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Monday, 9 October 2017

SUP-ing the Sava: Part 2 of the Liquidation Story "Well I'm definitely going. But will I ever be coming home again?"

I awoke bright and early (well early-ish) in Zagreb on Monday morning. Although I was looking forward to my Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) trip along the River Sava, I was feeling slightly jaded. Sunday had not gone as planned. It had been a more expensive day, and a more disappointing day than expected.

Sunday had begun with a hangover, Before I set off for the football in Slovenia, I decided I had better check the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) website for details of my repatriation (or otherwise!)

BAD NEWS #1: My Monarch flight to Manchester had been due to leave Zagreb at 10pm on the Monday. But passengers on that flight were not being flown to Manchester. Oh no. They were being flown to Gatwick. And not at 10pm but at 5pm. Passengers were advised to arrive at Zagreb airport three hours before. I was facing a five hour bus trip from Gatwick to Manchester. And even worse I was going to lose five hours of my time in Zagreb. Allowing for transfer time from my hotel to the airport, my plan to SUP the River Sava was looking in serious doubt. I was still fairly confident  I would be flown home by the CAA. After all how could they possibly know whether or not I was abroad on the day Monarch had gone into liquidation? And then, when I scrolled down the website, that's when I saw it:

BAD NEWS #2: A statement that applied clearly to me: 

'Any passengers who chose to fly abroad, on an airline other than Monarch, after the date of the liquidation, should make their own arrangements for return travel' 

I wasn't going to be flown home by the CAA! My only option was to find an alternative flight at short notice. I had to get home on the Monday somehow.The best I could find was a flight to Manchester via Frankfurt at a cost of almost 400 Euros! My four day three country trip had become a four day four country trip! And what a massive financial blow? I'm still crying now as I think of it. The only good news was that the flight time was late Monday evening. I could still Stand Up Paddle (SUP) the Sava .............................

Wearing a wetsuit on the No 17 tram!
The River Sava passes Zagreb to the south, near to Jarun Lake where I had paddled two days earlier. Taking the number 17 tram as far as Petrovaradinska, I took the opportunity to record a short video for my Facebook page:

You can see it here

I can't be certain that this is the first occasion the commuters of Zagreb have seen someone on the number 17 tram, wearing nothing but a neoprene wetsuit, recording a video. But it surely can't be an everyday occurrence. I certainly got some strange looks! I was excited for my river paddle. The disappointment of Scotland failing to qualify for the World Cup finals yet again, missing out by goal difference yet again, was beginning to fade. The 400 euro flight bill wasn't quite a distant memory, but it felt a little less painful now.

From Petrovaradinska, it was a short 10 minute walk to the Sava. I had planned this trip entirely using online maps and Google Earth, so I had no idea if it would be possible to get on or off the river at my chosen spots. My intention was to get on the river as close to Petrovaradinska as possible.

As soon as I reached the end of the tarmac road, I could see, across a grass field, a line of trees where the river was. Having walked along a worn path to the river, I could see right in front of me, by an amazing stroke of serendipity, some cast iron steps down the river bank to the water. And I could see the river was flowing fast, as you can see from the short video below:

I had no real idea what to expect. My only previous experience of a river SUP on fast moving water had been at the River Wyre a few months earlier. And on that occasion I had been with a number of other stand up paddleboarders, not to mention two support vessels. This time I was alone. I was amazed at just how fast the river was flowing. I was in for the ride of my life! But first I had to get onto the water. The bank was steep, but the iron steps were ideal. Except for one problem. There was nothing at the bottom of the steps except the river. Nowhere to rest the board or sit the paddle down prior to launch.

These are the steps I manoeuvred myself
and my board down 

I was able to balance my paddle on some rocks beside the iron steps, and, with some trepidation, pushed my board down the steps in front of me and into the water. I was a little bit worried that the current would pull the board away from the steps, taking me with it, and into the water, but fortunately I was able to hold on. I was wearing a quick release belt around my waist to attach my leash to, but for the journey down the steps I thought I would be safer with the board and leash attached to my ankle. Attached to my waist, there was a risk that I would be dragged into the water by the fast flowing water. It wasn't an ideal entry point to the river, but it worked! Just! I was ready to go.
At the Bottom of the Iron Steps

Ready to Go!
What are ride it was! Five and a half, almost six miles down a fast river. At times I was travelling into the light wind which kept my speed down slightly. At one point my tracker recorded my speed at 8.5 miles an hour. Maybe that doesn't sound much, but it certainly felt fast. Parts of the trip were easy. Flat water and no obstacles in front of me. All I had to do was enjoy the experience.

