On Sunday 17th April the J18 girls quad(3 of us are actually 17 – but rowing with Bea means we enter as J18) travelled to St Ives to compete in their 150th Anniversary Heat to Head race. They had very kindly agreed to lend us a boat as the trailer wasn’t going it was just our crew.
We arrived very early at their well-equipped boat house in the middle of St Ives. They are really lucky, their brick built club house has a bar area with comfy sofas and a balcony which overlooks the landing stage(as well as pictures of a very young Victor on the walls). They have their own gym with ergos and weights machines as well as an open floor space. They even have inside loos and showers with hot and cold running water!!!
Everyone at the club was very friendly and made us really welcome, particularly Gary. The course was originally 1700m each way, but had been shortened by approx 150m as the current was very strong and making the 2 bends at one end of the course almost impossible to navigate.
Members of St Ives boat club who usually row in the coxless quad that we used were very helpful and lifted the boat out of its very tight spot onto trestles for us. As we lifted the boat onto the water we realised that it was bigger and heavier than we were used to rowing and the shoes were huge. We were allowed to go off for a short paddle to inspect the first corner and have a few minutes to get used to how the boat handled, then it was back to the start and ready to start our division. Our opposition were crews from Huntingdon and Oundle. Huntingdon had already raced in the first division and Oundle were set to start immediately behind us, which was great because we could see them.
We were first to go in our division, but the going was hard even from the start because of the stream and the wind. The whole leg seemed to take forever and we could see Oundle behind us. We were convinced that they were gaining on us, but no matter how hard we tried we couldn’t seem to move any faster! As we approached the end of the first leg we weren’t quite sure where the finish was and so we didn’t get the chance to do a final push. Because we were first in our division we had to wait for everyone else to cross the line which meant that we got a long rest. We spun and waited for the instruction to go again, we had to keep backing down as the stream was trying to push us back down the course. While we waited we discussed our race so far, we knew that Oundle were close, possibly even faster than us on the first leg, we knew that we had to give it our all and go as fast as we could in the second leg. We all thought that we could still win, but we knew we had to give it everything. Eventually we went off for the second leg, it started well and felt much easier than the first leg, we felt positive and went off fast, Oundle hadn’t spun when we left and so the starting gap between us was much bigger, this made it harder to tell who was faster. The race still looked really close, but we felt confident that they hadn’t gained on us anymore. The second leg flew by and before we knew it we rounded the last corner and gave a great final push for the finish line…now all we could do was wait and see, we had no idea what the result was likely to be!
The St Ives men’s quad crew lifted the boat off the water for us and put it away and it was as we were putting our blades away that we made an exciting discovery. There, proudly sitting on a rack against the wall was a boat named after a very famous man…you’ve guessed it…our own Victor Bridges. We were very excited and had our photo taken with it as proof of the momentous discovery.
Back up in the boat house bar we waited impatiently for all the other crews to finish and the times to be calculated. After what seemed like an eternity Gary printed out a sheet of the division 2 times and laid it on the table. We knew we had to beat 12.11, the time set by Huntingdon in division 1, then we saw our time 11.21…so not last…finally we found Oundle’s time 11.30, we had beaten them by 9 seconds! We had a great day thanks to everyone at St Ives rowing club and now each have another pot to add to our collections.
Our preparation for the Bumps started with our customary 16 mile row to Cambridge with a mixed crew made up of our Men's and Women's eights. Pleasant weather helped as we relaxed into a steady row from our club house in Ely, arriving in Cambridge 4 hours later. The only discomfort was felt by Duncan as the crew shouted abuse at him from within Bottisham Lock.
Our men's crew rowed first. 7th bung in the 3rd division, under the bridge (right next to the cannon). Our casual start did not take City 9 by surprise but we settled into a good rhythm and started our procession to the finish. Our prey then bumped Champs 6 at first post and ahead of them Cantabs 8 bumped Champs 5 leaving us nothing ahead to chase so we settled for a row over.
Our women's crew raced next. 9th bung in the 2nd division giving them the option of chasing to the railings. A good start saw them move up on Champs 5, quickly taking half a length, but then tiring around grassy corner, falling back again and suddenly in danger of being caught by City 7 the crew rallied behind stroke Liz Kerr and pulled away again opting for the short finish at Ditton post for a row over.
Men's crew. 7th bung again (cannon just as loud). This time our casual start caught Champs 6 off guard and we quickly stole a bump at first post after just 30 strokes. Ahead of us City 9 bumped Champs 5 setting us up well for the next race.
Women's crew. 9th bung again but a disastrous start saw stroke lose her seat and despite a determined attempt to keep going the race was forfeited as smoke from Liz's backside was considered a fire risk! An easy bump for City 7 and the women moved down one place.
