SPORT FROM THE PAST: Ribadesella’s Rapid Race

Sports day at Kitwood Girls in 1963.
Sports day at Kitwood Girls in 1963.

In the summer of 1963, two athletes escaped from North Sea Camp... and they were next spotted paddling like crazy in a canoe in Spain.

No, this isn’t an audacious Great Escape-style breakout from Freiston’s Open Prison.

Instead, two members of staff from the Borstal Institution, based at the camp, were invited to represent Britain as one of their teams in the International Long Distance Canoe Race.

Competing in the treacherous waters of Ribadesella, physical training instructor J. Campbell and assistant governor P. Pye were among the 250 canoes from across the globe taking part on the 14-mile course.

“To represent one’s country is probably the ultimate ambition in any athletic career,” said Pye, who had been canoeing for two years, and training with his partner for the past 12 months.

Campbell, meanwhile, had 10 years’ experience with the paddle, but had only taken the sport seriously for half of that time.

The start of the race was staggered, with the camp pair beginning 156th. But that only led to them being caught up in the rush.

Pye added: “The next few minutes were a welter of flying paddles and spray as everyone jockeyed for position.

“We found ourselves in the first rapid wedged solidly among a mass of canoes, some broadside on, making it impossible to paddle.

“At the next rapid we rammed a boat already capsized, thus joining a number of others already swimming in the water.”

After composing themselves, more trouble was ahead.

Pye continued: “Two Spaniards who had tipped out in front of us grabbed our boat as we tried to avoid them, thus ensuring that we joined them in the water.”

However, the pair battled heartily to eventually finish in 33rd position, just 30 minutes behind the winning crew.