Tag Archives: medway canoe trail

Medway: Rise of the Mamiks

MRS Nomad Index Page
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I really want to go with you
Really want to show you, Lord
That it won’t take long, my Lord
Hallelujah, Hare Rama….

Picked up while scanning the radio on the drive to Tonbridge, there were much worst earworms to be stuck with than George Harrison’s 1970 pop hymn.

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I was on the water at Town Lock before 9am on a mid-September day set to hit 25. This was surely, absolutely, positively the very last day of summer. End of!
But just after 9am something was wrong. The MRS was saggy and I knew why. Annoyingly, it tends to need a top-up a full 5 minutes in, not just by resting empty on the cold water as I get ready to hop in. I put it down to being a high-volume and thin-skinned boat which takes a while to cool down and lose a little pressure once on the water. Plus, because you sit in the middle – not the back like a normal packraft – you notice the hull sag-crease to either side and feel the flex-bobbing as you paddle. That is why the K-Pump I’d dismissed today is a good idea with the Nomad: it gives the MRS a darn good over-pump before putting in and avoids the need to do it again in a few minutes. I suppose another way would be liberally splashing the boat all over for a few minutes before final top off.
Now as taut as a harp string, I set off into the low morning sun, passing trees still in full leaf but slowly losing their sheen. I know that feeling.

Gurur Brahma
Gurur Vishnu
Gurur Devo

I’d not done it in yet the MRS but the Medway would ordinarily be a fun-to-do-once southern English river if it wasn’t for the half-dozen jaunty canoe chutes installed to bypass the locks and weirs without portaging. Another way of spicing it up is to race it in a K1 kayak little wider than your hips. The first such bloke shot past me annoying close, paddling so fast he was bobbing up and down like a dashboard doggie. Soon a few others followed, including a double which must have been 22 feet long, and a guy in a plywood Wenonah with a lightning-fast single-paddle switch.

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On the walk to Town Lock I’d passed several bands of early-morning Mamils browsing and clacking outside Tonbridge High Street’s 525 coffee shops – a common Sunday-morning sighting these days. But it seems a sub-species has evolved out of the recreational lifestyle gene pool – Mamiks – steely-eyed K1 kayakers, competitive City types going hell-for-leather, a club burn-up belting past at what looked like double my speed.
But it seems one thing these slender 18-foot training razors couldn’t do was shoot the lock chutes, even if it saved them minutes of cumbersome portaging taken at a trot. Presumably skimpy and unhinged rudders would snap off, or the pencil-thin boat would get crossed-up on exit and flip like a fish-farm salmon.

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By mid-morning there were plenty of other regular paddlers on the Medway: SoTs, canoes (but no SUPs), all enjoying a sunny Sunday on the water. I even spotted two Medway firsts: a wild swimmer bobbing along, followed by a naturist wild swimmer tiptoeing down a bank and finally, another old couple in their brand-new retirement Sevy Riviera which looked uncharacteristically pert. My sweet lord, they’re all out today.

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Sweat was dripping from my nose and the back-breeze helped, but I did seem to be going at a good old lick for a packraft. I also noticed that I was paddling like you’re supposed to. I spotted this bizarre development on my last outing: I was pushing forward with my high arm (‘press-ups’), less pulling the lower arm through the water (‘pull-ups’). I was informed of this technique (along with ‘lighthouse’ torso pivoting) years ago by a mate who did a 1:1 paddle-stroke course, but don’t know what’s suddenly brought it on. Maybe I’ve had a knock to the head.
Up ahead it was time to line it up and sluice on down the side of Sluice Weir (left and right) – the longest, steepest and sadly the last chute on this part of the Medway. I imagine it’s given many newbies a bit of a fright, but the light and buoyant Nomad sashayed off the end with a shrug.
From here it was dogwater all the way to Yalding Tea Rooms where I caught up with a young SoT woman who’d left Town Lock just before me. Following her for a while, she was definitely flagging. I knew that feeling at around this distance too, but not today.

