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Day 24 (30th Sep 2013) – Shillingford Bridge to Reading:

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

Today saw the replacement of Ian and Bryan on ‘Hannah’ with a new crew of Martin and Olwyn. The paddlers were down to the foursome of Justin, Stevo, Paul and Curtis. Today was another long run of 19 miles and six locks down the Thames to Reading.


At the first lock the lads met Martin’s Wife Sandy who is a volunteer on the waterways and had called ahead to ease the way for the convoy. At this southern extent of the trip the narrowboats had been replaced by big plastic Gin Palaces with pretentious names like ‘Obsession’ and ‘Island Dreams’ etc. There were some bloody impressive country piles by the river that still appeared to be privately owned. The boys decided that they needed to find a better class of friend.

After about 13 miles and at the third last lock Curtis and Paul decided to pull their boats out of the river and rejoin ‘Hannah’. This blogger certainly won’t use any derivation of the verb ‘to quit’ in relation to this. Enough said.

Justin and Stevo slogged on and spent the time identifying various bird types; Kingfisher, Falcon, Shag (Justin says Cormorant), Moorhen, Coot, little yellow finchy thing…

Eventually they made Reading where a lad from a rowing club recognised them and told them that they had their support. The crew moored at the Tesco mooring and used the opportunity to do a bit of shopping; bread, milk, wine, beer etc.

Later on they had the pleasure of a visit by Marion who had paddled with the boys earlier in the trip around Ferry Compton. Stevo regaled the group with stories of his Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather who had enlisted in the newly formed New South Wales Corp in Reading in 1789 and headed out on the Second Fleet to replace the Marines who’d gone out on the First Fleet. To Australia that is.

Day 23 (29th Sep 2013) – Oxford to Shillingford Bridge:

Monday, September 30th, 2013

The team got a surprise visit this morning from David Bruce of the Bruce Trust, who have supplied the support boat ‘Hannah’ for the rest of the trip, saving the day after the problems with ‘Merlot’. David made the money to set up the trust with the Bruce’s Brewery pubs, all called the something and Firkin. The older members of the group regaled him with stories about various youthful adventures involving his product and venues. David invited all to a reunion get-together at the trust headquarters at a date to be determined.

The team caught a ride to the Falcon Canoe Club on ‘Hannah’ and met up with a cast of thousands. There was Jo Bates, Nick and other members of the Falcon Club, also Paul, Aaron and Sarah plus others from Active360 stand up paddleboard club in Kew. The Active360 club having been super helpful and have donated two sea-kayaks for the duration. There was also Doctors Simon Gabe and Michelle Marshall from St. Marks who are two of Justin’s consultants. There was Steve who has been following the trip online and also Max, the son of Justin’s old mate Adrien, who is visiting from Los Angeles. Adrien’s younger son Anthony was helping with the crewing on ‘Hannah’. The huge flotilla set of from Oxford a little later than usual.


Another new arrival was Paul, Brother of JP and the fifth member of the Parke family to join the crew. As JP is still using the Parke family boat, Paul brought along a small 10.5 foot kayak of the same model as the ‘spare’ kayak, ‘Little Red’. Simon Gabe took Stevo’s boat ‘Patch’ for the day so Stevo and Max shared ‘Little Red’. This was a reunion of sorts for Stevo as he had used this kayak for most of the 2010 Manchester to London run. A long day of 18 miles and six locks was ahead and the crowd had thinned by the time they reached Abingdon lock where Max and Stevo swapped out. The survivors who made it to the debrief at the Shillingford Bridge Hotel were Justin, Stevo, JP, Paul, Simon, Steve and Paul, Aaron and Sarah on their paddleboards, after standing all the way. Well done.

The end of the day saw the sad departure of JP so tomorrow Paul can claim the Parke boat, Stevo can reclaim ‘Patch’ and Curtis can get in a day’s paddling on ‘Little Red’.

