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All pictures Copyright of Neil Thomas
But first - The Tale of the Tin-Eye-Talian - the blog goes abroad!
Thursday 31 August
23:00 Graham and Peter arrive at my Dad's house in Chester. We discuss the route we will take tomorrow morning to Holyhead for the ferry to Ireland.
"A55, straight to Holyhead, can't miss it. Almost impossible to go wrong." says my Dad.
Friday 1st September
07:15 We head towards Manchester on the A494 Graham having managed the "Almost impossible".
"Someone must have risen early and changed all of the signs..your Dad for example"
08:45 In the queue for the Ferry, Graham gets his revenge.
Actually, no, I haven't. Start to mentally work out how I'm gonna get from Holyhead to Richmond and back in time to get the next morning's ferry when we reach the kiosk. No passport required for UK citizens. Terrorists of course will be required to carry some sort of identification or we won't know who they are will we?
9:30 Meet up with other Richmond paddlers in the "lounge", decide not to get breakfast as we've already had one. Fat boys Graham and Peter decide to do on the basis that fat floats...and they, on past experience, need all the flotation they can get...
10:45 Join the food queue coz I'm hungry
10:50 Woman in front of me orders 500 bacon baguettes
11:00 Leave food queue coz there's none left. Bugger.
12:30 Head in convoy for campsite.
13:00 Arrive campsite, put up tent. Craig and Andy put up half their tent, the other half is somewhere else. We all pretend to be concerned.
13:45 Head off for quick recce of Liffey weirs. This involves much driving around entering peoples gardens, climbing over fences and no small amount of swearing. Pass some small boys playing football...several times. The score was, I think, 26 - 18 with 5 missed penalties and two sendings off. Little Seamus had to go early coz his Mum said his tea was ready.
19:30 Arrive back at campsite exhausted and somewhat knackered. Discover showers require tokens of which we have preceisly...none. The token shop is shut. In another part of Dublin dogs sniff the air keenly, wondering perhaps, where the rotting chicken drumsticks have been left out....
20:15 Stand in queue for food at a shopping centre. We make quick decision to decamp to the Pizza Hut next door.
20:20 At the Pizza Hut we all order pasta
Waiter: "Ah now..we haven't got any of dat"
Waiter: "Well, to be sure we have eye-talian 'tin ones but we're out of eye-talian 'tick ones"
Waiter: "Yes..plenty of the celery type stuff..and turnips"
Us: "You're actually just a hut aren't you?"
Waiter: "To be sure we are dat..."
21:30 Leave the "hut", actually the eye-talian Pizza's weren't that bad...
22:00 Arrive back at campsite to find I have camped under a street light next to some over active campers. Gloomily zip up my sleeping bag anticipating a sleepless night.
Saturday 2nd September RACE DAY
06:00 Amazingly had brilliant night's sleep and awake to the clatter of saws and drills. Famed for their lack of preparation Richmond's finest have set up a kayak workshop and are levering their boats out of their moulds just hours before the race. Naturally by the time I get up they're just fitting the pumps, buoyancy and seats....
07:30 Peter returns from shop with Weetabix and has three! Three...I mean is he sure that's sensible? Graham sensibly has a snooze. Breakfast has worn him out.
09:30 After a leisurely breakfast (what's the hurry?) we head for Straffan where the race starts. The car park is awash with paddlers all scurrying around making last minute preparations to their boats. Richmond paddlers are well prepared and are drying off the gel coats with a portable hair drier. Henry begins to ask about the possibility of borrowing a boat off someone.
09:45 Announcement over the tannoy system
"Right we have a fit looking French chap who's lookin for a bit of a paddle, does anyone have some space in their boat?"
Amazingly someone does and everyone gives a cheer as the "fit" chap is snapped up. I try my luck:
"Ahrrrn offer is this short round fella from Richmond who'd like to meet a nice Oirish girl for heavy bouts of drinking...and maybe more, he says he has money but from the look of him y'wouldn't tink so". I am to be married to Gertrude from Dundalk a week wednesday.
10:30 Trot off to bridge to bag my spot.
The compere (this is Ireland remember) is atop the concrete hut (sic) next to the weir and is trying to whip the crowd up.
"Give us a big oirish cheer from the bridge..c'mom now!!!!!"
