Words and pics: Ian Cormack (SUP Ecosse)
When the words: “yeah shouldn’t be a problem” came out my mouth during a meeting at Scottish TV back in mid-July (2015) little did I know the roller coaster SUP journey I had inadvertently set myself up for.
For a while I had been talking about completing a number of potentially adventurous paddles and so I thought if those journeys were ever going to be undertaken then they may as well be done for charity. So when a chance meeting with a friend set me up with a further meeting with the charity representative for STV things started to move faster than a greased weasel on a 17ft downwind board. The rep listened intently to my master plans for 2016 before taking a breath and saying: “what’re the chances of doing something before October 16?” Intimidated by the signed pictures of Rab C Nesbitt, Rod Stewart and Lorraine Kelly on the canteen walls what could I say? Stand Up 4 The Kids was born!
The first problem I had to tackle was finding another five paddlers who were as enthusiastic as I was. Normally the River Clyde isn’t the first place in the UK you would choose to spend 24 hours paddling. On reflection it probably sounded as appealing as a night at home by the fire chewing tin foil – what was I thinking?
Resorting to the tried and trusted method of Facebook I set out to try and convince a number of fellow Scottish SUPers to share my journey. I have watched Braveheart and I know how one rousing speech can cause Scots to rise up and take on any challenge but it’s fair to say my emails didn’t cause anything like the stampede that Mel Gibson had managed. Not daunted by the response I resorted to plan B and switched my focus to south of the border. I intended to trick our old foe – knowing that my promise of a weekend of deep fried mars bars and free whisky couldn’t fail.
Soon the team was complete and contained a huge amount of paddling experience. The volunteers consisted of Stacey Smithson Grey, Dave Adams (UK Paddlesports Dave), Neil Craig, Allistair Swinsco and myself, with Joanne Hamilton Vale volunteering her services at the eleventh hour as a replacement. Not bad going for a paddle in Scotland to support a Scottish charity – the majority of the participants had very tenuous links to Scotland. Allistair and Neil live quite close to Scotland, Joanne was born here but moved due to the sky being too close to the ground. Dave loves paddling in Scotland and Stacey had always fancied a trip to Scotland! Tenuous indeed. I also have to thank Dean Dunbar at this stage who kindly volunteered to turn up should anybody call off within the last 72 hours – he was dangerously close to taking my spot.
The next problem were the legalities and red tape of running a charity event in a city centre. Assuming everybody in the City of authority would be bowled over by my enthusiasm to raise money I foolishly believed red tape would be waived and people would be bending over backwards to smooth the passage. Wrong answer. After all if your risk assessment contains paddling in a city centre, on a flowing river, with a four metre tidal range and at times a 30ft climb down a ladder – in the dark – what could possibly go wrong?
With permission’s granted, risk assessments complete, police informed and safety boat in place the day of the event arrived more quickly than I anticipated and before we could say: “that river looks very cold”.
Timed to commence during the live STV show, on Thursday night, we made our way to the ladder and Joanne and Stacey disappeared down into the darkness. The remaining team and support crew readied the fireworks and we prepared ourselves for 15 minutes of glory on national TV – which is fair to say never happened. The fireworks launched and the girls set off west towards Glasgow’s Science Centre – the first turn marker opposite the SS Waverley steam ship. Although it was past 9pm the ambient light levels were pretty high given the amount of colourfully lit Scottish landmarks along the route – including the Squinty Bridge, SECC, Quay Casino and brand new UFO like Hydro events arena.
The loop was exactly two miles and to satisfy the local authorities we initially we worked in pairs, paddling with one person dropping off after each loop meaning four mile stints for each person with about 90 minutes in between each session. Paddling through the night meant we all got to see the city close itself down, witness some of the late night happenings within the city and then watch it all kick-start back into action a few hours later. We were never short of spectators as the river-side footpath always seemed to have a few characters walking along no matter what time of night. Offering moral support, booze, congratulations, abuse or help paddling the next stint it was an experience to say the least! We were also visited by a seal in the early morning hours which made the news given that a seal this far up the Clyde was pretty much unheard of. (The same could have been said for SUPers). During the day we were given plenty of support although we doubted that anybody actually knew what we were doing. The ones that asked generally replied: “why?” which was a fair enough question in the grand scheme of things.
Thursday, after the fog cleared about midday, turned out to be perfect with hardly a cloud in the sky and made for some great pictures. We were joined by a couple of other paddlers as well. One of those, and massive respect to this guy, was a city worker (complete with shirt, tie and brogues) who gave us a donation in return for a quick five minute paddle on the river. His exact words being: “I can’t turn down a chance like this to paddle in my own city centre”. Kitted out with lifejacket he set off with Stacey for a few selfies with the Hydro as a backdrop – some story to tell when he got back after his lunch! Amazingly he stayed dry too, but brogues definitely aren’t the way ahead for paddling on Scottish rivers.
The paddle itself raised in excess of £1600 for the STV Children’s Appeal. I have to take this opportunity to thank all the paddlers and the support team of Wendy, Alison, Ali, Carol Anne and official starter Kaydey who in most cases travelled a long distance and self-funded the whole event. I would also like to thank Joanne Hamilton Vale for helping me sort the insurance policy and contributing massively to the payment cost of the policy.
So what next?…