Day 22 (28th Sep 2013) – Oxford:

Monday, September 30th, 2013

Rest day! Rather amazingly Justin had scheduled in a day of rest for day 22. But as you can imagine with Gutless there were still some appointments to keep. Justin and the crew went out to the Falcon Canoeing Club and Justin hopped into a K4 kayak with Abbi Edmonds, from K4 Team GB 2012, Sam Glover, and Annie Rose, from Team GB Development Team. Meanwhile the rest munched on bacon sarnies and sipped tea. Afterwards the mob broke up and went on various shopping trips, touristy wanderings or just catching up with stuff.


Stuart had intended to stick around with the team till the bitter end but after worrying about his boat and home overnight decided he had to go back to her and work with his Dad Howard about getting the old girl back to Leeds and patched up. So Victoria drove him back to Gibraltar. Farewell Stu, you will be missed…

Day 21 (27th Sep 2013) – Gibraltar to Oxford:

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

The crew were bolstered today with the addition of several members of Oxford’s Falcon Rowing and Canoeing Club Club. Doug, Mike, Anna, Keith and Bob had brought three Canadian canoes to accompany Justin, Stevo, JP and Curtis into Oxford. Curtis had joined in to ferry the spare ‘Little Red’ reserve kayak which usually sat atop of ‘Merlot’. As the convoy paddled past ‘Merlot’ they gave a sad salute to the faithful old girl who had served them so well.

Today’s run was a fairly easy ten or so miles along the last part of the Oxford canal before hitting the Thames. The kayakers and canoe folk carried their craft around the single locks and made their way south towards academia. As they entered Oxford one of the Falcon lads mentioned that they were passing a pub called the Plough often featured in the TV show ‘Inspector Morse’. JP immediately declared that they would have to stop for a pint. Nobody protested. As the good Inspector would have said, “Pint Lewis, now”

The boats reached the Punter pub in Oxford and Justin was swapped out with Stuart. Stuart would paddle the Argonaut to the Falcon clubhouse to be stored while Justin was whisked to the studio of BBC Radio Oxford for an interview. The rest of the crew, including Victoria and Justin’s Mum, listened to the interview in the pub.

The new support boat, ‘Hannah’ arrived at the mooring outside the pub and the team met up with crew Mike, Ian and Bryan. The lads were all looking forward to a day off on Saturday and the delights of the good city of Oxford on a Friday night.

Day 20 (26th Sep 2013) – Twyford Wharf to Gibraltar:

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

The crew here reunited after Andy brought Stevo JP and Curtis back from his and Jane’s B&B. Stevo saw the sixteen miles planned for the days paddle and decided to swap with Curtis and let the young fellow paddle for the day while he acted as first mate on ‘Merlot’. Selfless, yes, but that’s just the kind of guy he is. ‘Merlot’ had been acting up for a few days with problems with the electrics and engine revs and water getting into the engine bay so a rendezvous with a mechanic was organised for the days end.

Justin, JP and Curtis set off southwards and presently Curtis managed to achieve his second swim of the trip when re-entering his kayak after portaging around a lock. One minute he wasn’t in the water and then he was. Swim seven. The team were briefly together again when ‘Merlot’ was replenished with water and diesel at the first available opportunity. The canal wound through the Cherwell valley and followed the path of the River Cherwell for most of the day. The open farmland eventually changed into woodland and Stevo made the first deer sighting as a doe ran into the undergrowth. At a point where the canal ran beside a railway station Stuart made the first celebrity sighting when he spotted Freddie Jones who apparently plays Sandy Thomas in something called Emmerdale…

