Checking back, it looks like six years since we last had a boat entered in the Eight’s Head, so it was very pleasing to be able to pull together a crew for this year’s event.
With most of the crew being available for a few weeks before, we’d also been able to get in a few practice rows. These had had mixed results, varying from very good to very poor (and very, very wet at Northampton the Sunday it rained non-stop for three hours). Against this, and that we were rowing IM2 despite having four novice rowers in the boat, we weren’t really sure what to expect.
Returning to Civil Service to boat (having gone from Barn Elms the previous week) we got down to London in plenty of time, our new, aerodynamically shaped trailer (courtesy of a close encounter with a low barrier – oops) attracting some attention. We were actually rigged early enough that there was some discussion as to whether to get out for a quick paddle before boating time, but in the end, we decided this would be a bit tight.
Come the due time, we joined the queue for boating and without too much delay got waterborne just after ten. After an uneventful paddle upstream, we pulled over to our marshalling station virtually opposite the finish post for the Boat Race. We’d got quite a while to kill and with the stream getting quicker this led to the usual fun trying to keep on station. In our case, this meant the poor bow man (me!) rowing more or less continually to stop us drifting off down stream. Still, a good way to keep warm on what was a pretty dull, cold day, punctuated with the odd intermittent shower.
After what seemed an eternity, the first boats burst through Chiswick bridge and set off down the course; it was then our turn to shuffle up stream, past Putney Town RC and virtually to Kew Bridge. Finally, it was our turn to strip down to racing kit and spin. Liz, coxing, manoeuvred us beautifully into the stream and we set off towards the start line. Building as we approached Chiswick Bridge, we shot through the arch and got the “go” call. We were off.
Pretty soon, we had the crew behind us (Pembroke College Oxford) on our tail and pushing to get past. Not surprising as their average age was probably half of ours and they’d started very close behind us, but a bit demoralising. Still, this was offset by encouraging calls from Liz that we were closing on Marlow in front of us. With us still chasing them, we were gradually caught by a succession of crews, but kept pushing along.
The boat was running reasonably well but we’d never quite ironed out the sudden dip to bow-side just at the catch. Just before Hammersmith Bridge, this was nearly very costly as I got caught going in off square and the blade whipped away and down from me. Fortunately, I was able to control it before it became a full-blown crab – in fact, no-one else noticed! Off the bridge, Benn called a push and this was easily the best part of the race – the boat really lifted and we could feel the surge in power and improved run. This seemed to make the run past Fulham FC go incredibly quickly and we were soon across the finish line.
With a lot of traffic building up past Putney, we were told to pull the equivalent of a handbrake turn and head back up river. It’s such a long paddle back, although nowhere near as far, it seems, in an eight compared to a four. With two of us dropping out at a time to re-kit (and stuff a most welcome Mars Bar) we kept moving and were fairly soon back to the crossing point at Chiswick Steps, before returning to our boating area.
All things considered, not a bad return to the HORR. Given the very mixed ability in the boat and the wide spread of ages, it would have been a miracle had we finished anywhere near the top half. In the event, we came in 337th overall (of 394) and 69th of 74 in IM2.
Must have been the grey weather but the marshalling wasn’t as chilled as in all the recent races on the Tideway. Despite an almost complete absence of the normal idiocy from crews, they were definitely grumpy – mind you, I probably would be too, stuck in a launch for hours in the cold and rain!
From a personal point of view, it’s nice to be able to say I’ve raced in the HORR but I think this will be the first and last time. Rowing isn’t my strong point, being far more of a sculler, and racing with a crew where the stern four are all about a foot taller exacerbates how short my stroke is! So, I think I’ll stick to the fours head and, if we can rustle up enough “oldies”, the Masters Head in future.
Anyhow, thanks to the rest of the guys (Benn, Mike, Josh, Pierre-Yves, Nelson, Chris and Steve) plus the excellent Liz for coxing, for carrying me down the Thames!