Liffey Descent

This year's Liffey Descent was favoured by sunshine and good weather, in contrast to the preceding week which had been very wet. It featured extremely high water levels, which made for faster progress, but longer recoveries from capsizes. And I had my share of these....

The start was chaotic. There was about a mile carry, I had brought my trusty portage trolley, and I was lucky enough to get help to wheel my canoe to the start fairly early before the official start.

This gave me chance to recover my breath, which was a good job as the first thing you have to do is paddle 1km UPSTREAM, I seriously thought I might have to give up, but eventually made it to the canoe holding area only to find that the single canoes (there was 5 of us) went off with the touring doubles, so I set off late and soon arrived with many other paddlers at Straffan Weir. I got down safely but was capsized at the bottom and struggled to get the canoe upright and empty (made more difficult by my fine spray deck). A frogman was quickly on scene to help, but was not used to open canoes! Eventually I got in and started bailing, with difficulty and landed the canoe down stream and emptied it on the side of the river. I looked around, and found that I'd been passed by everyone, I was last on the descent!

So off I paddled and after a mile I passed a double canoe, in another mile I heard voices and passed a group of rescue divers who asked if I was last man, so I told them of the double and pressed on. Further on voices were heard and I overtook three ladies dressed as fairies, then a group of kayakers, several more canoeists and then I was through the jungle. Vanessa Weir and Templemills Weir swiftly came and were shot, followed by a very bumpy rapid (Castletown Rapids) overtaking more canoeists and kayakers all the while (a tribute to my new racing paddle a lightweight carbon fibre job). I was getting exhilarated by the speed of descent, and amazingly felt fresh, in contrast to those I was overtaking. Then came Leixlip Lake, a three mile flat slog, and I could see more competitors in the distance having managed to claim three more places by the portage.

I was looking forward to a drink and food but when I parked my canoe on the bank I found my food had gone. It's a long portage which I was not looking forward to, and a double crew I had overtaken asked if they could put their canoe on top of mine on the trolley. So holding on to their canoe (a Coleman - very heavy) we ran the portage and put in at the bottom of the dam and entered fast rapids.

There followed Sluice Weir, where I was directed to shoot it on the right (normally a slow route) but this time a whizzing drop and fast water! I was catching up now and saw signs of housing, and soon came on to Lucan Weir. I was guided by the safety crew to a spot on the right hand side (the High Drop) and I looked aghast at the steep drop which was over two canoe lengths into a short stretch before being slowed by the safety crew and avoiding crashing into the bank. I was grateful for my spray deck as I went under water at the bottom.

I got a warm cheer from the crowd on the bank, which was very uplifting! After a while I came across more competitors and another weir, Anna Liffey, where I was beckoned by the safety man, but was swept down backwards and was capsized when I hit bottom. This time I had a quick rescue by the canoeists who were providing safety, and who wisely undid the spray cover to empty out the water, so I was soon on my way among the quick stream which soon came onto a V weir, Wrens Nest, which I didn't recognise from my hazy recollection of a previous, tandem descent. I inspected the weir, and was thinking of going down the V when I saw the frogmen beckoning and pointing just in front of them. So I went along the top to the spot indicated and dropped over almost in free fall! It was nearly vertical so again I was pleased with the spray deck, as I went underwater, and then was caught by the cross currents and capsized. It took my breath away, and I had difficulty breathing, but the safety was reassuringly quick and we were soon in the edge. I was still struggling for breath and so I was guided to a get-out with my canoe, and passed on to the First Aiders who immediately gave me chocolate and wrapped me in a survival blanket. I was shaking uncontrollably and knew that they would take me off the water, so it was no surprise when the led me to their ambulance and wrapped me in more blankets. Sweet tea and more chocolate followed and they turned the heater on and soon I was beginning to feel toasty. I said I was feeling better and would go on, but they said it was the end for me and my rescuer provide some fetching hooped tights to replace my waterlogged thermals and gave me a lift to the finish at the War Memorial Park.

Despite my dunking, I heartily recommend this as an outing, there is a great atmosphere and everyone is very helpful and supportive. Next year is the 50th Liffey Descent so why not make it a booking in your calender if you are 3 star!

- Philip Sowden