Men's crew. 6th bung put some distance between us and the cannon but outflow from the drain kept pushing us away from the bank. The cannon fired, the crews adrenaline was up, but with no perceptible effect on our start, which remained casual. Our advance towards Champs 6 was steady and we quickly took half a length while leaving our opponents from the previous night in the distance. Our quarry quickly exhausted themselves, having opted for a sprint which they couldn't maintain, and as we rounded grassy corner we steadily closed the distance and finished them just before The Plough. ahead of us City 9 kindly bumped Cantabs 8, again setting us up for the next evening.
Women's crew. Still smarting from the night before they took their position on the 10th bung, determined to recover their position on the river. The race started well and Ely moved up on City 7, closing to half a length at Osier Holt but a poor line at Grassy Corner left the crew exhausted and Rob Roy 3, seeing their chance, pounced and the women dropped another place.
Men's crew. 5th bung but the torrential rain made us nostalgic for our more sheltered position under the bridge. The crew had opted for a fancy dress theme of "Star Trek: To Boldly Row" and so sitting at the start, in our Starfleet uniforms, we waited for the gun. Our, now legendary, casual start was feared by our opponents and proved to be as effective as previous nights as we quickly settled into a powerful steady rhythm, advancing towards Cantabs 8 and closing the distance to a length by Grassy Corner. Deploying our bowside thrusters we maintained a good speed and course around the corner, ready for our planned "warp factor 10" from the cox. Extra power surged from the crew, the boat leapt forward and bumped Cantabs at the plough before they had time to react.
Women's Crew. Desperate to right the injustices they had suffered the previous two nights our 'Ladies Wot Row' had abandoned their customary head scarves for more practical shower caps for the battle ahead. From the start their superior pace and strength overwhelmed the less experienced Rob Roy 3 crew, who had bumped them the night before, and by First Post corner they were celebrating a bump and regained one position on the river.
The combined efforts of our two crews meant that we finished 2nd in the John Jenner Trophy moving up two places overall.
For more images visit the Cambridge Evening News Gallery.
Tim Dodes, Andrew Kearney, Alasdair Jones, Duncan McCulloch, Ed Miller, Richard Maxey, Ashley Wykes, Orlando Buhay and Simon Burge.
Liz Kerr, Alison Crowley, Jill McCulloch, Nicki Powell, Lyn Haynes, Jane Atkinson, Rachel Watson, Anna Relton, Jo Yarker and Teresa Aslett
Cox for both crews was Christian Schosland
For Trevor and Rodney this was their first time on the “Tideway”, and rather than details of times and places, we would like to offer some impressions of the day - hopefully to whet the appetites of other club members.
The Thames Tideway is the home of some of the greatest rowing races. As well as the Boat Race, head-races for 8’s; 4’s; 2x/- and singles are held at different times of the year. The Pairs Head in October saw a huge fleet of pairs and doubles race 4.5km from Chiswick Bridge to Harrods Wall – names evocative to anyone who has ever listened to a Boat Race commentary.
The first thought was “what a difference a week makes”. Last week - the bucolic charm of the River Yare in Norfolk on a lazy warm summer day, and the only Masters pair in the race. This week - the mighty, muddy Thames with a fast flowing ebb tide, cold rain to soak and chill us through before the start, and dozens of Masters pairs; including 5 entries at category F (possibly the largest accumulation of Cat F pairs since Dunkirk).
Race organisation was impeccable. Visiting competitors are hosted at a dozen or more different clubs along the river who deal with the housekeeping; leaving the race organisers to manage the race. Please note a spot of envy creeping in here - our Marathon would be so much easier if the race organisers didn’t have to spend so much time worrying about car parking!
We were hosted by the Tideway Scullers School, who were extremely helpful and responsive to queries before the race day. There was a buzz about their club, with what looked like hundreds of boats packed onto a postage stamp sized site; and very much a working clubhouse. Boating was a bit hairy by our standards – down what seemed never ending, very steeply sloping concrete steps, finishing (depending on the state of tide) either straight into the water, onto a shingle bank or onto muddy rocks. No pontoon or landing stage here – you get your feet wet pushing the boat out far enough to float it clear of the fin, and then climb in. Fortunately the river felt warm compared with the rain.
To us, two great advantages of launching at Tideway Scullers were availability of parking and rigging alongside the adjacent Dukes Meadow (another evocative name); and the fact that the club is at the start, which meant that as we were starting at the back of the fleet, we were able to slot into our marshalling position as boats went up to the final holding position before the start. This saved us an hour and a half sitting waiting in the boat (in the rain). The downside of this however was that after the race we had to row 4.5km back against the current.
As for the rowing, fortunately the force 6 winds that had been forecast for just before the start held off, and the river was quite calm. Rowing with the current was not as difficult as we had anticipated, although there is clearly much to learn about steering a good racing line on the Tideway.
