St Albans canoeist left stranded in 125-mile charity race

Matt Kelly (right) with canoe partner John Williams

Matt Kelly (right) with canoe partner John Williams - Credit: Archant

TWO friends found themselves up the creek without a paddle when they embarked on the gruelling 125-mile Devizes to Westminster canoe race for charity.

After months spent training Matt Kelly, of Dalton Street, St Albans, set off from Wiltshire on Friday with paddling partner John Williams ready to take on the non-stop marathon.

The pair, who served together in Afghanistan and Iraq, got off to a good start despite freezing weather conditions but disaster struck when at 90 miles their boat broke and they were forced to pull out of the race.

The 36-year-old former soldier said: “The toughest point was when the tiller broke. We tried to make a quick repair but it broke again and we went into the water which was a low moment. It certainly takes your breath away when you go in.

“We knew we were on time to finish in sub-24 hours which was our goal. We were mentally and physically prepared but mechanically the boat let us down.”

The Devizes to Westminster International Canoe Marathon is an annual four-day event and is considered to be the oldest and longest endurance test of its kind in the world. A total of 160 boats started the race but 60 teams had to drop out.

The paddlers have so far raised £1,200 for Army Benevolent Fund, which provides support to soldiers, former soldiers and their families, and £250 for Watford General Hospital’s Special Care Baby Unit.

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Matt added: “There is unfinished business there so we have vowed to go back in 2014.”