On Tuesday evenings during the Summer (April to October - until the clocks go back) Mudeford Quay at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour, in Dorset is our regular meeting point.
Arrive in good time to meet up with others and be prepared to be on the water for 18:30 however, check the events list as we won't be there if a specific 'away-event' has been organised.
Mudeford provides an ideal venue for paddlers of different abilities, offering the options of:
Sheltered harbour waters for young families and coaching;
Tidal estuary paddling (up the river to Christchurch, the rivers Avon and Stour);
Surf - variable at the harbour entrance or a short paddle around the coast to Hengistbury Head;
A "Tidal Run" into the harbour that can provide some good strong currents and "bouncy" water.
A few notes on safety at our regular meetings at Mudeford. Because these meetings have a variable attendance, the level of experience also varies. Some club members have been paddling here regularly since the club was founded and should be familiar with all potential dangers. Those members might not be present however, and you might find yourself the most experienced paddler within the group. When deciding where to paddle you should always take account of the following factors:
- Wind strength and direction. Will it blow a group out to sea after an incident? Will it tire novices, particularly on the return journey with a following wind?
- Air Temperature. Are all the paddlers dressed to endure the trip?
- Will the weather deteriorate? Watch it constantly.
This is by no means an exhaustive list but includes the most common dangers.
- Will everyone be able to cope with the waves?
What will the waves be like where you are going? e.g. the other side of Hengistbury Head, or out of the lee of the head towards Highcliffe. You may need to assess them as you proceed.
Will the sea state change, perhaps with a change of tide or because the wind is increasing?
- What time is high/low tide? Check the tide tables posted on the parking attendants' hut.
Will novices be able to paddle back against it?
Will there be any water in the run when you get back?
- Will it last long enough for the slowest paddler to get back?
Is there any leeway for delays or will an accident have to be coped with in darkness?
We are normally close to civilisation here so the equipment required is minimal, but nevertheless important:
- Are you adequately equipped to cope with any foreseen problems?
Is everyone else adequately kitted out?
Size and Strength of Group
How many are there? Keep checking!
What other experience is there in the group? Will you have to cope with an accident on your own?
Has everyone got sufficient stamina for the trip? Keep an eye on the group and watch for signs of tiredness.
This might seem to be a long and tedious list of things to check through mentally before you go out for a casual evening paddle, but when you are fully aware of these factors it takes only a minute or two to assess the conditions. Some members will doubtless be unaware that these things are given consideration, but I can assure you that they are - at least by some of the more experienced members - and that the safety of the group is constantly on their minds.
In addition to these general considerations, you should always be wary of the following hazards at what is otherwise a very safe canoeing playground.
Boats moored alongside the quay
These are potentially lethal in a strong tide. A canoe swept against one will capsize and the paddler will probably become pinned or entangled in the propeller, out of reach of rescuers. Keep away from them unless you are fully confident in your boat handling.
Boats passing through the run or harbour
Don't get run down - it will hurt!
Surf, particularly when dumping (normally the case around high tide)
Wear a helmet and know your limitations;
Keep away from rocks and groynes;
Keep away from surfing boats when you are paddling out;
Buddy up with someone and keep an eye on each other.
Strong Off-shore winds
It might look calm outside the harbour but it won't be calm further out in the bay. Stay close inshore with novices and make sure you have your towline.
A line of rocks placed by Lord Clarendon who was planning a new harbour entrance. They extend more than 200 metres out from Mudeford Spit towards the Isle of Wight. They are unmarked but exposed at low tide, and usually shallow enough to bang your head on if you surf and capsize over them. Turbulence in the water usually indicates their location.
A shallow ledge just beyond the end of Hengistbury Head Groyne. Steep breaking waves occur here when the wind is against the tide.
Difficult to see, particularly at dusk. Using tall rods and heavy bottom tackle, the anglers often keep their lines taut and therefore above water for an amazing distance off the beach. A line across the throat may panic and upset an unwary paddler.