Kayaking the Contis River. Our armada of disaster.

I have sent Jo off on a kayaking course today in our local pool. Why? Here's the story of what happened last time she got in a kayak, from my series in MMM Magazine about our trip to western France.

"On our first full day in the town we managed to prize the kids away from their hammock and headed off in search of adventure. We found a kayaking centre on the banks of the Contis River. As this was on my list of ‘must-do’ adventures on this trip (I had wanted to kayak down the Dordogne) I booked us in and convinced everyone it would be great.

It was only when we were about 50 yards into the trip that Joanne revealed to me, whilst drifting the wrong way downstream, that she’d never piloted a kayak before. By that time it was too late. We had been driven about 5 miles upstream and then shoved off the bank in two sit-on kayaks by our guides, with one child each. I assumed one of the guides would come with us but they just waved and wished us ‘bon chance’ as we disappeared down the swift flowing river. Joanne hit the first overhanging tree sideways and drifted through its foliage with a yelp, revealing her inexperience with a paddle in its full, calamitous glory.

We were up the creek, or rather, down it, and heading for divorce. I am an experienced canoeist so found the river exciting and challenging, but Jo and the kids have done all of five minute’s canoeing between them and were soon furious with me. Even Charlie, who was getting a free ride in front of me, and frankly not putting in enough effort with the paddle, was cross on behalf of the other craft in our armada of disaster.

The river wound its way through the countryside in a series of eddying pools, sharp bends and shallow rapids that were totally unforgiving for novice kayakers Joanne and Maggie. The minute they righted themselves after one mishap they’d hit the next obstacle sideways or backwards. If they didn’t do that they’d just ram the bank and get stuck in the mud. They persevered but each time they got in a mess the cries became more desperate.

Hoping that they might get the hang of it I waited to intervene but eventually, when the tears began to fall, I hooked them up to my kayak and towed them the rest of the way. The only problem with this was that they whipped from side to side behind me like an angry tail (which they were) as I struggled to get the flotilla around each bend. So they hit the overhanging trees anyway. It was a no win situation, either for me or Jo: she blamed me for the river, the kayaks, the trees and the bad time she was having whilst I had to paddle the whole family the best part of 4 miles down the river. By the time the river widened and became calmer and easier to navigate it was too late. We might have seen terrapins sunning themselves, storks fishing and shoals of huge fish darting about in the brackish water but it made no difference. Even the sight of swarms of beautiful neon blue dragonflies couldn’t save the day. We sulked back to base and no one spoke much at dinner that evening."


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