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I never know how far this paddle is, or I forget as I circle, gape-mouthed round my gilded bowl. 12 miles? At least 3 hours then, so I thought I might catch the hourly 1.12 from Yalding back to Tonbridge. But by half-eleven I was already upon Hampstead Lock (above), 11 miles according to the official map (below). Take out the breaks and that was a moving average of 5.5mph. Five years ago I thought 3.4 was good. I need to update my avatar.
Not bad for a packing MAMIK then, and a great way to end the season.

Really want to show you, Lord that it won’t take long, my Lord
Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna

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Afternote

Like many paddlers, when I get out of the boat I’m always careful to hold the lead and move slowly, in case I kick the very light boat away from the bank – an awkward situation if alone, especially on a Pacific island with a typhoon on the horizon.
While the Nomad was dripping dry at Hampstead Lock, resting on the beam of the lock gate, a gust blew it into the lock. Bugger! Luckily, it landed right way up, but ten feet down, there was no way I could reach it. Luckily too, it was caught in an eddy caused by the sluicing and right by the wall, not drifting off towards Maidstone. This gave me time to think. I reassembled the paddle and, hanging right off the lock side and holding the blade by the tips of my fingers, was  j u s t  able to nudge the boat towards some slimy steps, just as a motor boat drew up to the lock, probably wondering ‘What the heck is this chap playing at?’
I’ve learned similar lessons with pitched but unweighted tents: beware the unseen gust; it blows for you.

wss-tentsea

After-afternote

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During this gust-driven mini-drama, out of the corner of my eye I’d spotted some IK activity nearby; something grey and thin; something green and fat. Turned out it was man and boy heading out for a paddle in a Razorlite 393 and a Gumo Swingbot.  I’ve not seen the drop-stitch Sea Eagle before (nor a Swing, tbh) and have to say I was impressed by the look of it – and not just because it was next to a dumpy Swing (not one of Gumotex’s finest IKs). Those wide footrests on the RL might well help brace it, as long as knees don’t get in the way. And it had what they call a good fit and finish, but then so it should for a grand. The bloke knew his Gumboats and that a few other brands produced DS IKs near-identical to the RL. He was very pleased with the fast Sea Eagle. I’m still not convinced by the flat floor but one day I’ll get to try one.

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Modifications to my Gumotex Seawave

