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+


March 28, 2012

Following on from the highly encouraging performance at Trent Head, the ladies eight headed down to London for the annual Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WEHORR). Despite the grey, overcast and chilly weather, the winds were quite light and the Thames looked as flat as I’ve seen it, so it looked all set for a good race. 

In the event, the MKRC ladies not only beat expectations but simply hammered them into the ground! With a target of aiming for a top 100 finish (out of nearly 300 crews) they simply flew down the course and posted a time of 22:08.65 to finish a stunning 76th overall. Looking more closely at this, the time put them as the second fastest Eastern Region crew (only a Broxbourne IM1 boat being quicker) and the sixth fastest IM2 club crew; considering this is an international class event, this has to be one of the club’s best ever performances.

Paula’s views on the race

Having done the Head of the Trent the week before, we went down to London a lot more relaxed than usual, knowing that we were well capable to finishing the course strongly.  We were boating from Barn Elms, which is just down the river from Putney.  This was the first time we had ever boated from there and we learnt a big lesson from the start.  Having put the eight together, complete with riggers, on one side of a fence, there was only a small gate in which to get the eight through, this also involved mountaineering up a muddy bank and then almost putting a couple of your crew in the Thames before there was room to turn the boat – lesson learnt, we de-rigged and split the boat BEFORE coming through the gate on the way back.

The advantage of boating at the Putney end is that you get a nice warm-up rowing to the start.  This was a good chance for us to try to gel as a crew as it was the first time we had all been together thanks to Mother Nature keeping the lake frozen for a couple of weeks.

Going off at number 134 meant that we didn’t have the long wait that we usually have on the Tideway and it seemed that no sooner had we got to the marshalling area, that we were moving down the river and were soon being told to get into racing kit.

We were very quickly spinning (for which Andi was complimented by one of the marshalls) and then we were off.  Andi pushed us from the very start to beyond the end!!! Helen wanted to overtake at least one crew – in the event, we very quickly took one crew and then another, we lost count in the end (think it was about 5 or 6). 

The race was long and hard (what race isn’t?) but very quickly Andi was giving us the final 20 push.

Only a short row back to Barn Elms, and my day was made when I saw Tim grinning like a Cheshire cat on the towpath.  After getting the boat out and de-rigging we all then went to buy a tee-shirt and replenish the caffeine levels at Costa whilst we waited for the provisional results.  The results were finally posted and we were provisionally 76th.  We had gone into the race hoping to be in the top 100 and we had done that with style!!!.

Fours Head/Veterans Four Head 2011

February 2, 2012

A little out of date, but here’s the story behind last year’s Fours and Veterans’ Four Head

Back down in London again, for this year’s Fours event, with two boats out on the Saturday in the Fours Head and one on Sunday in the Masters event. Really good performances from all three crews with the Tideway showing a complete change in conditions from one day to the next.

Fours HeadTwo ladies’ boats out in the main Fours Head, an IM1 quad and an IM1 coxed four. The quad, comprising Emma, Helen M, Andi and Liz, was first off. With limited practise time and this being Helen M’s first race in a crew boat for as long as I can remember, this was always more of a learning event but despite this, they put in a good time. The four also were a relatively new crew (Charlene, Paula, Lou and Alice, with Yemin coxing the Tideway for the first time) having been put together following the seat racing at Peterborough.

After an “interesting” start, where they boated at Civil Service and were then told to stop at Tideway Scullers (just the other side of Barnes Bridge!) and get out to wait for their division, they got off to a steady start. Having settled, they then ramped up the pace and started closing in on the crews in front, ultimately catching and passing two boats (interestingly, one of them when being overtaken was yelling at our ladies to move out of the way!) including a local rival! They were close to catching a third but ran out of river before they could manage this but an excellent race saw them place 15th of 30 in club crews – a top half finish, something to be really proud of.