The greatest thing about the day however was that as “ordinary” club rowers we were racing with the best. We can now boast that we have raced with Leo and Frazer. OK - they beat us by 3 min 25 seconds BUT WE WERE THERE AND WE WERE PART OF IT. With all the adrenalin surging through us and the current sweeping us along, we rated several strokes a minute faster than we can normally manage, and it felt GREAT.
Not having rowed the Great Ouse Marathon because of marshalling duties, Trevor and Rodney were in need of some racing, so set off full of enthusiasm for the Yare Cup on 27 September 2014.
Yare RC is based on an island, so it’s not possible to get visitors’ cars and trailers there to boat, but Norwich RC and Broadlands BC both offer boating facilities. We opted for Broadlands (for one thing, it is closer to the start - so less chance of exhausting ourselves before the race). It proved a good call. We were the only visitors opting for this location; so although we possibly missed the buzz of the busier Norwich site, we were able to have a good chat with Broadlands members – their club has an ethos very like ours, and we felt at home; and were able to boat in a leisurely fashion (compared with the rather tight boating schedule we saw for the Norwich RC site).
We hadn’t expected the river to be tidal, with large sailing boats moored close to the rowing club. But facilities were geared up to this, and a tidal river through a rural setting with trees reaching down into the water presented an interesting and pleasant environment
We had a delightful paddle up to the start. The weather was calm and warm; the river is wide (much wider than the Great Ouse), so even the bends didn’t present too much of a problem. Other crews were very friendly, and it was gratifying to receive a number of very positive comments about our Marathon from other crews on the water.
Of the 97 entries, there were15 quads or 4’s; the rest doubles or singles; but there was only one other pair, so we gave up our Masters status to race them at IM3.
We were started on time, under beautiful conditions. Unfortunately during the wait for the start, my speed coach switched off (it’s designed to if there is no movement for a period of time) and I hadn’t noticed. I rely heavily on this for setting the rate; particularly under stressful conditions. So - we got our “go”. The adrenalin kicked in and we were off at the sort of rate that we normally keep for our sprint finish. And somehow we kept it up for 3.7km!
There was a slight tide with us (the water rose about 4” in the hour we were out), but we were nevertheless pleased with our time of 15min 24 sec. The IM3 pair beat us by 28 seconds, but we later had a sneaky look at what our age handicap would have been if we were racing as masters, and felt our time was a good one.
Definitely a race to do again, and as it is virtually in our back yard, it would be nice to be joined by other members next year.
I’d been living in Ely for several months and was voicing my usual grumble about struggling to meet people when my friend, Sarah, suggested I should try rowing. Sarah worked at British Rowing at the time and before I knew what was happening, she’d found out all the club’s details and the contact email address I’d need to get started. “But I’m too old to start now… I’m not co-ordinated enough… I’m not good at sports…” She refused to listen to my excuses and said that I should just give it a go.
So on 23rd April, I headed to the King’s School Fitness Suite to meet my fellow Learn to Rowers and our coaches. I was nervous, but soon realised that everyone was really friendly. The following Saturday, we had our first session on the water and I was relieved to find out that we’d be kept afloat by boat ‘stabilisers’ and tied to the end of ropes to stop us from drifting too far away. Not long after that first session we had to do a capsize drill and a swim test at the swimming pool, so we’d know what to do should we ever end up in the river. I started to wonder what on earth I’d got myself into, but it was far too late to pull out by that point. Then there was the water session when the heavens opened and we all ended up huddled in a trailer, looking like we’d just swum the Channel and nursing hot chocolates!
For a while I felt frustrated by my lack of progress and I just didn’t seem to be able to make all the bits I’d learned fit together. It was only the encouragement and enthusiasm of the coaches that kept that me coming back when I felt like giving up. The passion they share for their sport really is infectious.
When our coach, Teresa, first mentioned a special ‘Learn to Row’ race at St Ives regatta, I laughed. She obviously had to be joking. We’d been rowing for about six weeks at that point and I was still struggling with basics. Except she wasn’t joking, and so on 21st June, eight weeks after that first water session with the stabilisers and the ropes, a few of us from the course headed to a very sunny St Ives to compete in our first race! We were pretty suspicious when our opposition turned up looking very professional in their matching kit. Unlike us, it probably wasn’t the first time they’d been in a quad together. Nor the first time they’d followed a cox’s instructions. I raced four times that day and we lost every race. But none of that mattered. What I took away from the event was far greater than the glory of winning – I gained confidence and developed an enjoyment of rowing.
I’ve already signed myself up for the next one in a couple of weeks’ time, and I’m looking forward to many more races to come. My only rowing regret is that I didn’t take it up sooner!