Seawave main page

yaldingGrappling to get the boat out of the muddy Medway river at Yalding the other day put a light scrape on the hull. It reminded me that, along with the PRVs, another winter job was to fit a protective strake under the bow where most scraping occurs. Better to get the protection in early while the boat is newish.
Upstream the Medway had been high and even had a noticeable current. Two-up we were flying along at a good 5mph+ at times. Some of the chutes I was looking forward to were closed even though they look merely ‘sporty’, but then weir by weir, lock by lock the level started dropping so that never before seen eddies, whorls and rocks appeared. The super-sporty chute at Sluice Weir Lock was high and dry (clambering out onto the nearby jetty was a real effort) and by the time we got to Yalding near the end there was a 6-foot drop with muddy banks to either side on which you sank up to your knees.
medclosedSoon covered in muck, we managed to clamber out over the mossy weir wall and haul the boat up. Had I been less cavalier about my preparations I’d have read what was going on right here. Looks like the Medway chutes will be out of action till March (right). Knowing that would have saved half the next morning hosing myself and all the gear down.
strakerBack to the strake. A 70 x 15cm Hypalon off-cut (close enough to Nitrilon) was 14 quid on ebay and once trimmed left enough for another strake or two. I had some Polymarine two-part adhesive (below) and glued the strip to the boat’s curved form with the floor inflated, ami-polyeven if that meant working the roller to press it all together was less effective. I then slathered some Seam Seal around the nose of the strake to protect it from unpeeling (less runny Aquaseal would have been better but a Seam Seal tube was open. More on glues here).
footerWhile the boat was filling the hallway and causing a hazard to domestic navigation I also bodged up a better system for the all-important footrest. A bit of inner tube now counter-tensions the footrest from the bow to keep it in position. It means the thing is now fully adjustable across a wide range ofsw-cantilastic positions, can easily be fine tuned from the water, removes in seconds for boat cleaning/drying and needed no extra fittings glued to the boat. Once great thing about the Seawave is the multitude of attachment points on the floor and sides.
While on the river my aged Mk1 Alpacka U-seat base went flat, split right in the U. This seat is part of a lighter and comfier system I brought over from my Amigo – an improvement on the one-piece Seawave seats. It’s currently unfixed to the boat and the thin nylon must have ripped while yanking it into position on the river after getting back in. Again, I’m trying to avoid gluing extra D-rings to the hull – they’d limit seat base adjustment options anyway.
sw12Better then to attach the seat base to the base of the backrest (right) with a couple of zip ties. The whole backrest/seat base can then slide forward and back off the backrest side straps and it all unclips from the boat in less than 3.7 seconds. alpacka-seatI glued up the punctured U-seat but it won’t last, so I’ve ordered MkII Alpacka seats (left) from Packrafting Store: €70 delivered for a pair. From Alpacka US the seats cost $25 but their auto-calculated international postage is nuts, let alone tax and VAT issues. These seats have the U filled in like a webbed foot: stronger and less floppy for just ~12g extra weight.
Since then I decided not to fit the seat base to the backrest, but simply attach it to the floor between a similar the same adjustable strap and elastic tension system used on the footrest. So far so good. Will add a photo next time the boat’s out.
SOTstrapI’ve also ditched my old my SoT thigh straps (right). Nanfistrapsicely padded and effective though they were, the brass spring connectors and padding made them feel heavy and bulky at ~720g.
Instead I got some non-padded Anfibio packrafting straps from the Packrafting Store (without their biners or D-ring patches). With my biners they come in at 270g. The delta-straps dangling off the sides are a clever idea, designed to give a fpy165more direct pull when rolling a packraft for example. Can’t see myself doing that in any of my boats, but if there happens to be a handy attachment point on the Seawave’s hull I may give them a go (normally you’d have to glue on the D-ring patches supplied). Whether you’re rolling or just paddling, in rough water the more direct connection with the boat the better. I’m a big fan of these light but effective straps now. No need for paddling

How fast is a packraft?

medwardAs we’re normally up north for the British summer, I’ve forgotten how great a sunny 26-° southern English day feels. It’s been years. If it was France it’d be normal, but in the UK it’s not which adds to the magic. A perfect day then to bang out a Medway run from Tonbridge to Yalding. Even the wind was up for it, with a stiff, 15mph breeze forecast from the southwest.
With shoes, shirt and pfd in the wet bag, I slid down the chute off Tonbridge’s Town Lock, sat up straight and set sail. Overhead the wind was lifting the leaves, exposing their lighter underside, and with the river course (below) oriented right on it, I suspected this was going to be a good run. Eldridge Lock chute rolled up in under 20 minutes and that felt like at least a mile (1.3). And with no shoes or pfd the Yak felt roomy so I pushed the backrest low to get nicely jammed in. Paddle at eye level, a full draw from the feet, and I crack on.

