Fat Bottom Sally’s Maiden Voyage

Since Christmas, Hayley and I had been dreaming about inflatable boats. Last week we bought one, and it is glorious. In the excitement of it arriving I blew it up in our living room, using the air in my lungs. I then sat in it for a bit, recovering, while Hayley went online to buy a very necessary pump.

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What better conditions to test out Sally than a cold, windy, grey day in Hampshire? We pulled into a muddy carpark next to the Basingstoke Canal, got out and scouted the area for the best launch zone. Option one was a very windy area with a two foot plunge into the water. Option two was a short drop from a sheltered muddy track. Option three was a dark but sheltered tunnel. We hauled the Kayaks out of the car, inflated them on the bank and made for the water. I gave Hayley some helpful advice and she gave me this lovely gesture in return.

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First trips are for making mistakes, and we made plenty. Having decided against the optional extra of a keel, we were blown from right to left, into brambles and hedges. The wind was pretty strong. It was the sort of wind in which unless you paddled, you began to go in reverse. As we paddled, I remembered that Hayley and I had been kayaking before, in the summer.

Not knowing the best arrangement for paddling, we put Hayley at the front and myself at the back. The problem with a two person kayak, is that the person in the back has to follow the rhythm of the person in the front. Hayley is from the school of quick, light strokes, whereas as I leant more towards longer strokes. I don’t know which is best, but both at the same time is probably the worst. With every stroke I showered myself in canal water. I’m fairly sure some of the water ended up in Hayley’s hood too… but I didn’t feel the need to mention that until later.

Our kayak partners (competitors), Steph and Jeremy, had chosen the reverse of our arrangement, with Jeremy at the front. We managed to keep relatively well together for most of the journey, only colliding six or seven times. The goal was a castle some way off, but we gave up on that when we noticed a walker travelling at twice our speed on the towpath.

  
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We decided that the wind was too strong, so after an hour or so of paddling, we turned around. The return journey was easy with the wind on our backs. In Alastair Humphreys’ book ‘Microadventures’ he talks about type 2 fun. I think this adventure was 30% type 1 and 70% type 2. I’m hoping I made enough mistakes for Fat Bottom Sally’s next adventure to be a roaring success. Still, no regrets.

Here is a list of dos and don’ts in case you’re about to buy an inflatable boat.

  • DO avoid battling the wind
  • DO buy decent paddles
  • DO agree on a paddling strategy
  • DO wear waterproofs
  • DON’T deflate your kayak on some dog shit, disguised as mud on the bank of the canal.
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