Expert organizers Canoe2 once again provided the necessary transportation, equipment, maps and safety advice. Actually, maybe that's not quite true on the maps which bore very little resemblance to the river itself! Of course, there were also the hand written notes but those proved almost impossible to cross reference with the map, especially for those of now of an age where reading glasses are essential. More on this later!
In the interests of impartiality a modified version of the 70's swingers party classic of "car keys in a pot" took place with partners pairing up based on matching key tag colours. So Mark was with Sarah, James W with Lauren, Sally with James N, James S with Alex and Kevin was unlucky - i.e. he got Al! As it happens though an ill advised joke the day before that we should all bring Supersoakers had been taken seriously by one member of the team. So perhaps Kevin wasn't so unlucky after all with Al duly filling up his water pistol in preparation for a good days 'sport'.
So to the river. Did I mention the instructions? The other 'challenge' being phrases such as "look for the posts before the weir". All well and good, except by the time you have spotted the weir you are already well past what you are looking for! Oh, and the 'weir' was actually labelled 'sluice gate' and with us not being water born creatures we failed to recognise that in this instance they were one in the same. Besides, technical folks like things to be factually correct. It's either a weir or it isn't surely? And no, I wasn't calling you 'Surely'.
The net result was total mayhem as five Canadian style Canoes paddled around aimlessly at the first lock searching for the elusive disembarkation point. There were several tempting options competing for our attention but each was labelled with a sign saying "Canoes DO NOT disembark here". All well and good, but what was lacking was a sign that said "Canoes DO disembark here". In the end a local whose house overlooks the lock took pity on us and pointed out the tiny landing strip we had all merrily paddled past as we had approached, eyes glued on the locks and the aforementioned landing pontoons! No matter, its team building and through our pretend incompetence we had managed to include the general public in our event already.
1-0 to Team Jemmac!
In fact, Lauren and I shot backwards down the river at speeds never previously achieved when paddling. It all felt a little perilous - and now I come to think of it we should have at least made beeping noises so anyone round the corner was at least aware that "this canoe is reversing". Eventually we managed to gain control of our canoe and found a calm spot to wait up for Kevin and Al.
The sense of danger was heightened by some very over grown sections, one featuring a floating carcass of a dead sheep (did I mention the dead sheep Sarah?) which unfortunately could not be easily avoided. The lead canoe got snared as it tried to pass before Lauren unleashed her full rock climbing power breaking us free by ripping a section of branch away with her bare paddle!
Things fell very quiet after that as Kevin and Al also faced the gorge of terror...and for anyone who knows Kevin you will realise that is a very bad thing indeed. When he's happy, Kevin shares his joy with anyone within a half mile proximity. Except on this occasion he wasn't. After some waiting, some worrying and a quick paddle back eventually Al and Kevin's canoe hove into view and our worst fears were confirmed. Kevin was sporting several cuts and was most definitely 'not amused'. Good fun this paddling eh?
By this point we had decided that the backwater described as scenic (which it was) probably wasn't quite as short as we had expected. Lauren finally had a break through with the map and confirmed that actually we would rejoin the main river just a mile or two before our planned lunch stop at the pub.
And so it was that we eventually rejoined the main river, our plucky pair of canoes managing to dissect a boat powering its way down stream. Any hopes of seeing the other three canoes was dashed by the passing boats who reported that they were neither behind us or ahead of us. How odd. Oh well, to the pub then!
When our colleagues finally joined us (by which point we were supping pints I might add) they had all manner of excuses for why they had been so slow. "We stopped off so Mark could do some fishing - he caught a fish!". As if. "I ran back down the tow path looking for you" insisted James S. Yeah right, you're just looking to log more miles on Strava I reckon. "We phoned you but there was no answer" claimed Sally. Hmmm, indeed.
A hearty lunch was enjoyed at our chosen stopping point, The Kings Head where the bar staff quickly worked out that James S and Al were the trouble makers in the group. We can recommend the Creme Brulee which Al declared was much better than the Lemon Tart he thought he had ordered. But hadn't - as later proven by a vindicated Sally!
Compared to the morning the landing points were easier to find (even after a few beers), the river was wider (so less bramble covered banks were explored) and by now most of the Canoes were generally heading in a straight line most of the time. Bar James N and James S that is who had formed a new duo when the teams were redrawn after lunch. Apparently the swerving was a consequence of their 'prodigious power' twisting the canoe as they rocketed down stream. Erm OK. Not sure the same could be said for Al and Sarah who perhaps were just enjoying the scenery and really didn't want the journey to end?
Imagine our delight when long time leaders James S and James N suddenly decided to head back up river "to go and cause some trouble". We were up to second place! Except Mark had started fiddling with his extendable thingy again, so Kevin and I took full advantage and nipped in - landing our Canoe first.
Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!!
When eventually Al and Sarah arrived revenge was extracted on Al for all his antics with his water pistol. Revenge is a dish best served standing on dry land when your opponent is sat in a canoe six feet below you and cant run away!
So another happy day on the River Nene drew to a close. If nothing else the shoddy maps and cryptic instructions ensured there was plenty of chat and debate - so perhaps it was all part of the plan to foster communication and team spirit. I would like to think so!
Quotes from the day:
Alex : "It was my first team building day and I was a bit apprehensive about canoeing as I had never done it before. My nerves were soon put at ease when we got in the water and it turned out to be an extremely fun day, I hope we do it again in the future!"
James S : "A fantastic way to spend the day. I was especially glad to get home dry at the end of the day.".
Al : "We had a lovely day out on the River Nene, couldn't have asked for better weather. There were times where we paddled or what seemed like hours without seeing a single other person, the world could have ended and we'd have been none the wiser! Could have done with a motor on the canoe to make life easier after the 3 course lunch, though!"
Lauren : "A great day out with the team on the river. Luckily most of us managed to stay dry!"