tourists themselves, through Westminster, Hammersmith and beyond. As the waters calmed and our rhythm building, some might say we even looked the part. Onwards, upstream towards Richmond, under that last beautiful bridge and round that last bend, the end was in sight. We could spy the towering crane that signified the finish was approaching. We paddled harder, faster, giving all we could, sprinting to the line. And then we heard it, that sweet sound of the cannon being fired to mark the end of our race.

Completed in 3hours 1minute 57seconds. An incredible time for a team without a clue. Exhausted and elated we came ashore  at Ham to reflect on what we had just achieved.

The icing on the cake has been the amount raised for the RNLI, a whopping £961.82. Almost double our original £500 target. The Spindrift-Naiads team would like to thank everyone for supporting us on our challenge and helping us to raise a great sum of money.

Bring on next year’s race!

You can see all the pictures from the day on the Spindrift FlickR Photostream.

Jade Tso,