Master’s Head of the River 2012

April 2, 2012

Following hot on the heels of the Women’s success in the WeHORR the week before, the ladies entered a Masters “C” boat into the Vesta head. With just a couple of changes from the WEHORR boat to replace “kids” with eligible Masters it was another very strong looking crew.

Starting an hour later than the HORR the previous day, and with the boat almost ready (split but still rigged) we weren’t quite so early away from Milton Keynes. In contrast to the grey overcast of Saturday, it was bright and clear as we set off, just clouding over a bit as we reached London.

It definitely seemed less frenetic than in previous years and with less of a queue, the ladies were soon boated. Even by our normal standards, their boating was lightning fast and they cleared away in very short order, getting a couple of compliments from the local helpers.

Jo and I then power walked down towards Hammersmith Bridge, to cheer them on and take photos. By this time, the cloud had increased and it started drizzling off and on (although not as horrid as yesterday!). Finding a convenient slipway a short distance before the bridge, we stopped and waited for the race.

It’s great fun watching this race, seeing such a wide variety of abilities and ages, compared to the HORR and WEHORR, where then isn’t such a range. With everything from Masters “A” (just out of nappies) to “F” (I hope I can manage a race like this at that age) and a wide standard (from very, very good to obvious novice) it really is a great sight.

After a huge gap between division two and three, the crews from 150 upwards started coming into view; our ladies were racing as crew 202. Reaching the 190’s we started keeping a sharp eye out, hoping they’d have made some progress through the field. Sure enough, we then saw the familiar green blades come round the corner as they came tanking down the river – passing us, they were a couple of crews up and in the process of storming past another. Obviously, they were gong extremely well and making good progress up the ranks – and looking pretty damned good into the bargain!

Another long walk back to Barnes Bridge, keeping an eye out for the ladies, but we were back in plenty of time. It then seemed an eternity before the came back into view and we went and helped them in. As with the WEHORR boat, they were really elated, feeling the race had gone very well, overtaking six crew in all.

On the drive back, Paula was continually refreshing the results page on her ‘phone until finally the times were up. In an astonishing race, they finished a stunning third in Women Master’s C and (age adjusted) a hugely impressive 11th overall. This was just the latest in a string of wonderful performances from the ladies squad, who are really putting MKRC on the map.

My thoughts…

OK, prize of the day goes to the Vesta Women.

We were watching the race when a Vesta ladies boat came into sight – they all seemed to have something in their hair but we couldn’t quite make it out. As they got closer, it was obvious that they all had feathers in their hair, warpaint on their faces and the cox was wearing a huge Indian headdress. This was very funny but better still, about five crews back came the second boats – you’ve guessed it, the Cowboys! False moustaches, check shirts and Stetsons, with the cox trailing an inflatable cactus. Absolutely brilliant, well done to them all for raising a real laugh on the day.

A big thank-you to Steve as well, he and a guy from Reading RC did a sterling job helping all of the returning crews land and de-boat.

Finally, very nice to be rigging the boat and see someone else in an MKRC splash top – this was none other than one of the founders of the club, Jim Flood, racing for Reading.

My photos of the day are now here on Google+ and the results are on the Vesta RC site


Head of the River 2012

March 30, 2012

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.

My thoughts…

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!

Results can be seen at the HORR website and my photos here on Google+


St. Neots Regatta 2011

August 10, 2011

This year’s St Neot’s Regatta saw us pick up two wins on both days, continuing our winning run nicely. These came from a variety of sources, again showing the increasing breadth of competitive crews in the club. Our winners in the 1,000m races on Saturday were the new pairing of Tom and Mike, sculling at IM2x- and a ladies Quad of Liz, Andi, Sam and Lindy, racing at IM2 (with Sam de-novicing at sculling). Sunday’s 500m winners were the highly impressive juniors John and Alex, winning the IM3 event (Alex de-novicing at just 16!) and the mixed eight of Benn, Mike, Tim, Tom, Liz, Andi, Lindy and Jo.

With too many races to remember (and me being very busy) this entry won’t have the usual details of every race. Instead, I’ll just pick out some of the outstanding memories of (another) great week-end at St Neots.

Saturday didn’t actually start very auspicially. One of the first boats out was the double of John and Alex, rowing as J18. Their opponents appeared round the corner at the allocated race time, but no sign of them. Several races later, they came into view, but with only John sculling. As they passed us the reason became clear, as Alex was sitting nursing one complete blade and one in two pieces. He’d caught a crab off the start, the blade flicked under the boat and when he tried to free it, it snapped.

Strangely enough, John then had an almost identical problem in his single later in the day. This time though he went for the soft option and simply rolled in to the water. To his great credit, his opponent agreed to a re-row even though this wasn’t required, so well done to him.

Following the theme, John wasn’t to be the last soggy junior of the day – Roisin also got in on the act, this time just before the finish, in full view of the crowd. To her credit, she did exceptionally well to tow her boat clear of the course, well before the next race got to her.

