It rained all day on Monday August bank holiday and while the Notting Hill Carnival crowds were shivering and sheltering under umbrellas my swimming club Out to Swim went white water rafting at the Olympic Centre in the Lee Valley. Mike & I took the easy route by train from Liverpool Street to Waltham Cross then a short walk to the centre. Others chose more challenging transport arrangements.
The Lee Valley White Water Centre is entirely man made, a fantastic facility with two courses, though only one was going when we went. The water is clean and chlorinated to swimming pool standard so no danger of contracting any exotic diseases such as might be found in muddy tropical waterways.
We started off with a welcome briefing where we were issued with wet-suits and rubber boots. Into the changing rooms to struggle into the tight fitting suits and emerging into the rain looking like the crew of the Star-ship Enterprise, we waited for a few stragglers to arrive. Then it was the fitting of life-jackets and helmets then the signing of a form which absolved the Centre of any responsibility in the case of an accident. We were divided into two teams and allocated a boat captain each. The guys did a sort of double act training us. How to rescue a man overboard was first up, then instructions on how to float down-stream feet first and grab hold of a rescue rope thrown from the side. In the boats we started in a huge mill pond learning the instructions: Forwards (paddle,) Back (paddle), Fast, Stop, lean left, lean right, get down. We then had to all jump in with a star shaped belly flop (no streamlined dives) and swim to shore. Next was to jump in a rapid and float down stream feet first then when instructed, swim to shore. They guys had advanced warning that we were a swim club so were confident that we could actually swim.
To begin the first run the boats had to mount a travellator which lifted us up to the start. We had a dash to be first boat up, which caused a bit of excitement. The others won that round. Our first run was more or less straight down which went pretty well. Only one man fell out but was rescued immediately. Gathering confidence, our next run messed about in some of the rapids getting drenched, having to lean over to prevent the boat capsizing – all great fun. Our captain confessed that they were hoping the swim club was going to be women and asked our name.
‘Out To Swim we’re a gay club,’ someone said.
‘We’re the butch ones,’ I added.
So, on the next run he asked if we wanted to be even more dangerous or would we like to do a straight run.
‘More dangerous,’ we shouted.
And so off we went several more times. On the penultimate run the captain warned we could flip on one rapid, and indeed we did. All fell out of the boat. I was momentarily trapped underneath emerging with feet facing upstream but still clutching my paddle. I managed to turn around and when the captain shouted that we should grab any spare paddles, I ended up with one in each hand which made it a bit difficult to swim. All along the course, rescuers were at the ready and I got thrown a rope which I managed to clutch along with the paddles, to be dragged ashore, backwards. When we emerged we found we were a man down. He’d had an argument with a rock and had gone to the minor injuries unit. There was time for one more run with only six in the boat. Hot showers finished off what was undoubtedly and unanimously the perfect activity for a rainy day.