"Y'fat bastard, oi hope d'roof caves in"...
People look at me strangely and I vow never to have meths on my Weetabix again.
11:45 Divers and rescue boats begin to move into position and the competitors begin to appear on the water, some paddling down to the weir for a closer look some preferring to bolt upstream to the start line...
12:15 Excitement building now as the compere, we'll call him Shane, bellows into the microphone
"Anyone from Salmon Leap!! Any supporters from Castletown!!"
"There's one from Richmond!!" I shout back.
The meths fug had only just lifted and I was barely aware of the hard stares and uneasy change in atmosphere on the bridge...
12:25 More excitement as French Paul in a K1 shoots the weir a full five minutes before the official start. Apparently his white water boat was... er... well not available and in his excitement had to borrow Seans K1.
12:30 The mad dash by the first group off (K2s) has begun and they reach the weir at full tilt. Lots of clashes and shouting as the first three make it but theres a log jam at the bottom and two capsize in succession. The divers and plastics plunge into the foam to haul out the unlucky ones and I'm snapping everything that moves.
12:40 K2s are thru - Henry and Shane are casualties as are Peter and Graham (broken rudder as well). The K1s are almost on the weir and some of the GB boys are giving Gary Mawer a run for his money snapping at his rudder as he runs the weir just to the left of the fish ladder. Lots of K1 casualties with Karl, Sue and others getting spun and turned in the churning stoppers at the bottom of the weir.
12:50 Run to the car and head for the weir at Lucan, manage to take wrong turn but Graham's VW has a 2.8L VR6 under the bonnet and I'm doing a Starsky down some obscure lane towards the river. I think. Only the colour (purple) slows me down and I arrive in Lucan in good time to set up below the weir.
13:25 The Garda are out in force and the full Lucan contingent is patrolling the bank. He warns parents to control unruly children and to be aware that "foreign paparazzi" are mingling with the crowd and they should gaurd against "immodest approaches". Mothers clutch their children to them and look round nervously. I attempt to hide my camera and lens but an old lady spots me and extends a bony finger towards me; "There's one...burn him!!". Ha Ha...Well fortunately everyone has a bit of a laugh before the genial atmosphere is broken by French Paul as he bombs over the weir.
"Aller les bleu!!! I shout
The Gard unholsters his pistol and throws himself behind a picnic table before someone shouts a translation to him.
"Feckin eejit..there was me 'tinkin you were one of them suicide fellas!". He re-holsters his gun remarking that I certainly looked like I was wearing explosives. Diet starts next week...
13:35 Rest of the field starts to appear above the weir and yer man with the flippers standing on top takes on the demeanour of a busy transport cop waving people over the weir. He's doing a great job and to the crowds delight directs them, like some latter day smugglers assistant, onto the rocks below. Fab stuff as some, seeking fame and fortune, attempt the vertical drop offered at the second part of the weir. Amazingly few casualties but lots of spectacular shots as they flip over the top trailing their paddles vertically on the water wall.
Richmond paddlers doing there bit to keep everyone happy and are taking full advantage of the washing facilities at the bottom of the weir. Many are saved by the "Catchers" who are experienced enough to dive in and right the boats before the occupants fall out.
I miss Graham and Peters attempt at the weir but I do catch the aftermath as Graham looks like thunder, inspecting the heavily damaged nose with a "Well we haven't got another one so this'll have to do". Oh dear. Peter's attempt at joviality "Look its Neil, smile for the camera" is met with what can only be described as a "sense of humour loss". Good stuff!!
14:15 Most people are over the weir and I head for the finish at the rowing club in Dublin. Job done...or so I thought
14:40 Manage to shoot a few more people as they trickle in but I'm running out of space on my camera. Where are Peter and Graham????
15:45 After a couple of pints I ask the race control chaps what the form is on lost crews. "Dunno, I expect they'll turn up, although sometimes they don't" he says. And 5 minutes later they do, except they'er carrying the boat....The nose is heavily strapped but throwing caution to the wind the intrepid explorers fling the "banana" into the Liffey one more time and do the last 250M at a steadily increasing angle. They make it to loud cheers from the Richmond paddlers watching from the bank.
16:30 Join queue for food...."I'm sorry but its run out".