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Porters Lock already? OK then. How far is it to Yalding, anyway? Twelve something; couldn’t remember if it was kms or miles, but I knew when we did it last June in my new IK that I was pooped well before the end. After Porters I pass some canoe-ers crouched on the floor of their boat, battling upstream. There’s no current but they’re sure fighting the wind. Further down the river, a couple with a camo-pattern IK are lunching by one of the locks.
brolgaWith the trees in full summer bloom and yellow lilies at the banks, in places the pea-soup Medway could pass for a backwater in Kakadu, with salties lurking in the shallows, eyeing up wading jabirus.
bk-sluMuch sooner than expected it’s the big slide down Sluice Weir Lock (left) which I knew was near the end. The short Yak surfs over the base a lot better than a nose-burying kayak. I took no water on any of the chutes and the backwind even helped keep the paddle splash off me.
After a quick visit to water the bushes, I top off the seat and hull. Holy moly – now the firmed up Yak is skimming along like a surf ski under the big-bladed Corry paddle. This last section was a  l o n g  haul last time, but I power on and there is, the Anchor Inn at Yalding. Don’t want to eat there again, so I finish off my water and check the watch. Two hours twenty. That seems fast; it was an all-dayer last time.
mppIt’s a five-minute scoot down to the take-out at Hampstead Lock and a short walk to the station where it costs over a fiver to ride three stops back to Tonbridge. When I get home I Google Map the river distance: 7.5 miles or about 12 clicks. In two twenty that’s a pretty surprising 3.4mph or nearly 3 knots. I’d be pleased with that in my 14-foot IK, but in dumpy packraft? Not bad at all.

Grabner Amigo and Medway Canoe Chutes

River status

A sunny day in the south of England saw me back on the water with the Big Kahuna Man  after many months off. It was a chance to anoint my new Grabner Amigo’s slick, factory-oiled hull with the Medway’s occluded discharge. If you’re interested, there’s more on why I got myself an Amigo right here.

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amiassemBK Man and I started out of Tonbridge with a plan to replicate our icy winter run of last year when at times we had to crack our way down the river. Assembling the Amigo for the first time was of course simple once I had the bayonet adaptor fitted to the end of my aged Bravo foot pump, but that pump could barely manage to get the requisite 0.3 bar (4.3psi) the Amigo runs. More about all that malarkey on the mods page.
amishooteramitownchuteWe slipped down the rather tame Tonbridge Town Lock chute (right) where it soon became obvious the Amigo was not going to break any speed records. This may be a false impression as there was a stiff head-breeze, negligible current and my lack of paddling fitness and of course the Amigo’s 3.75m and 80cm width – over Ylogohalf a metre shorter and 11cm or 4.3 inches wider than my old Incept. All that made for hard yakka while the slick Kahuna glided effortlessly by.
amiportraitOn a positive note the Medway hereabouts now appears to be fully chuted up for canoes – we could have got all the way to Yalding without getting out. As mentioned, some chutes are rather dull affairs where fixed bristles churn up the water and slow a boat down. Others, as we knew well, were steeper and more sporty numbers that you attack at full pelt (left). We like those!
amiportchuteThe recently fitted Gumotex skeg tracked flawlessly but still kept the curly ended Amigo turnable. It will be good to try paddling without it; not such a good idea at sea but always handy in shallow rivers where the current should provide the speed you otherwise gain from being able to paddle harder with a skeg.