Watching from the far end of Dukes Meadows, we then witnessed some of the most ridiculous rowing; returning boats were being held opposite us and allowed to cross by the marshals. As this involved crossing the racing line, you’d expect crews to really get a move on. Most did, apart from one crew (I don’t normally name and shame but York deserve a mention here). They dawdled across at a very shallow angle, until they realised there were boats racing towards them. At this point, instead of doing the sensible thing and stopping and backing down out of the way, they accelerated , making sure they hit an oncoming boat. A really horrible crunching sound ensued as they completely T-boned a ladies four; fortunately, the ladies were able to carry on (although the time they lost will have ruined any chance they had, plus there must be damage to their boat) but York were left with around two feet of bow hanging off. After paddling to the shore they were then collected by the rescue boat and ferried back down the river in a rowing version of the “walk of shame”.

Masters Fours Head
Our plans were thrown completely for the Masters event on Sunday as Steve’s back was still playing up and he was unable to row. Fortunately, Benn was available (and old enough!) to step in, but this left us racing time only as “B” instead of the entered “C” crew. It was also probably the first time Tim, Benn, Iain and I had actually rowed as a crew! Still, we’d rowed together in different combinations at various times…

Unlike yesterday’s benign conditions, today was pretty foul. Grey skies, chilly and, worst of all, a brisk wind blowing from the North. Having boated, we paddled our way towards the start – a much needed opportunity to work on balance and rowing together! Going past some of the other crews we were surprised by a sudden “Go MK” call from one of them – none other than ex-member for many years, Roger, rowing for City of Bristol.

After a brisk warm-up we then found our slot on the bank and began the game of trying to keep station. Working against a brisk stream and gusting winds was a real test, but Andi coped superbly, not allowing us to drift at all. Finally, it was time for the off, so stripping down to racing kit (that was cold!) we pulled out into the centre and built for the start. Running through Chiswick Bridge, the river started churning up with the winds and sitting at bow I was struggling to clear my blade on the recovery; unfortunately this aggravated a slight twinge I’d had in my shoulder for a few weeks and pretty soon it was extremely sore; still only another 6k to go…

The boat following us (Nottingham) were clearly very quick and were soon bearing down on us; despite a couple of good pushes, they eased through us and started to pull away somewhere around Dukes Meadows. Still, this was offset by Andi calling that we were catching a couple of other crews. As we came round by Chiswick Eyot, the wind really hit and suddenly the waves were breaking over the bows and stern and spray flying everywhere. Our experience on Caldecotte Lake helped as we just dug deep and powered through this, passing City of Bristol (with Roger) and Bedford through the rough stuff. With no-one else catching us and not making any dent on the boats in front, we then settled for the rest of the race.

Hammersmith Bridge came and went and we started the long haul for home; the river had settled down a bit and conditions to the end weren’t too bad. Building for the last couple of hundred, we closed a bit on the Nottingham boat that had taken us early on (but not gone away that much subsequently) but not enough to “un-lap” ourselves.

Having finished we then had the worst bit to come – don’t know about anyone else but the row back is sheer purgatory for me, especially as my shoulder was pretty well shot by now. Rowing back past Putney, we saw the most unusual sight – a quad sitting against the Black Buoy, upside down with the crew perched on the upturned hull! How they’d done this, no idea!

Inevitably on the way back, we’d had the usual numpties who insisted on racing – one Thames based crew even managed to row into us, so desperate were they to get past! Finally though, after what seemed like hours, we were back at Civil Service, sitting in the inevitable traffic jam. Watching the other boats being lifted out we could see they’d all suffered with the conditions too, as huge amounts of water were pouring out as they went to heads. Pleasingly, when we flipped our boat over, there was relatively little water (although Andi reckons this is because most of it had hit her instead…).

A long, hard (and painful) race but when the results came out we weren’t too disappointed. For a scratch crew, we managed 6th out of nine at “B” and around 90th overall out of 200+ starters

Peterborough training

October 23, 2011

Just recovering from a great day’s training at Peterborough, arranged by the brilliant Tim G! Mainly aimed at sorting out the Ladies’ crews for the Fours Head, it gave Steve and I a great opportunity to rack up a lot (18!) of Kilometres in our double.

