Thursday, 26 May 2011

Wheelchairs and Trip Planning - Google Earth

Rivers, lakes and the sea are not always the most accessible of places for wheelchairs.   There are a number of issues to consider when planning a trip.  They can often depend on whether the trip is supported or unsupported.  Nearly all paddles I've done are unsupported (Ie No support crew / car).  The three main considerations are the put in and take-out locations and any portages.

Google Earth is a brilliant tool for planning trips.  I've used it to scout out boat ramps, car parks, beaches and portage routes.

Portaging - Portages are always usually hassle.  Finding a good take-out and put in point, getting my chair out and getting over fences etc is always a bit of a nightmare.  We always try to paddle through locks where possible.  This sometimes takes a bit of lock-keeper blagging, but we've found most of them really helpful.

Transfers-  Boat ramps, baeches and pontoons are ideal, however, sometimes not possible.  I had to do some scary put ins and chair-canoe transfers on the Mississippi.  The following picture required a 'leap of faith' from my chair to the canoe after my friends had got me down a 45 degree boulder bank.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Adventure Canoeing

My first experience of a multi day canoe trip was our 2350 mile navigation of the Mississippi River in the summer of 2007.  I'd been canoeing for approximately 12 months.  Our club had been trying to arrange a trip to paddle the Caledonian Canal in Scotland which is approximately 60 miles.  We appraoached the organisation who manages the canal.  As soon as I mentioned that a few people in our party had disabilities the safety officer started piling out every excuse in the book to keep us off it.  On 'safety' grounds of course!!

It was this sort of attitude, along with a desire for adventure and challenge, that led me to dream up an unsupported navigation of the Mississippi.  Insprired by Don Starkell' s "Paddle to the Amazon" book I roped in 2 good mates and we started planning.

We chose a Wenonah Seneca 3-man canoe.  It worked out perfectly.  Low seats, a super-light hull, stability and the ability to carry a 1000lbs of weight, including 2 months of medical supplies and my wheelchair.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Adaptive Va'a (Outrigger Canoeing)

My first introduction to a canoe as a disabled person was a V6 Hawaiian Outrigger.  Hawaiian canoes are pretty useful for adaptive paddlers because of the shape and stability.  I progressed from 6 man outriggers to Canadian canoes.  

In 2008 I had my first experience of paddling a V1.  The V1 (one man Va'a) is now the canoe which has been accepted as the Paralympic discipline for adaptive canoeing in the 2016 Paralympics.  At the moment the race is looking like it will be a 200M sprint event.

The drawback with many types of adaptive canoeing is fitting a support seat and getting the canoe fitted for optimum performance.  Here's a picture of me (blue top) paddling a Tiger Tevanui V1.  I'm sitting in an Aquaback support seat and have an elasticated waist band which stops me from falling forward.  In the event of capsize the waist band is velcro fastened, so I can remove it quickly to exit the canoe.