Following their recent successes at the Inter Services Sprint and Marathon Champs 11 RAF kayakers competed for their UKAF colours out of a team of 17 at the National Club Marathon Championships. The ‘Hasler Final’ is the culmination of the season where all of the top clubs in Britain come together to compete for the honour of being crowned the best. The Hasler race series takes its name from Herbert ‘Blondie’ Hasler who led Operation Frankton, a WW2 commando raid in double kayaks on the port of Bordeaux. The story of this raid was made into a 1955 film, The Cockleshell Heroes.

Each competitor has to qualify for the final by competing in 3 divisional races that determine what division and what category (singles or doubles) they race in and which club they race for at the final. The organisers have always been very understanding of the armed forces; the UKAF competitors qualify by racing for their respective Service and are granted dispensation to only race 2 qualifiers before coming together as a UKAF team for the final.

The team assembled alongside around 600 other paddlers at Norwich Kayak Club on Sunday morning. Depending on the division they had qualified in, the competitors raced over distances from 3 to 12 miles with mass starts for each division.   The pre-starter lines everyone up and slowly brings them towards the start line where he hands over to the main starter. The eager try to jump the start by edging forward but are given a warning. In the big divisions there isn’t enough room to squeeze everyone in side by side. As they jostle for the most room the starter calls ‘ready’ and then the start horn blasts. The start is manic. Unlike the sprint, there are no lanes. Paddles clatter, the water churns up, boats surf down the wash of faster starters which means the rudder no longer works. Collisions are inevitable and swims are common.

The sprint start lasts for about the first 500m until everyone gathers their breath and the race settles down. It is now all about the tactics, not unlike a road cycling race. Those clubs with more than 1 boat in the race will work together, using each other’s wash in the same way that a cyclist would draft behind their team-mate. Everyone looks to steal a wash from other competitors before taking up the effort. Allegiances between racers form where they work together to catch the group in front. Minds start to think about the portage where every paddler has to leap out of their boat and run around an obstacle before jumping back in and sprinting away again. Races are won and lost on a portage and for the higher divisions competing over 12 miles there are 3. As the competitors come towards the end of the race it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Nobody wants to take up the effort and give the ‘wash hanger’ an easy ride. The sprinters will leave it tot he last minute whilst the endurance paddlers will go for the victory early, I said it was like cycling!

So, as the day progressed a number of RAF individual and team efforts started to rack up the points for the UKAF team. Notably the long standing pairing of C/T Dave Duff and Sgt Jason Smith came 3rd in the Div 3 K2, Fg Off Mike Lambert 2nd Div 8 K1 and Reservist, AC Mike Yeomans 2nd in Div 6 K1. This was the first time Mike had been able to race for the UKAF, earning him his colours and UKAF tie. He was absolutely delighted with the result having travelled down from Scotland for the race.

“Looking forward to next year. Great to get the chance to be part of the team. Thanks to all and especially the Team Leadership”

AC Mike Yeomans RAuxAF

Overall the UKAF placed 8th in the competition, an outstanding effort for a team without the youngsters to score in the junior categories. If you want to get involved in Kayaking take a look at the RAFCA Facebook or their Website. The association caters for all levels and most types of kayaking and are always on the lookout for new talent.  

Full results for UKAF Competitors:

RAF Paddlers: Chief Tech Duff / Sgt Smith – 3rd Div 3 K2,  Fg Off Mike Lambert – 2nd Div 8 K1, AC Mike Yeomans – 2nd Div 6 K1, Fg Off Bowyer/ SAC Jon Astbury – 10th Div 4 K2, Sgt Dave Best / Gp Capt Sharp – 12th Div 5 K2, FS Jim Callow – 17th Div 5 K1, Chief Tech Paul Banfield – 12th Div 6 K1, SAC Lenny Clark – 26th Div 4 K1

ACU Paddlers: Maj Andrew Seddon – 6th Div 4 K1, Capt Rob Willis – 13th Div 5 K1, Chris Lay – 7th Div 6 K1, Col Fowkes / Ives – 17th Div 4 K2, Sgt Sulette Klopper – 8th Div 8 K1