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Bryanston canoeists overcome the odds in the Devizes to Westminster race

Over the Easter weekend B pupils Gus and Henry competed in the gruelling International Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race. Gus and Henry are one of the youngest crews from Bryanston ever to compete in the event, and were one of the youngest crews to be entered into the race this year.

The first stage of the race is on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The 34 miles of this stage involves racing through a tunnel 500 yards long and running with the boat to get around locks – the longest run being about one and a half miles. The boys did very well, earning 18th place after six and a half hours of racing, in a field of 80 junior crews. The second stage of the race is 36 miles long, starting on the canal and joining the Thames after about 20 miles. After an hour of racing, Gus and Henry started to settle into a rhythm, working through the slower crews and maintaining a firm and determined pace. At the end of the second day they had moved up to 10th place.

The third stage covers 38 miles of the Thames, from Marlow down to Teddington on the outskirts of London. Gus and Henry quickly settled into a relaxed but fast pace, and during the last eight miles, when other crews were struggling, the Bryanston crew raised their game, digging deep towards a very strong finish and 9th place.

The competitors were due to start the fourth and final stage en masse in the dark, at ten past five on Easter Monday morning. Mr Jones’ phone rang at 0300. Henry had been ill in the night. In fact, Henry was still being ill. Following three strong days, whether or not they would finish the race at all seemed to be in doubt. Aims and objectives were quickly adjusted. Their target now was simply to complete the race - to keep paddling down the Tideway through the dawn – for the last 17 miles to the finish at Westminster.

After a chaotic start in the dark, lit only by the moon, the supporters drove frantically through the streets of London from bridge to bridge to catch a glimpse of their crew in the gloom, using any opportunity to shout a few words of encouragement. At Kew Bridge Henry was clearly flagging, but the boat was running well. At Putney the depth of their training was showing through. A tactical limp down to the finish was turning into a firm and determined rearguard action. As Gus and Henry passed under Westminster Bridge, it emerged that they had only lost one place – finishing an astonishing 10th overall, and 3rd in the U17 class, huge congratulations to them both for their grit and dedication.