Saturday 3rd January 2015 and 17 of us made an early start to head down to Exmoor. We met in the car park at Dulverton at 9:30 and as per weather forecast it had rained most of the night and the river had some zip to it.
We shared one car load of boats amongst the other 4 cars and crammed everyone in and headed up to the start at Tarr steps. Everyone got ready to paddle but unfortunately Olly had been feeling rough most of teh way down and despite his best efforts to convince himself he could paddle he wisely decided to give it a miss and his chauffeur Roy volunteered to stay behind with him (thank you).
Those of us who like to talk a lot got the group together and came up with a plan. Due to the way the Barle starts (300m of just go for it without places to stop) we decided to split into 3 groups of 5 so we could launch as a small group to cover each other. Then regroup when we could.
Group 1. Matt S, Jenny, Paul, Fitz and Graham (me).
Group 2. Jay, Tim H, Max, Jonah, Ross
Group 3. Clive, Tim B, Kevin. Matt M, Ian
The start consists of 300m of big waves, low tree branches, big rocks and a blind bend. As people had not warmed up I was expecting we may have an early incident but I was really impressed that everyone came through it without incident and with big smiles. We where all ready. The river itself does not stop flowing and at many points you can clearly see the gradient drop. We worked down in our small groups stopping regularly in the small eddies to keep in contact with the other groups.
Everything was going well until about half way down when we all regrouped in a long narrow eddie. Tim B was a bit unfortunate as he did not get out of the flow and went backwards and I believe hit a small rock which tipped him in. No big dramas as he had his boat and was out and rescued within 20m.
We carried on down all having great fun on the big wave trains but also having to all work hard to move around on the big flow to avoid the constant low tree branches which often extended out to the centre of the river from both sides.
All went well until we got to the last weir about 3 minutes from the end. Tim H, Paul and Fitz got out to inspect and plan a line and I sat in an eddie with the ducks ready to test that line. Our group and Paul went first and the chosen line was good but unfortunately Jenny was bout 1ft offline as she drifted slightly at the top and just caught the end of a tree which sent her over. Jenny was quickly out on the island, Matt and Fitz tried to nudge the swamped boat into the eddie and unfortunately it went under a tree and pinned. To make it worse Fitz missed he was close to the tree and it took him over. Matt followed him down for a rescue but unfortunately Fitz boat was free and on it’s travels.
Paul and me git out on the island and rigged some lines to unpin and recover Jenny’s boat. The others all came down and to avoid overcrowding Jay took his group down to the end. Clive got out to help and sent his group down with Ian to lead to give us room to work. We soon had Jenny back in her boat and together the rescue party worked our way down to the finish.
When we arrived we where met with the news that Fit’z boat had gone but to compound the problem both Matt M and Tim B had gone over and their boats had gone down past the get out. A chase group of Tim H, Jay, Ian and Kevin went on a search mission. Roy followed on the road and me, Clive and Matt S went on a walking mission.
One and half miles later the guys had done a great job and had got 2 of the boats. We all worked together to get lines across the water and get boats across the river and out. Team effort with Jay standing in the water and us holding him for support. After 1/2 mile walk with boats Roy arrived with the car to transport the boats. We all continued to walk back to car park. Ferry arranged and all cars retrieved.
Fitz boat was lost so Clive formulated a comprehensive plan including notifying local police, Facebook groups, local kayak shops and assigning our South West correspondent (Alain) to use his local club contacts., We talked to some local paddlers who gave us a few well known sites to search where boats often end up so we all split up and searched with no success and regrouped in the Anchor Inn for a beer before heading home.
A great paddle and some very good paddling all around. Thanks to all that supported groups and hope you ll had a good time overall.
It would be great to hear your views of the day please so email me or Clive with any reports you have.
Here are a few images of the day:
1. Tarr Steps at the start.
2. Get out at the end. As you can see it’s deeper than the start showing the water was rising as we paddled :-)
3. Get out at start of paddle.