The Conwy Ascent is a popular 15km canoe race in North Wales, taking place annually on the flooding tide in mid-June. The tidal stream in the narrow entrance to the estuary can run at 6 knots, so there is generally good tidal assistance throughout the race. The river enters the sea from main-land Wales just beyond the eastern end of the Menai Strait. As well as the race, the course can also be paddled as a tour and, owing to a damaged shoulder and a general feeling of unfitness, I decided to do this after being persuaded to take part by Charlie and Jake, both lifetime marathon paddlers, older and fitter than me! With rumours of large standing waves, boat wash and wind over tide, it was not a difficult task to decide to leave the k1 at home and take a sea kayak – so the Cetus came out (well there were no rock gardens so I wouldn’t be adding scratches). At the start we met an Alan and Chris from Macclesfield who were also doing the tour and John, Adrian and Rebecca, as well a large contingent from Trentham canoe club who were all racing
Looking back at the start
Charlie and Jake advised that we should leave towards the end of the start window, as they were typically as fast as the mid-range racers. So at about 12:30 we set off on the rapidly flooding tide. Both Charlie and Jake were paddling home built boats, Charlie’s finished like a piece of furniture and Jake’s a skin on frame kayak that drew lots of admiring glances.
It was not long before we met and overtook other paddlers (this was not a race you understand but I got the feeling that Charlie and Jake didn’t really take the term “tour” to heart).
We started meeting earlier starters
There were two SUPS in the race and although SUP is now widespread, I never quite get used to seeing people standing on water.
Stand up paddler (SUP)
Pretty soon we were at the finish and, as we had beaten the high tide by a long way, we had the task of climbing up the gooey and slippery banks with a very deeply shelving river edge. It was more like a cheap a Saturday evening game show than a boat race!
The deceptive river bank at the finish
While waiting for just a little more water to fill the river we were able to witness the arrival of the first racers – with a very close k2 finish – exciting stuff.
The fastest K2s had a sprint finish
Chris and Alan getting out (without a swim)
Jake and Charlie eating lunch while my coffee brews
Looking back along the lunching finishers
Once it was clear that the tide had turned and the ebb flow began with a reasonable speed, we launched and set off back to the estuary. This was not part of the organised event but saves a car shuttle and with the weather improving, it was a great way to finish the afternoon.
Chris and Alan on the return leg
Passing Conwy Castle the wind picked up a bit of water, the only slightly rough part of the day.
And finally, back past the moored boats and onto the slipway. All in all, I am very pleased that Charlie and Jake talked me into taking part, it was a great experience and I can see why people come back year after year. I think next time I will do it as a race. It will be interesting to find out how our tour times compared with those of the racers as we put in a fair amount of effort (but then again, I have never been for a “gentle” paddle with Jake and Charlie).
Every finisher got a Welsh slate coaster
Update: the results showed that Charlie and Jake did it in 1 hour 16 minutes and I finished in 1 hour 17 minute (taking photo of them crossing the line). This would have put us quite high up the racers, next time we race!