Up ahead Justin challenged Curtis to a match race and was subsequently soundly beaten. The paddlers finally made Gibraltar and retired to the Rock of Gibraltar pub for debrief. ‘Merlot’ was limping along and arranged to meet the mechanic at the last lock. The mechanic listened to the engine and then turned to Stuart and said, “as soon as you get out of the lock, turn off the engine”. Uh-oh. Apparently one of the engine legs had snapped causing the engine to vibrate so much as to loosen the seal around the prop shaft and allow water to leak in. The water had ruined the alternator, explaining the electrical problems. This was indeed tragic news. Whichever way you looked at it, ‘Merlot’ had been removed from calculations as several days, at the least, would be required for repairs. All was not lost though, as a new support boat, the 61 foot, wide-beamed ‘Hannah’, supplied by the Bruce Trust, was meeting the team at Oxford the next day. It would require a bit of logistical work, but they would carry on regardless. So, a moments silence and reflection for the gallant ship ‘Merlot’. She won a place in the heart of all who sailed on her.

At Gibraltar the team met Corinne who had generously offered a couple of berths in her narrowboat to help out the cause. Corinne joined in for a ‘stew’ which consisted of everything left in the fridge on ‘Merlot’, delicious. Some of the lads had a nightcap in the pub where locals turned up with instruments and started on some Irish reels and the occasional a cappella. A pleasant end to a rough day.


Day 19 (25th Sep 2013) – Fenny Compton to Twyford Wharf:

Saturday, September 28th, 2013


Another misty morning as Justin and Stevo set out south on the Oxford canal. It was a paddle of several miles before the first set of locks and the lads weren’t in any hurry. Sometime along the canal they came across the carcasses of a sheep and a rabbit floating together. Possibly the final act in a bizarre yet tragic tale of doomed love; we’ll probably never know.

After trolleying the kayaks around a set of five locks and then paddling to the next set of three the boys pulled the boats out again and were almost around the next set of three before meeting New Zealander Keith from the Banbury Canoe Club based in Cropredy. Soon they had linked up with Siobhan, Kristen, Anna and Chris from the club and followed them to the clubhouse for tea and cakes. The Banbury folk then escorted the lads down past the next couple of locks to send them on their way. The boys continued as a twosome down the canal encountering the occasional boater and dogs, some pleasant, some knob-heads as Stuart would say. Somewhere back along the way Curtis was working his way along ‘Merlot’ when he slipped and put one leg into the canal up to the knee. This was considered too trivial to be considered a swim.


Somewhere north of Banbury the two intrepid kayakers encountered a lone kayaker who turned out to be Paul from the Banbury Canoe Club. Paul joined Justin and Stevo through Banbury and to the south. As they passed Paul’s put in point on some parkland Paul spread his arm and declared, “I live about 150 metres that way, whoops” after which he started to tip sideways and slowly entered the water. Swim number six. Paul showed great fortitude to continue with the lads until the next lock, soaking wet. Even Stevo was impressed.

Finally Twyford Wharf appeared and Justin and Stevo pulled out the boats. They had to sit on the towpath for an hour as Justin had ignored the first rule of the overnight stop; nearby pub. Eventually ‘Merlot’ showed up and soon after that Andy arrived to pick up Stevo and Curtis for a meal and a bed at his and Jane’s place in the nearby village of Culworth. On the way back to the village Andy insisted on dropping into the ‘Ye Olde Reine Deer’ pub in Banbury for a quick pint, the lads didn’t object. They then remembered to pick up JP from the train station. JP is the patriarch of the Parke family and the father of Patrick, Will and Louise. He is also a survivor of the 2010 Gutless trip and a trooper.

The boys then had to stop at the George and the Dragon pub in Chacombe for another pint before arriving at Andy and Jane’s house for a feast of spag-bol, garlic bread and red wine. All was well with the world…



Day 18 (24th Sep 2013) – Napton Junction to Fenny Compton:

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The kayakers were back down to two as Stevo and Justin set off down the south arm of the Oxford canal. There were nine locks within a fairly short distance after a paddle of a mile or so. The lads put the kayaks onto their trolleys and proceeded to haul them around a set of four locks followed by another two a little further on. After that they paddled for a while and then carried the boats around the next single lock followed by a combination of carry, drag and even towing around the next two. There followed a long stretch ahead of them towards Fenny Compton.


