March 27, 2004

The Head of the River (NOT)

Everybody was pumped up, focussed and ready to go afloat when the news came through that the event had been cancelled. If it was a disappointement for us coming all the way from the North West and especially for Paul Prestine our honorary foreigner, rowing in the 2nd Eight, whose only chance it was to row in the HORR, imagine how disappointing it must have been for crews coming all the way from France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Italy, Spain and even from the USA. To work together all winter towards this race and to have it cancelled at the last moment. What a shame.

I guess, to be fair to the organisers, it would have been mayhem attempting to marshal 420 boats for the start in high winds. And everybody is worried about their liability these days, aren't they?

A few crews took to the water anyway and sprinted past the boat houses at Putney, my Manchester crews amongst them. Some waited an hour before completing the whole course on a river that had gone down a bit. I think that the equinox high spring tide was a problem but the timing of the race was difficult. Ideally it should have been started an hour or so later but then the final crews to race would have found themselves rowing back home in the dark. It was a difficult call. The tide needs to be high enough to provide room for all the competitors but ideally it should be low enough that the wind goes over the top of it without disturbing the water too much.

And now my favourite gripe. Rescue launches. Give a man a launch with a big powerful outboard and he seems to think that he has to use it to justify being in it. Officials with megaphones are much the same. Most often NOTHING needs to be done. And NOTHING should be done. In fact NOTHING must be done most often and SOMETHING should be done only rarely when action is warranted. Zipping up and down and round about in launches only serves to disturb the water. The wind then catches hold of the waves thereby created and perpetuates them. At high water the waves then bounce off the concrete and stone banks of the river leaving very confused and uncomfortable water upon which to row. A few years ago I was about to set off to the start of the scullers' head on what looked like reasonable water and SIX rescue launches all set off upstream at great speed on the Middlesex side. The river was as high as it could get and the wash created by these launches made the river like the sea. It was impossible to scull with both hands at once. The river never recovered. It was horrible throughout the race. It is all just so unneccesary. The launches, in my humble opinion, create the situations that they are there to assist in. All they need to do is to remain still on the bank and wait for something untoward to happen. Then calmly deal with it. There are plenty of them and they could and should be stationed at frequent intervals along the course. Fast reactions and racing to the aid of sinking crews only exacerbates problems and can lead to the sinking of other crews who were alright until then.

Posted by Stephen Walker at March 27, 2004 05:19 PM