At times I could clearly see the river bed, especially near the banks, suggesting the river wasnt't very deep here but there may have been deeper parts. The river was deserted. Np other traffic on the river whatsoever. I suspect the river may not be navigable here, certainly not for larger craft anyway. I saw one person walking near the river bank and a grand total of three fishermen the whole time I was paddling. This was a beautiful and picturesque area which seemed to be entirely unappreciated by tourists and locals alike. 

There were a few impediments to my trip, mainly in the form of bridges over the river, and some white water with currents and eddies and little whirlpools. It was was a clear day and it was easy to spot the difficult water conditions. But my biggest learning point from this experience was how quickly I actually reached the obstacles on a fast moving river. I could spot some white water, and by the time I decided on a course of action, I was upon it. There was no opportunity to switch off and relax.

As I approached one of the bridges, I spotted a lot of white water around the bridge support so I immediately altered my direction, towards the river bank. But then I spotted white water alongside the bank, and a whirlpool close to the support. Before I even had time to think, I was upon it. I managed to get down onto my knees just in time. Just in time before the water spun me around by 180 degrees. I've fallen off a SUP board many times in the past. Something I'm sure I'll repeat many times in the future. But I've never fallen off from a kneeling position. I'm pleased to say I didn't have a bath on this occasion either, but it was close, very very close. My board tilted alarmingly. One of my legs went off the board and right under. I was only just able to keep the rest of my body on the board. There was only one thing to do. I just went with the flow until I reached calmer water. I allowed the river to take me there. This was the biggest lesson I learned. Don't fight the river - just go with it!

I Only Just Avoided Going Completely Under!

More by luck than by good judgement, I survived this trial. Although it was only then that I noticed that I had forgotten to change my leash over from my ankle to my quick release waist belt. It can be dangerous to wear a fixed leash in fast moving water, as the leash may become tangled, and the paddler may be unable to untangle it due to the fast flowing water. This was certainly an error on my part, caused entirely by forgetfulness. Fortunately no harm was done but another lesson learned!

After that, the rest of my journey was pretty straightforward. Pretty straightforward, that is, until it was time to get off the river ......

The River Sava rises in Slovenia and passes through Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia on its almost 1000km journey to Belgrade, where it flows into the Danube. From there, the Danube flows all the way to Romania and the Black Sea. I had a plan to get off the river at a bridge near the Most mladoski tram stop. As part of my online planning I had seen what looked like a park on the right hand side of the river, just before the bridge. My intention was to get off there but  I didn't even know if it was possible.

As I approached the bridge, I could see what looked like the park, an empty grassy area, but it was about 10 foot above the river, at the top of a steep bank. If I didn't manage to get off the river here, where would I end up? Surely not all the way to Belgrade!

And then I spotted it! A flat area at the side of the river. If I could get off there then I could somehow scramble up the steep bank. No sooner had I spotted the landing area and made a decision than I was past it. That's how fast the water was moving. Was I on my way to Serbia after all?

Looking For Somewhere To Get Off The Sava

I was rapidly approaching the bridge! And I knew that if I passed the bridge then I wouldn't be able to turn around and paddle back. The river was far too fast to paddle against the flow.

And then I saw another possibility. On the other side - the left hand bank of the Sava. Just under the bridge, between the bridge support and the river's edge was a pool of static water. I could see a few rocks around it but it looked like my best option. All I had to do was get from one side of the wide river to the other, before the current took me under the bridge and on my way to where ever!

I paddled as furiously as I could towards the flat water, getting ever closer and closer to the bridge. I was almost upon it! As I neared the bridge support I got onto my knees and kept paddling across the river as fast as I could, while the river took me sideways towards the concrete support. I just got past the support before I hit it. I must have only just missed it by a matter of seconds.

I was into the static water, still moving at speed and trying to avoid the rocks, when I saw a fisherman right in front of me, standing in the water. I'm not sure who got more of a fright, him or me? I had visions of running into him but fortunately I was able to stop in time. I was off the river! And still in Zagreb!

After that it was easy. I was still buzzing. It was an amazing ride!

All that remained was to pack my board away, get the tram back to my hotel and check out. I just had enough time for some lunch in the centre of Zagreb before making my way to the airport.

Lunch in Zagreb
And a very nice lunch it was too, with just one glass of Pino Grigio!

October 2017

PS While I was on the Sava, a voicemail was left on my phone from the Civil Aviation Authority to let me know the arrangements for my flight to Gatwick, I could have been repatriated after all! My only consolation was the fun I had had on the river that day. Had I been travelling home on the earlier CAA flight to Gatwick I would not have had time for the Sava trip.


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