Efficient portaging can make a huge difference to your overall times. A simple way to look at is this: If you can shave 1 minute off of each portage - that's a total time of 1 hour 17 minutes you shave off of your overall time, so I'm sure you'll appreciate the importance of getting it right. We highly recommend getting on a coaching course with ourselves, your club or your peers and make portaging part of your regular training as it can make or break your race.
We could write pages and pages of techniques and pointers, but don't want to overcomplicate things, so below are just a few pointers to help get you on your way. If you would like to progress further, please feel free to get in touch for some coaching, or get out hassling your club or peers for some feedback!
Experienced paddlers will know where they are going before they get to each lock. The really keen will have route guides taped to their decks, or have paddled the route before to commit the portage to memory, so if you're not familiar with the lock you are approaching, you'll need to keep your wits about you. The more time you can spend reccy'ing the route and familiarising yourself with the best line, the faster and easier your race will be - The old adage about home ground advantage really comes into play here
Before you arrive at the portage, you need to assess where is best to get out. If you have a nice light boat and are keen runners, getting out sooner can give you the ability to pick up ground and overtake slower crews. If you are carrying a heavier boat, are tired, or dislike running intensely, then paddling as close to the lock gates makes sense to shorten the portage.
You will need to consider alternatives if the main get out is congested, can you get out sooner? Odds are you may then be climbing out onto a grass bank rather than a nice wooden riverbank, but again, it can save you time if your stability will allow it and the bank isn't too inaccessible.
Ideally on approach you should be 35-45 degrees from the bank, aiming for where you want to stop. Just before you hit, the front paddler steers hard away from the bank and both paddlers brace on the off side to slow the boat and assist with the turn, which will hopefully bring you perfectly alongside the bank.
At this point you should be bringing one knee up high and getting your foot just in front of the seat in preparation for standing up. The paddles are placed on the bank - Do not throw them, as this can damage them and can get in the way of other crews - if someone runs over your blades, chances are your race will be over, so place them close at hand.
With one hand braced on the bank, the other holding onto the front of the cockpit, the paddlers can stand up in the boat and step out. If the portage isn't too high, as you step out keep hold of the boat to stop it drifting out.
You now have a choice to make - on shorter portages, it can be quicker to run with the boat in your hands, held at the cockpits. However - this puts more strain on your already tired fingers, and puts more weight onto the rear paddler than the front. Ideally the boat should be carried on your shoulders, upside down which allows any water to drain out. Many marathon boats will have portage handles fitted front and rear for this purpose and often foam pads are glued to the fore and aft deck to give your shoulders some protection.
Now - you run to the put in point. If you can't run, try and jog, this will keep your blood pumping and keep you warm. If really tired, try and walk for twenty steps, jog for twenty steps - anything you can do here has a massive cumulative effect on the time at the end.
Getting back in, you'll need to consider the same points as before - if there's another lock in view - is it quicker or easier to stay on land and run to it? The Crofton flight has several locks all in very close proximity, and many crews opt to run - however if you are not a runner and prefer a walking pace, it may be the same speed and less effort to paddle each reach.
The boat should be lowered into the water from the cockpits, Then as before , one hand on the bank, one hand on the front of the cockpit step into the boat and sit down. Paddles should still be within reach, so you can get away quickly. The front paddler should push the bow of the boat away from the bank so you are angled out towards the middle then off you go...
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