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!