After some really good seat races by the ladies, we’ve now got the quad and coxed four for the Tideway sorted and ready to go for this. Really encouraging to see so many of the women’s squad really pushing themselves to the limit for the right to race on the Thames in a couple of weeks. They were all certainly giving it their all. After eight 750m+ races in various combinations, the crews are all set for the big day.

Following this little paddle (and, by the way ladies, Steve and I racked up 2k more than you!) there was a little row up the Nene afterwards. This only added another 10k or so!!!!

Great day out and really wonderful to see the camaraderie amongst the squad – now for the Tideway…

Thanks again Tim!!!

Pairs Head 2011

October 17, 2011

For the first time, and showing real progress as a club, we had three crews out in this year’s Pair’s Head. As well as the “established” boats of Benn and Tim and Steve and I, Mike and John also raced in a double. Mixed fortunes for us, with Steve and I really pleased with our result but the others a little less so.

For the Tideway, the conditions weren’t too bad, although the amount of debris in the river as we were marshalling was a bit of a concern (including a wooden pallet!). There was a good stream running, winds were fairly light (although some nasty gusts) and not too cold – and following the trend of recent events, the marshals were friendly and polite.

Senior 2-
Because of an accumulation of points during the last season, Benn and Tim had to enter their pair at Senior level. Given that they were racing against crews that probably train together regularly, they were going to be up against it as they’d not rowed this boat since Peterborough. Despite this, they put in a reasonable time (13:41.33) albeit finishing last of thirteen crews (and ahead of many of the IM1 crews). Perhaps not their best race but for the first time as a Pair on the Tideway, a great effort.

IM2 2x-
Following the long tradition in MKRC of putting together scratch crews, Mike and John went out as a double for the first time on the Saturday morning before the race! Up against some tough opposition and with Mike steering the Tideway for the first time (and first time for both in a double or pair) this was more about taking part than racing. Despite a close encounter with one of the red buoys, they finished not too far off the pace, in a time of 13:18.71, again finishing last in the IM2 category but a promising first outing.

Masters D 2x-
We weren’t sure how we would do in this year’s race; we’d seen slow but steady progress over the last couple of years, moving from last to the bottom quarter of the event but we felt we’d come on a bit in recent months. Against this, in the line up we had some very quick crews following us, so (me at least) worried we’d be overwhelmed.

In the event, we got off to a good, solid start and could see that the Dart Totnes boat behind us wasn’t making any gains on us. Picking up a good rhythm, we were definitely holding our own, although some of the strong crews were gradually closing in. Around half-way, the Walton boat (eventual winners) did finally overtake us but that was the only one until around 200m from the end; here we were caught by two crews (Poplar Blackwell and Sons) who were gong at it hammer and tongs. We kind of got pulled along with this and really wound it up for the end, with neither of these two (who finished second and third respectively) making any real ground on us. This definitely pushed us over the last couple of hundred metres, right through to the finish; to say I was tired is a mild understatement but we felt we’d really given it a go. One very nice touch was the bow-man of the Poplar boat calling to us at the end “good sculling at the end, guys” – he didn’t need to say this and, coming from him (current GB Masters champions) was a real fillip.

Anyhow, when the results came through we were delighted! Whether it was being pushed so hard at the end, but we came in 10th of 20 – a top half finish. This was way above anything we’d managed before and put us right in the mix, beating several crews who’d seen us off in previous years. Discounting the top five crews who were miles ahead, our time of 13:32.66 put us just 11 seconds behind 6th place! This gives us a real target for next year and does kind of suggest we have made some real progress of late.

My thoughts…
First, thanks to our support crew! Without the help from Paula, Andi and Clare it would have been much harder to get boated and to de-boat at the end. It really is appreciated (and I know I keep saying it, but it is one of the things that seems different about MKRC, the way we all support each other). This year we boated from Putney Town RC (right next to Chiswick bridge – nowhere near Putney…) and must say thanks to them as well. The only bad thing about this was the row back – it’s hard enough when it is “just” to the Civil Service but, boy, this seemed to go on for an eternity.

Overall, a good day on the Tideway – really pleased with our double and although the others were a little disappointed in their races, good prospects for the future from the other guys.

Results from the race are here

Photographs of our crews are here

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.