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  • Writer's pictureDean Macken

Liffey Descent - Sept 2005

Friday, 2nd September 2005

Liffey Descent 2005 Written By Karl Donaghey This year’s Liffey Descent was a truly successful one for PaddlePlus. On Friday September 2nd at 8am a team of 7 left Leicester to compete/ survive/ enjoy what is always a tremendous paddle and spectacle. Outside world competitions, the Irish Canoe Unions’ Liffey Descent in Dublin gives paddlers the chance to compete for Gold, Silver or Bronze medals in just about every class of boat. Whilst there have been a good many paddler from Leicester with experience of this event and some with success, not all are attached to PaddlePlus, and despite many trips to the race it usually provides new stories and very different results each time.

Adam “the beard” Brewster, Paul “Lammy” Tennent, Carl Bartlam, James Wingham and myself travelled over to Ireland with a very good, carefully selected backup crew of two…Graham Cornish and Rob Sanders. aka Chap and Chap…..Graham has been on the trip several times and whilst most don't know him, you can take it from me you will not find a more enthusiastic well-organised ‘gadget guru back-up man’ around…..ok you might certainly won't get lost as spectacularly as we did one time and we had sat-nav!!!!! I reckon he just couldn’t get used to the route to the new campsite…. I also reckon his old head has its own stubborn sat-nav locked on to the rugby club that was used in years gone by. On to the race…… This is a brief but accurate description of the race. The Liffey Descent Course Outline: The Liffey takes in just under 18-miles of what must be the finest long-distance canoe racing course in the world – with ten weirs, two stretches of rapids, a punishing portage and the daunting “jungle” to contend with. To add to the occasion, the Electricity Board release 30 million tons of water through their hydro stations to ensure a massive flood for the event.

The unique excitement of the Liffey begins almost immediately, as barely 1,000 metres down from the start line is Straffan Weir. This is one of the most feared hazards on the course as the paddlers begin sorting themselves out as they approach it, still tightly bunched together. A spill there can put paid to a competitor’s chances of a good result.

Once Straffan has been negotiated, the next few miles encompass “the Jungle” and anyone paddling the course for the first time quickly discovers why this stretch is so named – as it is all swirling water and encroaching trees. A slip anywhere here can lead to a long swim seeking a suitable place on the overgrown bank to come ashore prior to rejoining the race.

Beyond “the Jungle” are two weirs, Vanessa and Templemills, situated half mile apart. Both are relatively easy shoots but should still be treated with respect. Shortly after passing under the bridge in Celbridge, the competitors find themselves in the turmoil of Castletown Rapids. Again, caution is called for as this rock-strewn stretch claims a number of swims each year.

With Castletown behind them, competitors now enter calmer waters as they cross Leixlip Lake towards -the damn. The portage is approached on the right hand-bank and involves a grueling 500-yard run over which the paddlers must carry their boats prior to re-entering the river at Leixlip Bridge. Care is required here as over the years more than one competitor has been caught out by the deceptive eddies swirling around the arches of the bridge. Just downstream awaits a stretch of minor rapids which should not prove too much of a problem to anyone prepared for them. A mile further on and it’s Sluice Weir. One way through necessitates shooting the weir on the right, but a miscalculation can lead to a broken bow. Alternatively, the weir can be shot through the 12-foot gap once occupied by the sluice gates. While this route is faster, it is also far trickier as a large standing wave waits at the bottom. Next comes Lucan Weir, and again the paddler has a choice of shoots. It can be taken sideways down the face (the most popular), down the fish steps (not recommended for K-boats), or, for the thrill seeker, over the “High Drop” on the far face. The next obstacle to be overcome is Anna Livia Weir, not nearly as demanding as the previous two but deserving of respect. The only way over this weir is down the fish slide. A long flat stretch now gives the competitors ample time to consider the next hazard, the notorious Wren’s Nest Weir. Essentially a large “V” shape it is imperative to approach at the correct angle or it’s into the huge stoppers on either side and an almost certain swim.

Having safely conquered Wren’s, the paddlers barely have time to settle down before they arrive at the second of the big “V” weirs, Palmerstown. A series of enormous standing waves lurk at the bottom and if the competitor does not enter the shoot at precisely the apex, the waves will be hit at the wrong angle resulting in an almost inevitable capsize.

The final two weirs are almost easy in comparison; the first, Glenaulin, a simple shoot. The second, Chapelizod, is taken down a long fish slide but watch out for jutting rocks as many a paddle has been broken here. With all the obstacles behind them the competitors now face an energy sapping slog to the finish.

If the above description makes it all sound tough then rest assured, it is. But that is how it should be for one of the finest races of its kind and anybody completing the course can justifiably feel well pleased with their efforts. So… did we do????? Word has it “the Beard” Brewster who for the record no longer has a beard was passed a compliment from a person who shall remain nameless. The comment was “that can’t be the beard! it’s a much younger man! he only looks about 20!!” well I reckon SHE was technically right… dog years! The beard, for those of you who don’t know him that well, is in fact 140 years old. Divide that by dog years and you do get a 20-year-old specimen. He of course has the body of a 52-year old and hands big enough to be used as a backup canoe paddle should he break one…and the bandana of hip street skateboarder who of course would like it back when Adam finishes with it!