The rest of the racing didn’t produce quite so much drama, although there were some incredibly close races. I had the honour of coxing one of these, the Men’s Novice 4+; after a slow start, our opponents pulled out to pretty much a two length lead around the bend but to their credit, our guys really went for it. A couple of strong pushes seemed to panic the other crew and by the finish line we were (as the commentator kept putting it) bowball—to bowball. We honestly didn’t know who had got it but the verdict finally came that our opponents had taken the win, by a bowball! A bit of work on the starts and this crew won’t be novices for long!

After a good day’s racing, we all retired to the MKRC “village” and set in for a very pleasant evening gathered around the Barbie, with the odd beer or two thrown in.

Sunday saw another day of close, exciting racing but pride of place has to go to John and Alex. Recovering from their broken blade incident yesterday, they cruised through the first two rounds, sculling at IM3 rather than Junior, to set up a final against ??. This they made look easy, pulling away off the start and striding out to a comfortable win.

The Mixed Eight had a relatively easy first round win, putting them into a final against hosts St. Neots. This was a far closer event, although our boat grabbed the lead and held on, St Neots pushed them really hard all the way, finishing just half a length down.

My views
Another wonderful week-end at St Neots. I love the atmosphere and the proximity of the spectators to the racing – and some really close hard races on both days. It was nice to see they’ve taken a more relaxed view on campers and barbies this year and restricting them to the far side of the path is a really smart move too.

I guess the only gripe is that our original entries were seriously cut back, through lack of competition. This meant Lou and Clare not getting any races and Paula just getting the one. Although I understand this is lack of other crews, how about closing entries a few days earlier, notifying the clubs that have had crews rejected and allowing them to rejig and resubmit crews into categories where there is competition? This way, our crews get a race and the host club gets more money – surely a “win-win”?


Milton Keynes Regatta 2011

May 23, 2011

Don’t know about anyone else but I thoroughly enjoyed the Regatta on Saturday. This was only our second ever Regatta and was slightly bigger than last year’s with three other clubs attending (Bedford RC joining Northampton and Oundle). I’m not going to try and write up every event – partly there were too many and (mainly) I was either marshalling or racing so didn’t see half of them.

So, I’m just going to pick out some of the highlights (for me) of the day and leave it to others to add their own thoughts. That way, maybe we’ll wind up with a full picture!

Unlike last year, held in a dead calm, we had very strong winds and this made for some very challenging conditions, especially at the start.Despite this, we only had a couple of capsizes and no clashes in races, showing a high standard of rowing and sculling by all taking part. I know some crews found the going very tough but everyone battled through. We had some incredibly close races, including a couple where the verdict was one foot! It was good to see the full spectrum of events as well, juniors, seniors and masters, and everything from singles through to eights.

We re-jigged a couple of things from last year, firstly the trailer parking, having the trailers in front of the club house. This proved fortuitous as, having parked three trailers neatly, a fourth then turned up – Oundle having so many boats they needed two trailers! We were able to slot them in where we parked the trailers last year, so no real panic. Got to say how impressed I was with the parking ability of the trailer drivers, just wish I was that good. Assuming we expand next year, we’ll have to really think about this one though.

Second change was to the boating pontoon – we moved this to the left of the slipway and this did help with congestion along the footpath, although it did mean most crews opted to go off here, leading to some delays. Again, one to think about for next year. The circulation pattern worked better, removing the need to have crews crossing the racing line.

Personally, it was an interesting day, staying upright and dry in my first Regatta single scull race (only finished two lengths down, which I was really pleased with), being well and truly thumped in the quad and then finally getting a win at our home event in the double with Steve.

For me, some of the highlights were the Open Eight between Bedford and Northampton, one of the closest races of the day, with Bedford shading it at the finish (by a foot) and the Northampton against NSB quad, again a foot in it (with NSB emerging as winners). It was nice to see the pots and medals being spread around as well, no one club dominating things, although our ladies seemed to be putting in strong showings all round. Special mentions for Paula and Lou – first time ever in a double and (despite a scenic route) winning their straight final and to the two beginners crews, who put up a serious fight with only half a length in it, credit to the coaches from both Bedford and MK for getting beginners to this standard!

Starts were very difficult and all credit to the Sea Cadets, who did a tremendous job hanging on to the sterns of boats against strong winds, waves and rowers trying to keep on station. Their arms must seriously ache today (and be a couple of inches longer). As an illustration of just how hard this was, one boat managed to dislodge one of the stake boats, casting it adrift (quickly rescued by the safety launch) and another managed to get wedged between the stake boat and the bank, being battered by cross-waves.

The wind also made it deceptively cool and there’s a lot of people (me included) nursing some serious sunburn as a result.It was a long and tiring day but thoroughly enjoyable and showed again that we can run a good event. Now for planning next year…

If you were there, do let me know your thoughts and memories!


Veterans’ Head 2011

April 4, 2011

After the dire weather at training on Thursday and Saturday, it was a great relief to find Sunday morning breaking bright, sunny and (most importantly) calm. A very early start needed this morning as the race was scheduled for a 9:00 AM start, meaning we were away from the club at 6:15.

