March 27, 2004

Veteran's Head

At least the race took place, albeit half an hour late (during which time the tide rose and the wind, naturally, rose with it) and shortened to Hammersmith. It would have been nice if somebody had taken the trouble to inform us of this shortening of the course like they did the first time I rowed in the race. First clue was some crews returning to Putney rather earlier than we might have expected to see them. Second clue was the umpire's launch anchored below Hammersmith Bridge. Third clue was an official in it with a megaphone telling us to keep rowing through the bridge - why would we be stoppping? Fourth clue was a stationary crew ahead of us, adjacent to the ARA HQ telling us to stop.

We were all still fresh of course, having saved ourselves a bit when we could have made an all out commitment. Still, who cares. We had a pleasant row. My old firneds from Bewl Bridge were all extremely polite ang grateful to me for turning up at all on such a miserable day and I discovered that the normally shy and retiring John Witty has a very keen sense of humour. I enjoyed myself anyway.

It's amazing how the body remembers how to row. I hardly row at all these days. I scull a quite a bit and I coach a lot. But I cannot remember the last time I rowed. Maybe two years ago. And the last time I rowed with Bewl I was stroking the eight. This time I was thrown into the bow seat of a beautiful Sims eight. The previous bowman must have been exactly my size as no stretcher adjustment was necessary. And it felt like I had been rowing there all my life. Easy peasy. The crew was rowing considerably better than the last time, when I had rowed in it and everything fell very naturally into place. What a treat.

And the Sims boat took very little water compared to the longer Empachers that seemed to be quite abundant on the river that day. I remarked to a Dutch crew about the German engineering of their boat, which had been half full of water, and the bowman laughed back that it was the English weather that was to blame!

As for the crews that sank, they will probably dine out on the story for years to come and become crashing bores in the various club bars that they frequent. There was plenty of safety cover.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 05:40 PM

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 05:19 PM

MUBC training camp at Bordeaux

I am off to Bordeaux on Monday 29th March for a week coaching Manchester University rowing in the sunshine. I will have my mobile phone with me (07 985 043 981) but I will not have my computer. So please bear with me if I am unable to deal with your enquiry as efficiently as normal.

The web site enables you to order boats on-line if you wish and you can pay by debit card. This will get any boat you order on the order books at the factory and into the queue. Don't wait for my return if you wish to buy now. The sooner you order the sooner you get your boat.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 12:17 PM

March 17, 2004

New TurboSkiff demonstrator

My fiancée, Sue, christened a new red turboskiff today on the river Dee. Her initial reaction was that it felt like cheating. "It seemed to do everything for you", she said. Also it's very fast.

Photos and video clips available soon.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 11:29 PM

March 16, 2004

Manchester Novices strong

Following their success at the North of England Head of the River, where they beat UMIST's 1st VIII to take the novice pennant, the novice 1st crew from Manchester University came over to Chester again on Sunday for a day of intensive technical coaching. Both Nick Ireland and I spent the whole day with them drawing out their potential. They are big and strong and their two novice captains, Anton and Stuart, have done a fantastic job bringing them to this standard in just six months. After some more coaching they will threaten the 2nd VIII. This gives us many more options for the coming regatta season.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 01:23 PM

March 13, 2004

Manchester perform at NoE Head

Happy days. My Manchester University crews performed brilliantly in the North of England Head of the River Race today in Chester.

The men, finishing an unprecedented 3rd, 12th, 18th and 36th won Senior 3, Senior 4 and Novice pennants and the women's 1st VIII were only 2 seconds behind Livepool in Senior 4. Both the women's crews were happy with their row and said they could not have done more. They are also very keen to improve at the forthcoming training camp in Bordeaux and to get into crews for Women's Henley.

Funny sport rowing. You can win but row badly and be annoyed with yourself. Yet you can lose and be delerious with your performance because you know that you aquitted yourself, you rowed above your expectations and could not have done any better.

The outstanding performance of the day for me was a real result with the first eight. I have put a lot of time in for them this last week and it has paid dividends. That's is not to say that I didn't think they could have done better. I was worried after seeing them go by and then watching the 2nd eight go by that the second eight might have beaten them.

But it just goes to show that you cannot see speed. I've often noticed that crews may look good but they may be slow or fast. You cannot tell unless they are moving relative to another crew. Our race plan worked a treat and although the 1st eight was not looking agressive they did look neat and clean and the boat was moving well and they were sticking to the race plan. So to finish third overall was a fantastic result. We are on track. Much more to come. Only Agecroft and Royal Chester's 1st eights beat us and not by that much.