Seriously though…..The Beard did the club proud……after carefully reading the above race description and previewing Straffan Weir we selected the wrong or right line? It matters not…he swam anyway….he was heard later saying “I needed to cool down my body temp after the frantic start and test the ability of the divers for the remaining 16 odd miles”! The first weir proved too much for him and after thanking the divers for saving his bandana and taking their names so he could invite them around for tea one night, he continued on his merry way…

After negotiating the next few weirs with precise skill and BCU handbook recognised paddling techniques he decided to become “the showman”. Before shooting the Sluice weir he stuck a Hamlet CIGAR in his mush and posed for what could be a very lucrative advertising campaign….you could just imagine the beard in a Hamlet advert sitting on a rock watching his boat float down-stream after being in a medal position, bandana soaking wet and around his left ear water dripping from his chin with his tears and the famous Hamlet tune playing away as he lights his CIGAR…..anyway he missed out on that one cuz he didn’t swim!!!!!! Good job too really cuz the government have banned tobacco companies advertising in sports events.

Just prior to the above part of the race the Beard was momentarily held up at the portage by Carl and Karl and he promptly give them a right roasting!! Apparently he did know who he was talking to because he said he would have actually given us a right B@@@@*!K*$G if it had been someone he didn’t know!

However, the beard continued on and despite a quite spectacular swim just after surfing the powerful right hand stopper on Palmerstons’ notorious V weir, on his back no less, whilst spinning his open canoe on his finger, he paddled on to the end to win a very well earned Silver medal. Honest that’s how it happened; you ask him!

Now then, the two double crews were entered into a strong 98-boat class. The second largest class on the river, behind plastic play boat General Purpose class. If anyone has ever seen the Canadian open boat class (recreational Canadian doubles) on the Exe Descent fighting to reach the first weir just about 150 meters from the start then this was certainly no different. Now it’s not anymore frantic than the K2 class or any more competitive than any of other classes, but when the class is described as the Headbangers by the commentator at the first weir, and over 80% of them fall out there and most of the people paddling these boats know that and many have had their brains removed pre-race just for the occasion, then it's little wonder they go off like highly charged bulls with fire in their eyes and teeth showing swearing at each other to get the $@*k each others boats.

Now I know that last paragraph was hard to follow but that’s it is! Getting over that first weir clear and dry(ish) gives anyone paddling this class a chance of a top ten finish and maybe a medal….. Now the Lammy and James Wingham boat had a hard act to follow and that was Carl and Karl and follow they did!!!! In fact all the way to the end!!

Now we could write an essay on the silly slobber the night before on how they had to view the back of eachothers head cuz that’s all they would see for nearly three hours on Saturday but knowing that Lammy’s pre-race diet was 54 bacon sandwiches, 4 fags, 3 mugs of tea and a wish me luck text to his Doris, Carl and Karl were not too worried!!

The race stories from these two crews would generate a Hollywood blockbuster like the Deliverance so I will save the Directors cut and tell you briefly what happened. The boys did both make the top ten and with respectable times but sadly outside the medals, but 4 swims and a couple of heavy ones didn’t help their cause.

So, the Lam and his fat neck mate Wingham fell out at weir 1 Straffan, which is a no no, also at Lucan's slide weir the “sluice” and Palmerstown. Carl and Karl also fell out at Lucan's and Palmerstown but more embarrassingly at Temple Mills which is a pussy of a weir, a bit like Abbey park but slightly more broken, and they shot the wrong side for a dry attempt and Wrens nest.

This was because they, or rather Karl, made the classic mistake of changing his mind just before the attempt! Answers on a postcard please but it was very bad shoot with a very grim return, and they will definitely not be shooting it that way again or together for that matter, as Carl sacked Karl and here endeth their paddling career together…all together now Aaaahhh!

Carl and Karl came 7th in 2hrs 59 something…race number 664 and Lam and James came 9th in 3hrs 01 something….race number 663. Beards time was 3hrs 11 and a bit ….race number 298. If you would like to see the action then go to and click on Liffey Descent 2005 and enter the race numbers in the competitor section to view the pics.

Our neighbouring club Soar Valley also had a presence at this year’s event with some very respectable results Jes Oughton, Jessica Oughton and Jamie Oughton all had a fantastic race. Jessica was moved to a tough adult class and finished a creditable 4th. Father and coach Jes, chased Jamie down towards the end but Jamie just pipped 3rd spot and a bronze in a photo finish after 17.6miles. Incredible. Editor's note: thanks to Karl for his account of the race (I have heard other accounts of what was the same race!) You have got to ask - if a ‘team’ of two can’t even spell their common name the same - should they be paddling together?

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