amikatIn between the fun chutes, the simpering Medway crept by. BK Man combed the water as gently as if he was brushing Kate Middleton’s perfumed hair, while I hacked away like the Barber of Seville with my too-large Corrywrekcen paddle; very light and stiff it may be but it’s not the blade of choice when unfit. Also, the boat’s secondary seat lugs tended to catch my thumbs, the spare packraft seat was a bit sloppy on the factory oil and I was in dire need of a footrest: all things to refine or fit once relocated up north.
amidasboLater I just rested on the seat back with no air padding from the Alpacka seat and that was fine and enabled a good back posture, though I do worry about snapping that seat bar in a hard hit or clumsy moment. It did dislodge a couple of times as the boat flexed down steeper chutes. I suppose a stick or even just a strap will make do as a replacement.
amiamioYou can see from the pic on the right that even with my weight and only .25 bar in the side tubes, the Amigo is as straight as a boiled hardshell and unlike the Sunny of old. In future I’ll pump it up to 0.33 or so to compensate for the cooling once it gets in the water.
amigatsoIt may not be a concern to me in the Amigo, but it was depressing to see that the Waterways Police have now installed Gatso speed cameras along the Medway (right) to snare miscreants blithely disregarding the 5-knot limit. Disguising the cameras as bird houses fools no one.
amisloocerBy the time we got to the sporty Sluice Weir Chute (lef and right) I was knackered, sore and starving, a torment made worse by the gusting breeze and the amisluicersucculent aroma of wild garlic emanating from the lush, green river banks. Southern England in early summer really is a great place to be an insect.
We had high hopes of snaring a good feed at Ye Olde Anchor Inn at Yalding, but it was so poor it wasn’t even worth a picture. I ate as well in primary school back in 1968. What a waste of a great location; someone keel-haul the chef! Next time we’ll revert to the tea room on the other bank.amikinder As we approached the Inn we were puzzled by a string of schoolkids in mini kayaks lining up to slip down the flat Yalding weir face. Like some neoprene Pied Piper, their teacher or guide was actually pushing away the orange safety booms so the little mites could slip through and potentially plummet to their deaths. I suppose the river police must allow it. At the low levels we knew  the flat slide down the weir face was not so suited to our long boats – the Kahuna’s nose would dig in to the concrete at the base and spin the back around while I’d scrape my skeg all the way down to the sound of melting plastic. Btw, check out this vid of what happens at Yalding when they open the taps. Scary!
amidrierGastronomically unsatisfied, we lowered ourselves back into our boats for the short hop to Hampstead Lock (no chute). Here, in the full spirit of The Pack Boating Way, we dismantled our boats, walked 5 minutes the station and caught the train back to Tonbridge. I can confide that like a Sunny, an Amigo is so easy to dry, just splay it out (right) like a Peruvian hamster entree, give it a wipe, roll it up and off you go.
amidameOne thing I can to say about the Grabner – you do appear to get what you pay for. Construction appears to be flawless – far superior to the Incept, better than Gumoes I’ve had and with not a smudge of stray glue or ill-adhered creases, gaps or lumps. Once the set up is optimised it’s an IK that ought to last many, many years. More Amigo action to come up in the Summer Isles in the next couple of months.

