HEADING DOWN THE CANAL DE L'OURCQ WITH AN INFLATABLE TANDEM STAND UP PADDLE

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The Ourcq paddle team
I'm itching to get started after weeks of lockdown. We planned this family expedition down the canal de l’Ourcq a long time ago with my wife and our 3 children, Quentin (20 years old), Théo (17 years old) and Romane (15 years old). A couple, we are friends with, joined in the adventure: Agnès and Pascal. Two of us have experience of a stand-up paddle expedition lasting several days. I headed down, with Quentin, the Wouri, a wild river in Cameroon. And as for me, I've also went downstream solo on the Seine in May 2019. But my teammates also have a sense for adventure. So nothing to worry about on that side.
With 7 of us, we need a team name. It will be "The Ourcq Paddle Team"!
A few days beforehand, we did a few speed tests to be able to estimate the distance we could cover in three days. We decide to set ourselves a conservative average of 22 km per day. We weren’t thinking in terms of exploring the full length of the canal, but more about enjoying ourselves as a family with friends.
 

#Day 1: Sill-la-Poterie – Setting off and discovering tandem stand-up paddling

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We head off making our first paddle strokes from Silly-la-Poterie Harbour, where the canal starts. Romane and I on the tandem need time to adjust.
The Itiwit team may have sung its praise, but I'm wondering if it's really suited to this type of expedition with portage still to come.
Romane went upfront, I positioned myself at the rear. The markings on the stand-up paddle help us to easily find our positions. We're both a bit apprehensive, and we very cautiously enter our paddles in the water to start off with. Our legs are tense, as we expect from one moment to another to lose our balance and fall in… which doesn’t end up happening. We get more accustomed to it after a few minutes.
We quickly understand that you just need to go about it gently. Later on, when we handover the tandem paddle to our teammates, to let them test it for themselves, we give them a few tips:
⦁    Don't make sudden movements (including scooping the water with the paddle)
⦁    Talk to each other, when one or the other moves to turn around, lower themselves, …
⦁    The one in front must inform the one at the rear of obstacles just in front of the board, because the one at the back can't see them…

But quite unexpectedly, we mastered tandem stand-up paddling in no time. It's actually very stable and we're making progress at a very good tempo without having trained beforehand. In short, Romane and I adopt it without hesitation!
The Ourcq Paddle Team is making good progress. The verdant landscape immerses us far away from our everyday lives. Even though we have to deal with four canal locks that morning, our tempo means we are ahead of schedule. The troops' morale is high.
It feels good to be outdoors once again. Everyone is happy to be there, only thinking about enjoying themselves ... as well as paddling. The day's mileage is very good: 28 km covered, which is 6 more than planned. 
We find the ideal location for the night at close to 6 pm, near to the village of Echampeu
 

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#Day 2 – Departure from Echampeu

Everyone wakes up a bit exhausted after a day's paddling and sleeping overnight on hard ground. But the whole team is ready to set off once again to take on the canal. It's also a beautiful day. It's even very hot. We're navigating in the heart of the countryside, at the same tempo as yesterday. At the end of a long straight, we spot something moving on the bank. There are two does observing us from afar, allowing us to come up close ... a bit. They flee as soon as they feel we are too close.
We reach Meaux in the afternoon. As we approach, we catch sight of thick black smoke bellowing up in the sky. At the bridge the police turn us back, ordering us to turn around. We paddle a few hundred metres and draw alongside the bank. We go on to the road to find out what is going on and how long we are going to be held up. We can't bivouac in the middle of the town. Two policemen explain the situation to us. A fire has broken out in a furniture warehouse along the canal. The fire brigade is in the process of intervening. Neither the road or the canal are accessible for at least… 3 to 4 hours! We have no other choice but to do portage over several kilometres to get around the disaster area. This big day allows us to once again cover 28 km. Six more once again than expected. We even had time to let a new pairing test the tandem stand-up paddle: Quentin with Romane and Anne-So and Théo. And everyone enjoyed themselves.  

#Day 3 – Departure from Meaux

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We reach Trilbardou by the end of the morning. As agreed the day before, the children have to take the car to go back. We decide to keep the tandem stand-up paddle, which is a sign we have clearly adopted it. Agnès and Pascal will use it in the afternoon. Here are their comments.
“Letting yourself glide along the water for 4 days and seeing the landscape drift by in slow motion is already quite a fabulous feeling, but sharing the experience as a couple on a tandem stand-up paddle has been extraordinary
Once you get your bearings, you very quickly feel a sense of cohesion, a synchronisation and an effectiveness that heightens enjoyment of the moment, especially given as the board is lightweight, stable and glides along the water. If we had one suggestion to make, it would be to put a net at the rear. 
To finish off, tandem paddling is very easily within everybody's ability and offers a unique way to spend time together.”
Just like in the morning, the kilometres slip by. Apart from a few portages to get through locks, we make progress without a hitch today, just like the previous days. After 3 days on our stand-up paddles, we continue to appreciate this healthy tour outdoors. The countryside calm is really therapeutic and the atmosphere is like the sky: constantly sunny!
As we approach the outskirts of Paris, we spot a place on the map that is the most suitable for spending our last night, just after Claye-Souilly. We reach there by late afternoon. All that remains are the 25 km to cover the following day.

 

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#Day 4 -  Departure from Claye-Souilly

The wind has picked up and clouds have appeared. The good news is that we'll be less hot. The bad news is that we will have to paddle against the wind all day long. 
The scenery is changing as well. The landscapes are becoming more and more urban. There are also more people strolling along the banks. This morning, it's Anne-So and me who've taken the tandem stand-up paddle. Having often rowed against the wind on different expeditions, I'm very happy with this choice. It's actually a lot easier to go forward when there are 2 of you than on your own! Another star for this tandem stand-up paddle.
Anne-So's comment : "lightweight, highly manoeuvrable. You have to handle your balance to start off with and coordinate properly with your partner, but your efforts quickly pay off because you feel the benefits straight away (go faster with less effort, less tiring when facing the wind… It makes a world of difference when paddling in tandem …). There is more chance to share the experience because it is easier to talk when you are on the same board.
It gets busier along the canal banks as we gradually approach Paris, especially in the parc de la Villette.
After 8 hours of effort, we at last reach our destination: the bassin de la Villette (Villette artificial lake). We all experienced something worthy of the name adventure. A breath of fresh air outdoors and the pleasure of doing this expedition in good company.  When it's time to go our separate ways, we all agree: ready to do another stand-up paddle trip … with the tandem stand-up paddle!
The Ourcq paddle team
 

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