– So how did you get into canoeing Addi?
– Well… I haven’t quite yet, but from tomorrow I will for sure! I mean, how hard can it be, right?
We both laugh out loud at my rhetorical question. This is part of an interview with Helen Jones from BBC Merseyside, in August 2016. It was the day before Athina and I parted inside our blow-up boat to canoe the almost 130 miles of UKs longest canal.
Life has taught me that if an idea is not absurd and playful there is no hope for it- Having seen people race on telly, we were eager to master the art of canoeing 🙂 The plan was simple: a week to canoe the Leeds-Liverpool canal with the principal purpose of exploring new places and discovering nature. We wanted to find out what fate would drop on our path if we ‘roughen things up’ for a while.
The following morning our adventure begun with a little demo of what I guessed paddling consisted of. Life vests on, it was time to get in. Athina held Boaty steady and a rope was tied to our bow so we didn’t have to swim after it (!) I gripped the paddle with two hands, reached forward and pulled it back towards me. Ta-da! It was Athinas’ turn to give it a try.
She sat at the front (she was the Bowman) and I sat behind her (I was the Sternman). Here came the wishful thinking- We both begun to paddle and the aim was to end each stroke simultaneously. After being smacked countless times by Athinas’ paddle, we discovered that canoeing is hard work after all; even more so if the wind blows against us relentlessly at 30miles/hour. By the end of day 1 we appeared to be getting in sync.
They say childrens’ confidence is fuelled by their achievements and I hoped this canoe trip would strengthen my little lobsters’ diligence in the face of adversity.
The following four days it rained with no mercy. At times we wondered if there was more water inside Boaty or the canal. Our clothes were no longer water-resistant and we were soaked to the bone. By day 3 we run out of clothes and there was no human way of drying out. The survival blanket worked nicely to keep Athina kind-of warm and our fab support crew popped into a local super market and returned with a couple of much-needed fleece tops, dry socks and a pair of leggings.
One thing was for sure: it would take a lot more than this to stop us. Stubbornness and passion for life runs in the family. My God-Father, now a retired Captain of the Spanish Navy, raised me as one of his own four children. His life and stories have had a strong influence on me. His example taught me there is always strength to be found despite fatigue and to never fear danger because it doesn’t know our strength. While we were challenged by mother-nature I could almost hear him say: ‘The one who conquers the sea, conquers the land’ and there we were, mother and daughter working as a team, trying to conquer our own ‘sea’.
Athina, too little obviously to paddle the large distance but nevertheless an essential part to the success of this journey. She helped take Boaty McBoatface in and out the water, to pull it on wheels when crossing the locks, tunnels and low bridges almost 100 times! Countless times she helped me get inside by holding the boat horizontal to the dock and to our own disbelief, we didn’t capsize once. She was the little voice reassuring me we can do this every time my hands ached and new cuts and blisters made their appearance. She enjoyed playing ‘nurse’ and wrapping bandages and plasters on my fingers. Throughout the journey she didn’t complain once and I know she has the spirit of a true adventurer.
Of course it wasn’t all fun and games; we had lots to learn about the practicalities of canoeing inside a canal. When we reached Wigan, the walls surrounding the lock were so high we couldn’t climb out, nor lift Boaty and the supplies. We canoed back on ourselves and the closest point to exit was a private parking. Fortunately the sympathetic owner allowed us to trespass his property but asked us to keep this a secret. We learnt an important life lesson that day: one must always anticipate what lies ahead.
We had our first puncture on our last day when we were pressing for time and hoping to finish within a week. We quickly evacuated Boaty and miraculously repaired our first boat puncture. I did the sticker, Athina pumped the air back in. This gave her a massive sense of achievement and she still remembers this special moment.
Each morning we spent 20 mins setting up. Tasks like pumping Boaty, strapping the chairs in place, preparing the paddles, packing and loading the gear slowed us down significantly and with 10-13 hours of canoeing daily we couldn’t afford a late start. As the week progressed, our bodies became more tired and less respondent to early starts. Luckily for Captain-Athina whenever she fancied a snooze, all she had to do was lean her head on the side, give her legs a good stretch and shut her eyes. For Sailor-Mummy it was a different story. I paddled on to make up for the lost time. The views and the nature were magnificent and this helped distract from the repetitive movement. Whenever the weather allowed for it, I paddled slower, attempting to keep those images in my head for longer.
The closeness to animals found on the canal was incredible. It seems to me of great importance to teach children respect for all life; it creates goodness of character. The majority of the animals were curious about us and our suspicious looking vessel. Swans, swam next to us, in their unique funny way, making as aware of who the ‘Canal Leader’ was. We came across a calf enjoying a little wash on a shallow part of the canal and we pretended to be on an African Safari. The canal is certainly dog heaven. Several dogs attempted to ‘rescue’ us by jumping in the water and swimming towards us. We remember with fondness a gorgeous brown Labrador that almost sank Boaty when it tried to jump in and save us from ‘drowning.’
With the mobile phone off this canoeing tale has been one of our best family times. At times we laughed until our bellies hurt and others despaired a little, wondering if we could finish what we set off to do; it’s the stuff life is built on- Eventually we figured out a few things and together completed the challenge in 7 days. What’s essential to me is not the miles we canoed, but the enjoyment in my daughters’ company while she nurtured her love of the great UK outdoors. Now Athina knows from experience that she can accomplish big things in life.
Canoeing has become one of our favourite family sports and this summer we intend to canoe UKs 3 largest lakes and to continue exploring the canals. It’s the perfect excuse to be outside in outrageously beautiful settings and to share fully-lived vibrant moments. We hope you give canoeing a try, creating your own happy memories.
‘The chief danger in life is that you take too many precautions’