Packrafting the Medway – video

River status

The Medway is not a river I’d choose to run in mid-December or probably any other time of year. I’ve kind of given up on English rivers, with all the access and angling hassles and the Southeast of England is more congested than most, with a lot of canalisation and locks. But the other day Steve and I drove down to Tonbridge to give Kent’s historic river a try.
He’d invited me to take his Feathercraft Big Kahuna for a spin and the Medway would be just as wet as the Thames, but a bit nearer and easier to train back to the car. The Big K was a boat I was thinking of getting so it was a real fluke when I realised one of the few people I knew who was into paddling actually had one. Then, as we tooled up in the town car park I realised I’d forgotten the Sunny’s pump. Shame. It had been a while since I’d paddled my Gumby Longboat down south but luckily I’d also brought the Alpacka packraft which Steve was curious to try. A slick Feathercraft spending the day paddling alongside the dumpy Denali was not how we’d planned it, so having messed about looking for the right put-in (the map guide above was not so clear) we decided to just get as far as we got before dark and train back to Tonbridge.
Either they’d built the dock platforms extra high to discourage canoeists, or the water level at the Tonbridge’s Town Lock was a good 2 or 3 feet lower than normal. It made launching the Kahuna 4 feet below the dock too awkward. Even getting into the Alpacka would have been tricky, so we plodded on into the woods out of town and found a muddy bank from which to deploy our portable water craft. Watching Steve assemble the Kahuna proved it was a pretty quick job – maybe 25 minutes out the bag. I can’t say I was hanging about twiddling my thumbs by the time I’d pumped up the packboat, put on a drysuit and clamped the two halves of my paddle together with that satisfying ‘click’.
‘Merdeway’ Steve had called it, not having done it either and expecting the usual jetsam slalom through a neo-urban river’s kayak-stabbing detritus. The Kent countryside is not like the wilds of Scotland and the Medway didn’t exactly look like the Everglades in springtime. He’d picked up the official river guide somewhere but it looked a bit basic to me. If we’d looked online right here or on www.medwaycanoetrail.co.uk (MCT link  dead) we’d have found out why the river was low. In fact Steve had checked online and just saw ‘Green – All Clear’ at Allington, rather than a skull and crossbones.
The river hereabouts had actually been closed for boating a few days earlier because Eldridge Lock was about to get a make over and was wide open, running a dodgy 3-foot drop followed by a train of nasty-looking eddies (below left). You’d think they might have put up a red flag or a boom or something. It’s just as well we’re not hard of hearing because whatever that ominous rushing noise was, we wanted a look first which meant clambering through more cloying mud up the exposed river banks and onto the lock. [I’ve since been informed that there should have been signs at Town Lock and the bridge 500m upstream of Eldridge Lock saying “Danger River Works ahead – River closed ” but I can’t say we saw them.]
Looking down on it (left), with a fast run up a long boat like the Kahuna would probably have speared itself over, but I’m pretty sure that with half the available speed, the Alpacka would’ve merely plopped over the edge like a wet mattress and promptly flipped backwards (or ‘bandersnatched’ as they call it in America). Soon after, I’d get sucked into some lethal hydraulic tumbler with all the plastic bottles and dead badgers. Urgh, gives me the creeps. I don’t like canal locks at the best of  times.
Just past here we swapped boats; I eased myself into the yellow Featherc Raft and shoved backwards off some rocks. Without any anatomical adjustments, first impressions were not good. The seat back was too inflated, pushing my shins off the foot rests up onto the underdeck. Plus Steve’s Bending Branches paddle, hand carved from a narwhal’s tusk by a blind Inuit shaman, seemed all wrong in my hands. It took me 5 minutes before I even managed to turn the 14-foot boat round but once Steve deflated the backrest I fitted in better and felt more at home.
Man, it sure is nice to g–l–i–d–e smoothly and quietly along a river after half an hour splashing left to right like a ferret in a whirlpool. This surely is at the heart of kayaking’s appeal: smooth, quiet, weightless, waterbound progress. The £2200 Big  Kahuna was a pleasure to paddle, once you’re in it’s all go, but getting in an out was the usual ballet on barbed wire for me, and there are a lot of locks on the Medway Canoe Trail. It can’t be all that bad though. Last summer Steve has spent weeks and weeks Kahooning down the Danube (above left) with a posse of Germanic Rührschaufellen.
Back on the dreary Medway, there was a conspicuous lack of complaining emanating from the Glorified Inner Tube. Could Kahunaman be secretly enjoying the little packboat? We swapped back to our own paddles, much better for me. I was breaking in my new oversized and super-light Werner Corryvrecken, and could now really shift the Big K. Every stroke translated to a breeze across the face. It had been a long time since I felt that in a packboat.
