Boat Choice

Choosing your boat for the Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race

It's a daunting task when you're new to such a daunting challenge as DW. Where to begin? Should you go stable or go for speed? Canoe or kayak? There are a multitude of craft to choose from, from entry level plastic touring boats to ultrafine ultralight racing craft, ranging in price from £800 to £4000 so we recommend chatting to a specialist shop to get the best advice.

Choosing a K1 or K2:

The larger proportion of the field will be in kayaks, singles called K1's and Doubles called K2's. Ideally you need to be in a composite racing boat - made from glass fibre, carbon or a carbon kevlar weave. Try to avoid the plastic touring boats - although stable they tend to be very heavy and you need to run around 77 portages, so a portable boat is essential.

The hardest choice to make is the debate on stability vs speed. The sleeker, tippier boats are faster... But only if you can keep them upright. You are not going for a Sunday afternoon jaunt on flat water, you will be racing on a busy stretch of water with several hundred other paddlers, pushing yourself beyond your normal levels of endurance and paddling to exhaustion. You will be running over wet, muddy river banks and trying to get back into your seat from a slippery muddy bank that can be anything from 1-4 foot high, so it's important you can drop into your boat with confidence. Every time you wobble, or put in a support stroke you will lose all momentum and power, so opt for something more stable than you would normally choose, as it's not about how well you can paddle it on a sunny afternoon in July - It's how well you can paddle it utterly exhausted, down rough tidal water, when there's a gale blowing and it's tipping down with rain.....

If you are looking at purchasing a new boat, please bear in mind racing boats are bespoke craft, handbuilt to your exact specification and needs, so there is always a build time. Make sure you factor this into your planning as ideally you will need a boat from September/October onwards. As far as choice - pop in and see us, browse the net or pick up the 'phone.

Starting out - In K1 we would recommend our Laance or Hobby, Kirton's Tercel or Pulsar or the Vajda Civet Cat. In K2 we would recommend our Rogue, Condor, Kirton's Tasman or Torque or the Vajda Civet Cat as being the best vessel for folk new to marathon racing - even if they come from a whitewater background and have years of experience in other craft.

If you are looking at picking a boat up second hand, you will need to keep your eyes open, as the stable craft are snapped up quickly - even experienced racers comfortable in wobble factor 1 and 2 boats consider dropping down to the stable craft for DW, so everyone wants them. Demand usually outstrips supply, so a second hand boats value can increase dramatically as we get closer to Easter and folk get desperate for a craft. Be cautious on Ebay, as prices can go sky high - if you are in doubt as to the value or appropriate nature of a k1 or k2, feel free to give us a call and ask our advice.

Choosing a C1 or C2:

Here things get a little easier. Canoes tend to be a bit more stable than the K1's and K2's, so if your training schedule is short, this can make it a good choice. There are less canoes taking part than kayaks, but the racing can be equally fierce at the top end so don't think you're going to walk in and win by any stretch of the imagination!

For Tandem racing (C2) You need a decent length boat - ideally 17 foot long as a minimum and as light as you can afford. Standard plastic canoes are very heavy, and you will probably need to use a trolley for the portages which will slow you dramatically. Ideally you need a light boat - the Royalex fabrics do make boats lighter, but the best option is to move to composites.

 Ideally - provided budget allows - move up to a composite boat, such as the Wenonah Jensen 18 which will weigh under 20kg and has a fast hull, yet is also stable enough to use as a family boat after the race.

If you want to be really competative, there are Racing C2's out there, but they do take a bit more practise and you need to be a bit more experienced to keep them upright. Something like the Wenonah ICF C2 is ideal, but remember our comments about stability vs speed.

For C1 - There are a few boats, but the best by a long way is the Wenonah J193/203. UItralight, fast and directionally stable. It will feel a tad tippy at first, but you soon get used to it.