For possibly the first time ever, and certainly first time in many years, we entered a crew into the Women’s Eights Head of the River. Run over the Boat Race course on the Thames (but in the opposite direction, from Chiswick to Putney) this year’s event attracted 300 crews from the UK and Overseas, including no less than 121 in IM3 (our category).
Despite some of the problems and issues around the event (more on this later) the ladies rowed well and finished 221st overall and 91st in IM3, moving up from a start position of 244. A good start saw us close down on Loughborough fairly quickly; in turn they were chasing down Liverpool Victoria. Maintaining a good pace and rate, we passed both of these crews halfway between Chiswick and Barnes. We were then caught by a couple of other crews but kept pushing all the way through to the end, to post a time of 22 minutes 8.6 seconds. Not at all bad for a first time, especially with three ladies who only started rowing in August last year, one who had never rowed on the Tideway before and a novice cox (me!)!!!
A few things to learn from the race – first, never boat from Putney. Having taken an hour to drive from Hammersmith to Putney, all of our “slack” time had gone and we were pushed to get the boat off and assembled. Not helped when we arrive on the Embankment (complete with car pass) to be told there’s no room – we had to go round the block and park at the start of the embankment, miles from our “host” club and from anywhere to boat. No chance of leaving our trailer there, this had to be moved to Barn Elms (where did everyone else go – there were only a couple of trailers there…) – wouldn’t be a problem other than trailer driver is also cox. Space on the Embankment is at a premium and queues for boating horrible; not a nice experience. Also, definitely underwhelmed by our “host” club charging us £5 per head to use their facilities – and then not providing boating space, having hideously cramped changing facilities and massive queues for the toilets.
Having got onto the water, the row down to the start was pretty stressful. Unlike regional events, the marshals are rude and aggressive. Just how we are meant to keep moving when boats are stationary in front of you is a mystery to me – noticeable that it is the “provincial club” boats that bear the brunt of their malice, even when it is local clubs causing the problems. For instance, we are shouted at to close up on the crew in front; the reason for the gap is we’d had to hold it up as a local crew decided to sit in our way, out of sequence and on the wrong side. They get told, “never mind, we’ll start you from here” – and then we get shouted at, again. Keeping station at the start is a real art form – and I do feel for bow who had no respite, having to keep tapping us round.
The race itself is also a nightmare. You’re trying to overtake another crew and find some numpty cox from another club in Nottinghamshire being abusive because you won’t get out his way. If we’d moved over we’d have hit the boat we’re overtaking. Oh well…
Anyhow, managed to keep out of the way pretty much after Hammersmith and the girls kept pushing hard all the way to the end, very impressive given the lack of practice and total lack of distance training.
Another problem we found with Putney is the lack of warm down distance. It’s finish, spin, get out. This stops the post-race bonding (recovery!) and it all gets a bit frenetic getting landed (and boy, that water is COLD when you wade out from the boat) and the boat off the water. I felt for the ladies as their boots had been moved and they wound up carrying the boat all the way back to our slot bare-foot. Not nice. The lack of space and pressure to get off meant there was no real chance to even stand and discuss the race or chat afterwards, which was a real pity. Thanks to Mike and Bex for the chips and coffee though, very, very welcome.
So, in summary, despite everything (and after a couple of days reflection) it was a great experience and another one off of the “to do” list. A very good performance by the crew, given the inexperience in there and the almost total lack of practise. We’d chatted beforehand about realistic aims and these were not coming last and ideally finishing top 100 – to their credit they managed both of these convincingly.
So, will we be back next year? I really hope so, although NOT boating at Putney. Despite the stress, the abuse, the feeling of being treated as second-class rowers, the costs, it IS the Tideway and it IS a great feeling to have finished it and finished well.