I knew there was a canoe chute somewhere on this river, which added an element of un-Kentish excitement. I never even knew the Brits were into these like they are in France where they’re called glissades and are a lot of fun on a hot summer’s day (let alone the portage aggro they save). Porters Lock was the chute – or ‘canoe pass’ as they call them here – but suddenly the idea of being hurled down it wrapped in a rubbery sarcophagus of alloy tubes filled me with horror. I really do have a problem with these SinKs! We got out and recce’d the raging sluice which drops all of a metre or maybe even two over 10 metres or so. That done we deduced confidently that at least one of us might survive the drop and crawl to the bank alive to paddle again.
We swapped back to our own boats and interestingly Steve admitted after he had a lot of bother regaining control of the long Kahoo and thought I’d sawn through one of the tubes as a jape. It transpired that just a short spell of nuance-free packboating – requiring as it does all the poise and balance of slouching semi-conscious in a sofa – had been sufficient for his cerebral cortex to delete eons of kayaking skills. Or so he thought though actually increasing the pole tension on his FC at the swapover had altered the hull dynamics to tippier and less turnable. Eventually he lined it up and slid down the chute like a component on a production line. No big drama; nor for me in the raft.
Clambering over the next lock we came across a barge lady chopping up wood in advance of the next cold spell forecast in a few days time. Three more locks to Yalding she said, our planned take-out at Mile 8 by the famous thatched Anchor pub. As we dropped the boats in we realised this stagnant back channel was actually under an inch of mostly intact ice. No problem I thought reboarding the Kahuna, the pointy end will cut through it like an icebreaker making a nice sound effect and a path for the Alpacka to follow. No it won’t. Instead the bow will ride up onto the ice sheet and start tipping the boat sideways if the ice didn’t give way in time. Yikes! Even in a drysuit I was getting chilled and didn’t fancy tipping myself into the pea-green, near-freezing waters of the Merdeway. Meanwhile, propped in the handy packboat, Steve attacked the ice with his sturdy narwhal tusk as the boat bobbed and spun around.
He had more success in the raft because the kayak’s distant prow was too far ahead for me to reach up and hack at the ice – plus my super-light Corry didn’t have the clout to do any more than scratch and slither over it. The patch of iced-up river was only about 30 metres long and Steve bashed on through along the bank like a contestant from whatever they call It’s a Knockout these days, until we were free again and on our way to Yalding. Now you know, when the Ice Age returns, packraft better than long kayak.
By the time we got to Sluice Weir (left) I was back in the packboat. We could see the chute was on the right, access blocked by a big tree trunk (below left). I nipped out to have a look from above and was a bit shocked: this chute was twice as steep and twice as long as Porters. The photo on the right taken during repairs shows it to be about 30°. Where were we, Alton Towers all of a sudden?
Rather tellingly the Medway Canoe Trail website features lots of shots of wholesome young couples with great posture shooting down Porters chute with toothsome smiles, but you won’t find a trace of the Juicy Sluicey Weir chute other than sexed-down refs that it’s a bit on the steep side for long boats [which may bury their nose and send you flying]. In a packraft – who knows how it would handle it, but on a warm summer’s evening it would sure be fun to find out. A couple of degrees above freezing in winter had less appeal and anyway, Steve was paddling commando with no skirt or dry suit and was already feeling the chill. Had the bank been accessible and not a scrum of brambles I’d have tried wading in and pulling the tree away, but a few minutes in that near-freezing water would have got nasty, let along the worry of slipping and getting sucked on a boatless ride down the chute. Maybe we’ll go back with a saw and a rope some time. [Again, I’m told a more explicit sign warning ‘Warning: steep chute’ is in the pipeline.]
From then on it got to be a a bit of trudge for me in the packboat towards Yalding. Steve was getting cold hanging around waiting for me and I was getting puffed out trying to keep up, and both our feet were numb from the cold. In the end he instructed me to hook up and towed me along by my packrafting ears. The GPS had proved what was fairly obvious, the Kahuna was easily twice as fast as the Alpacka and as you’ll see in the vid, a pointless head-to-head race had me thrashing at the water like a drowning addax, while Steve pulled ahead calmly, lighting a cheroot and texting in bids to his broker.
Another lock, and portage? Who knows I’d lost track, but we arrived at Yalding and managed to haul ourselves up a wall onto the pub’s forecourt where they screw the ashtrays to the tables. We rolled up our boats and inside had a tea and a burger, waiting out the icy chill until the train back to Tonbridge was due.
All of 8 miles we did in 4 hours or so. The classic run is from Tonbridge right through to Allington in Maidstone, 32kms it says. And from there as far again to Rochester is on the estuarine tides and beyond the reach of river byelaws. But once the Eldridge lock is fixed up and with at least two other chutes on the way to Yalding, the Medway sounds like a fun run between the tame flatwater stages and portages. The river agency have certainly done a good job building in canoe*-friendly infrastructure (at normal water levels). 

There are bigger maps here. * ‘Canoe’ by the way is what non-paddling English and the media call kayaks and canoes.