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Peninsula Canoe Club


The Three Lakes Challenge – Records Are Set

During Go Canoeing week, May 2015, Graham Wells became the first canoeist to complete our three lakes challenge, ably supported by his wife Susan. The same week Kate Sharples and her team became the first group to finish all three lakes – despite some of the team having little canoeing experience.

Graham’s knowledge then proved extremely useful when, in July 2015, the Peninsula Canoe Club (of whom he is a member) decided to attempt to be the first group to complete all three lakes in 24 hours. This involved a huge team effort, with many members of the club contributing to the task of transporting, feeding and supporting the three paddlers. Graham tells us just how they brought it all together.

In September 2014, there was an article in Canoe Focus, “Go Canoeing Three Lakes Challenge – are you up for it?” The three longest lakes in Scotland, England and Wales, 43 miles of paddling and a Guidance Note of, “We do not recommend you complete the Three Lakes Challenge in one day.” So that’s exactly what we did. In 20 hours and 3 minutes.

It began in November 2014 at a Club Committee meeting; we wanted a special challenge that would involve the entire Club. With a properly organised team, it seemed possible to do the Three Lakes in a day, ending up at Bala where as many members of the Club as possible could join in. We could do it to raise money for charity as well. The date would be Saturday 4th July 2015, the first full moon after midsummer to get as much light as possible. The boats would be single seater composite sea kayaks; fast boats able to cope with the rough water that the winds can raise on those lakes. The team would comprise of three experienced sea paddlers and four support crew. Two vehicles would allow shared driving. At Bala, there would be a camp set up so we could meet up and celebrate at the end.

We asked for volunteers and got our team. The paddlers, Steve, Andy and Matt, were set to training. The support crew, Jo, Rich, Roger and Graham were set to preparations. We decided to support our local children’s hospice, Claire House, and set up a JustGiving webpage.

The plan was to travel up to the put-in at the western end of Loch Awe on Friday 3rd July; the paddlers would set off at midnight on Loch Awe and aim to finish Bala at 8.30pm. Each member of the support crew was tasked so that putting the boats on and off water and vehicles and refuelling the paddlers would be run like a Formula 1 pit-stop.

However the weather forecast during the week leading up to 4th July was grim; winds after midnight were expected to be easterly between 21 and 51 mph. So the plan was changed. The put-in at Loch Awe would be at the eastern end, Kilchurn Castle. The operation would start at 6.00 p.m. to take advantage of the weather window before midnight. The drivers would go through the night in the hope that Windermere could be paddled in relative calm. The paddlers also decided to break the paddle on Loch Awe by stopping for supper half way.

We arrived at Kilchurn Castle to warm, still and clear weather. The boats were set up; the GPS prepared. The GPS was started at 17.54. The paddlers set off in fine style and the support crew set off to find a car park half way along the loch and set up kitchen. Rich’s amazing spaghetti bolognaise supper was quickly in place whilst a decent fire was set to keep the midges away. Then from up the lake Steve’s voice was heard, far sooner than expected, fuelled by Haribo sweets. The paddlers landed at 20.31, were refuelled and off they went at 20.55. On the lake, the paddlers were inspected by three ospreys and started to feel the wind as the sun went down.

The support crew arrived at Torran Hostel and were welcomed by Joe who let us use the kitchen to get organised. His kindness was tremendous and he made us most welcome as we waited for the paddlers. They arrived, as it got dark at 23.18. We loaded the vehicles and set off at 23.45.

The journey south was horrendous, with torrential rain and high winds. All credit to Jo and Roger, who drove through the worst of it. Arriving at Wateredge, Ambleside the paddlers were on the lake and away at 05.29. On an almost deserted lake (apart from a lone swimmer with a little boat in support) the paddlers made good time but ahead of them the clouds were gathering. Half way down the lake rumbles of thunder rapidly turned to intense rain and lightning. However, it was still warm and humid so was actually quite refreshing. A quick stop for drinks and sweets, an escaping paddle retrieved, and they were off again.

The support crew drove to Fell Foot to find it being opened by a friendly National Trust representative who allowed them to drive down to the water. The paddlers landed at 07.49, had breakfast and were off to Bala at 08.32.

Arriving at Bala at 12.06, the boats were in the water at 12.19 and into the teeth of a force 4/5 wind. Other members of the Club took to boats to await the triumphant return. Bala is a circuit of the lake rather than its length. The paddlers had to touch a post and wire fence going into the water, at the bottom of the lake and then come back (we suggest that everyone doing the Challenge does that). Their return at 13.57 was to celebrations, champagne, beer and Jo’s exhilarating curried lamb.

The statistics:

· Loch Awe; paddle time 5 hours plus a 24 minute supper break.

· Windermere; paddle time 2 hours 20 minutes.

· Bala; paddle time 1 hour 38 minutes.

· Total mileage, lakes and road; 438 miles.

· Total time 20 hours, 3 minutes.

There was a lot more planning, administration and help from others than described here. Particular thanks to Matt Cooke, Eliot Maddocks and Bala Canoe Club who hosted our camp.

Completely mad but great fun, a great challenge and great teamwork.