The human character gains in confidence and self-reliance from the achievement of overcoming challenges like [the Devizes Westminster Race]. DW is a challenge that virtually everyone can take up, and succeed at. You don’t have to go to the Antarctic or pay someone to drag you up Everest. The life-enhancing effects are the same.
‘The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race’, written by Brian Greenaway
Despite its modern fame, the 125-mile DW Race has somewhat humble origins – in a bar room wager of 1920, no less. Was it possible to go from Pewsey to the sea at Christchurch, Dorset, in under three days? The bet was won with ten hours to spare; 26 years later, the challenge was refined with a journey time of just 51 hours.
Then in 1948, a troop of Scouts undertook the first Devizes to London challenge via what was then the derelict Kennet and Avon Canal. They completed the journey in 89 hours, carrying all their food and equipment with them. After 1949’s repeat contest, which saw the time slashed to 49 hours, the race was truly ‘on’ and from that year onwards, the annual contest that we know today was set in train. The epic performance of two SAS officers in 1951, who brought the time down to just over 24 hours, was to mark the beginning of a 20-year domination of the race by crews from the Special Forces, Royal Marines and Paras. During this time, competitors included some well-known names – Paddy Ashdown for the Royal Marines, and two names extremely familiar to the ocean rowing community…John Ridgway and Chay Blyth. It’s perhaps no surprise that the illustrious nature of the DW Race would attract Charlie’s attention sooner or later…and what better year to make a first attempt at the race than 2013, the 70th anniversary of the Cockleshell Heroes.
Using a two-man collapsible canoe, similar to those used by the daring Commandos in Bordeaux Harbour, Charlie and his team-mate Tim Ives completed the race in a time of 26:08:59, placing them 65th out of 100 teams who completed the race.