Meanwhile, back at Napton, Stuart was having problems of his own. The engine was half drowned by water that had leaked in through the prop shaft and after Stuart started the engine amidst a cloud of smoke there was a loud bang and oil spurted everywhere. The oil filler cap blew off and things were looking grim. Stuart spent the next two hours working on the shaft and engine and afterwards looked like an escapee from the old Black and White Minstrel show. Luckily Stuart’s Dad Howard had arrived to assist and the ‘Merlot’ was eventually back on the road. Graham and John on “Lancelot’ was pushing ahead but still slowed through the nine locks south of Napton.

Up ahead Justin and Stevo had met up with Marion and Damian who had paddled up from Fenny Compton in their own kayaks. Marion and ‘D’ are kayaking and sailing enthusiasts who had been following the exploits of Gutless and crew on the web and had decided to drive up and launch into the canal to meet up with our heroes. The now foursome then paddled back to Fenny Compton and the Wharf pub for the traditional debrief.

‘Lancelot’ arrived about three hours after the paddlers and ‘Merlot’ about an hour later. The reconstituted team then enjoyed a few well deserved pints in the beer garden of the pub before enjoying a bit of pub grub. Stevo decided on the handmade faggots with mash and peas just to find out what the hell it was…

Day 17 (23rd Sep 2013) – Crick to Napton Junction:

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013

The promised second fine day in a row didn’t materialise as the threesome of Justin, Stevo and Louise set out from Crick with their kayaks on the roof of ‘Merlot’. Around the corner was Crick tunnel, at 1500 yards it was a bit longer than Bosworth the previous day. After the tunnel it was a short paddle to the Watford locks. These locks are adjacent to the famous Watford Gap services on the M1. It’s slightly surreal to hear the traffic roar past as you paddle underneath the motorway; two different worlds. The lock-keeper informed the crew that he was letting six boats come up the seven lock flight, three locks plus a four lock staircase. A couple of hours wait and the Gutless schedule was going to take a hit…

Eventually the convoy made the bottom of the Watford locks and the kayakers entered the water. A fairly short four mile or so paddle until the Braunston tunnel and Louise decided to take a quick half swim after almost getting out of her kayak and dropping back into the canal. That’s five swims total so far. Then the kayaks were back out of the water and on the roof of ‘Merlot’ for the two thousand yard Braunston tunnel followed by the six flights of the Braunston locks before meeting up with the crew of the next support boat, the ‘Lancelot’, John and Graham. The lads were from the London Narrow Boat Project at Braunston.



It had been a long day so far but without much paddling so Justin set Napton as the target for the day. As it happened ‘Merlot’ has a plaque on her bow declaring Napton as her birthplace, so after home port Crick yesterday she’s having a bit of a retro couple ‘o’ days. Stevo saw an imaginary first pint in front of him so paddled like a mad man and made the six miles in less than one and a half hours .

The debrief was held at the Bridge pub at bridge 111 in Napton Junction. Louise had to head back to Manchester and to work on Tuesday to the distress of the rest of the crew. Later Curtis cooked up a delicious meal of fajitas that was enjoyed by all. Alice gave a rundown of the current state the fund raising situation and declared that Geoffrey Cassidy had donated 100 pounds to take the total over four thousand quid. ‘”I’ve got a brother with that name”, said Stevo, and after a phone call it was confirmed. Geoff was hoping to join the crew for a quest paddle later in the odyssey.

Onward to Oxford…

Day 16 (22nd Sep 2013) – Foxton to Crick:

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

Day 16 out of 32, halfway through the daze. Today provided some of the best weather of the trip so far, clear blue skies and sunshine. Will departed overnight and was replaced with the latest member of the Parke family, Will and Patrick’s Sister Louise. The threesome of Justin, Stevo and Louise set off on a long 18 mile day with no locks and one tunnel.