An uneventful run down to Chiswick, all hands on and we had the boat rigged and ready to go in 20 minutes, in plenty of time to boat. No last minute dramas today, Pierre-Yves not getting caught in traffic, unlike Hammersmith Head! Unlike WEHORR and Hammersmith Head, which ran on the highest tide I’ve seen on the Thames for years, today’s race was on pretty much the lowest tide I’ve seen.

The Civil Service was organised chaos with loads of boats getting out – the low tide allowed something like four or five crews to boat simultaneously, unlike the two at a time that normal conditions allow. Although this got all the crews out quickly it did lead to heavy congestion by Barnes bridge and in the ensuing crowd, we managed to almost lose our race number from the bows.

Anyhow, once out of the traffic, it was a nice controlled paddle up to the start, no real drama and excellent marshalling. None of the manic shouting of recent years but firm, polite calls. It makes such a difference. Racing at number 15, we didn’t have long to wait and pretty soon we were spinning and setting off for the start. The boat was sitting nicely and we accelerated over the start line and were off, just a mere four and a quarter miles to work through.

Rating around 32, we settled well and it seemed like quite a strong row. We were overhauled fairly quickly by a very fast moving Lea crew but looked like we were holding most of the other boats around us. Certainly, the conditions were much better than the last couple of sessions on Caldecotte Lake and the extra practice sessions were definitely paying off. An uneventful first half saw us through Hammersmith Bridge without incident although another crew caught and passed us just past the bridge. Coming up towards Fulham FC, Andi called another push as we were closing in on the crew in front. This, together with an increase in rating took us past Cantabs, a very nice feeling to be overtaking someone.

Towards the end, Andi called for another increase and somehow we managed to wind it up to an amazing (for us) 37 strokes per minute, making sure we weren’t passed by any of the other crews all pushing hard for the line. We went past the finish still flat out, before taking it down and spinning just past Putney bridge. It had been a good hard row, pretty stable most of the way and with some very strong pushes; all in all a pleasing performance.

Getting back proved to be an endurance event though. Because the tide was so low, there was no water at all through the small arch at Hammersmith, so the entire flotilla had to wait until the last racing crew had passed through the bridge before we were able to start on the journey back. Fortunately, it was warm and dry, otherwise this would have been miserable. As it was, this spread the field out and we were able to have a good practice paddle on the way back, fuelled by the Mars bars so thoughtfully provided by Paula!

Having arrived back at the Civil Service, we waded ashore, being careful not to ground the boat on the shallows and had it stripped and back on the trailer in no time. It was a slightly odd feeling though, to have finished the race and to be on our way home well before midday!

The results (here) were up later in the evening, and these gave us a time of 21:29.13, placing us 79th out of 204 overall but a disappointing 20th out of 21 in Masters B.


Evening rowing again!

March 31, 2011

With the clocks going forward, it’s been just light enough to get out on the water again in the evenings. Two sessions this week, both in the eight, training for the Vet’s Head on Sunday. These couldn’t have been more different – Monday was near perfect conditions, flat water, warm and a really pleasant evening. Tonight was blowing half a gale (average wind speed 25 knots) and the lake was choppy and very hard going.

Still, the contrast allowed us a pretty technical outing on Monday and sheer brute force this evening. The boat seems to be coming along nicely, the balance is getting there and all we need to hope for is decent conditions on the Tideway on Sunday (although after tonight, we can probably cope with just about anything).


Hammersmith Head 2011

March 24, 2011

Taking advantage of the eight being down in London (for WEHORR), we decided to enter Hammersmith Head for the first time. Managing to scrape together eight of us who were available, we entered a Master’s B 8+.

Although the weather wasn’t as good as the beautiful conditions for WEHORR, it was nowhere near as bad as we’ve seen it on the Tideway. Boating again from (an almost deserted) Civil Service was easy and didn’t take long to get on station for the start. There followed the usual wait, with Andi doing a great job of keeping us in the right position and out of trouble – although Gwen and I (at Bow and 2) were kept busy manoeuvring the boat. The only other “B” boat was right behind us, so we had a good view of our closest competition from the off.

We were caught a bit by surprise (at least, I was) by the start being the near side of Chiswick Bridge, instead of the far side (as it is for all the other Tideway events I’ve raced) so weren’t at full speed crossing the start line. However, we picked up to race pace quickly and were keeping station on the Sons of the Thames boat behind us, while overhauling a couple of boats in front. This was pretty much the position for the first half of the race, but as we hit slightly choppier water, Simon caught a crab, slowing the boat right down. This allowed Sons to close right up on us; a massive push once we’d recovered saw us push away a bit from them and hunt down St. George’s College.

Despite the lack of practise, there were some very strong pushes and the boat was sitting pretty well overall. With no further incidents, we overtook St. George’s and hauled in another couple of boats before crossing the line at Hammersmith.

The results saw us complete the course in 12:20.2, finishing 82nd overall (of 103 starters) but 7th out of 8 in the Master’s Handicap section, some 9 seconds behind Sons.

Results can be seen at the AK website while my photos are (temporarily I hope) on Picasa (link to follow).

This was actually a really nice event, a good taster for the Vets Eights Head in a couple of weeks, well organised and marshalled.

A huge thank-you to Andi, who made her coxing début big style, coxing a Tideway event – and doing so quite superbly.