The paddle was pretty and uneventful up to the Bosworth tunnel, where the kayakers dismounted to load the boats onto the roof of ‘Merlot’. The Bosworth tunnel has a couple of kinks in it so that you can’t see the light at the end. With the kayaks loaded the gallant party entered the maw of the tunnel. Some way in and there was a loud scraping and crashing sound from the back followed by swearing. One of the kayaks had caught on the tunnel roof and slid suddenly back towards Stuart’s head. Luckily it stopped a couple of centimetres from Stuart’s face. Once through the tunnel the trio resumed paddling and had a last chance encounter with the lads with the two ‘plastic’ boats as they passed the other way through a canal junction. A lady on a nearby narrowboat commented, “did you see those two boats, didn’t slow down at all when they came through”. Those boys make friends wherever they go…

The Leicester arm of the Grand Union seemed to be quite overgrown through this next stretch as trees and reeds narrowed it to about a single narrowboat width in places. Stevo was almost cleaned up on a blind bend when a boater failed to see him and Stevo started back-paddling into the reeds. Luckily the driver saw him at last and took evasive action missing the kayak by inches. Phew. Around the next bend was a sheep that had pushed too far into the canal trying to reach tasty leaves and was half submerged and baaing mournfully. Stevo considered trying to help but figured he’d just end up in the water with it. Finally they spotted a group on a turnover bridge that was Victoria and Guy and Alice as well as Curtis and his Mum Lesley who’d brought him back to rejoin the party after he’d left back in Keadby.


The day ended at the Crick Wharf Marina in Crick which is coincidentally the original home port of ‘Merlot’. So the old girl has come home. The group dined alfresco on a delicious sausage casserole prepared by Alice.

Day 15 (21st Sep 2013) – Kilby Bridge to Foxton:

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

A slightly overcast and moist morning greeted the intrepid crew of the ‘Merlot’ on this 15th morning of the epic adventure. Will and Stevo swapped roles again with Will joining Justin in the kayaks while Stevo would crew for Stuart on the narrowboat.

The day would include 22 locks including the 10 locks at the Foxton staircase. Luckily for Stuart and Stevo they caught up with their old foes in the plastic boats after a couple of locks and teamed up. With enough manpower to walk ahead to the next lock and set it up, the twelve locks up to the Saddington tunnel were tackled with aplomb. The only mishap was when Stuart inadvertently rammed the larger plastic and left a crack in its stern. Well, they did almost kill Gutless. There was an 880 yard tunnel to negotiate today, which was dark and scary and a little slimy.  After Stuart and Stevo passed through the tunnel Stuart handed over the tiller to Stevo so he could take care of business. Stevo steered the boat through to Foxton and was described by Stu as ‘a natural’…

The crew, plus Victoria, Guy and Justin’s Mum, were reunited at Foxton at the bottom of the staircase lock. Staircase locks are used where a canal needs to climb a steep hill, and consist of a group of locks where each lock opens directly into the next, that is, where the bottom gates of one lock form the top gates of the next. Foxton Locks are the largest flight of staircase locks on the canal system. Justin’s Mum hopped aboard the ‘Merlot’ and Stevo, Victoria and Guy worked the locks and gates to get ‘Merlot’ to the top. Later Justin, Guy and Stevo were talking to Stephanie, owner of the Foxton Lock Inn and were kindly offered a free meal for the crew, an offer that was quickly and gratefully accepted.



Momentous occasions #1; today saw the logging of 210 miles, halfway to the world record 420 miles from Skipton in North Yorkshire to Bristol. Unfortunately it probably doesn’t mean that they have negotiated half the 280 locks. They have conquered the Rivers Trent and Soar, some very large river locks and gale force headwinds of course. Total swims is currently at 4.5 but the initial ‘every other day’ hoodoo has been broken.

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