It has been 11 years since I had the privelege of coaching athletes with this much potential. Then it was Liverpool University and they went on to finsh 42nd in the HORR in London the next week. Watch this space.

Well done everybody.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 06:07 PM

March 12, 2004

I must be rowing mad

I've let myself be persuaded to row for Bewl Bridge Rowing Club's Veteran E eight in the Vesta International Veteran Eights Head of the River Race on Sunday 21st March. I have a long association with the core of this crew and they seem to think I'll be OK, despite having done only sculling and yoga for the last two years.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 07:38 PM

March 10, 2004

North of England Head

The draw for the North of England Head of the River Race reveals that Manchester University's men's 1st VIII will be starting one place behind my own local Chester club, Grosvenor Rowing Club, in Senior 3 eights on Saturday 13th March. The weather looks as though it will be good and with approx 130 crews participating the river should be busy all day with some excellent racing.

The men start their race at 14.30 from Eccleston and the finish will be at the bottom of Dee Lane by Deva Terrace. Crews will be boating for this afternoon race from shortly after 1pm. Manchester University's 2nd Men's eight, racing in Senior 4, will be starting right behind local rivals Salford University who are in Senior 3, and ahead of Bangor University, my old college.

The Men's Novice 1st VIII will is sandwiched between Liverpool University's novices and Agecroft's. So even more local needle there. The 2nd Novice VIII is being chased by York Uni.

The Manchester Uni women's 1st VIII is sandwiched between their neighbours on the Bridgewater Canal, Trafford Rowing Club, and Liverpool University, with Liverpool being the only other crew in WS4. There are 12 women's novice crews and Manchester's novice women are going off 2nd between Newcastle and Bangor.

Looks like a fun day ahead.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 11:20 AM

Used Rowing Skiff wanted

One of my French colleagues is looking for a 1930s British single or double sculling skiff. Please phone me on 0870 770 2728 if you know of one that is for sale.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 09:41 AM

March 08, 2004

Rowing in Racing Boats isn't so easy

So I spent all day yesterday coaching Manchester Univerity's 1st VIII with their 2nd VIII and a novice VIII and IV in attendance. The morale in the 1st eight has been low following lack lustre performances at Trent and Runcorn Heads. The crew has only recently been selected and has not found it's form yet. There is huge potential in the crew but they are rowing at a level where psychology plays a big part. They needed a boost in their confidence. They needed proof that they are as good as I keep saying they are. So I devoted the whole day to them. Three sessions. The last one I coxed myself. Eventually I transformed their rowing and consequently their confidence. Tails were up afterwards and they felt worthy at last of their title of first eight.

We managed to change the rhythm in the boat so there was more time around the turn but most importantly we managed to get everybody to let go of the boat at the extraction, to release it and disconnect themselves from it and to remove the tension in their bodies so that the boat could move freely under them. They allowed it to do what it wanted to do during the recovery. To run over the waves and through the water freely.

This was rating 16 initially with the feet out. But then at 18 with the feet in. Then at 20 and 22. And eventually we touched 32 with no effort and no aerobic challenge.

I think that this crew will be able to race at 38 over 2000m come the summer and be able to challenge crews that have been beating us recently.

Meanwhile the 2nd VIII had a good middle session raising the rate as high as 34 towards the end of their head race distance piece. They have been going well and can also go better but I simply do not get the time to coach everybody to the required standard. I was exhausted by the end of the day and went to sleep at about 8.30pm. I think the crews would have slept well too. They all looked pretty tired. Particularly big Tom White, who admitted to being dehydrated by the end of the day and Nick Aldrige who had driven back from London with boats and not eaten properly the evening before. This was following the women's HORR in which the Manchester girls had three eights. They all performed respectably. Especially the 1st VIII who were only 24 seconds behind Grosvenor.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 11:22 AM

March 06, 2004

Sculling on the River Dee

Whilst the NW wind would have been good for sailing today, I sculled to Eccleston today for the first time in ages. I was going afloat as Grosvenor's men were finishing but Royal Chester Rowing Club had three men's eights on the water. The 1st has probably got more than 80 years of experience on board. No indications of how fast they will go in next week's North of England Head as they seem to have studiously avoided racing so far as I can tell. They may have been in last week's Runcorn Head but I can't find any results on the net.

There were no women around today because the Women's Head is taking place in London today.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 02:48 PM

March 04, 2004

Trent Head

Manchester Univerity Boat Club's first and second Men's Eights were both faster than last year's men's first VIII but there is a lot more to come yet. The two men's novice eights were only 13 seconds apart in 4th and 6th novice places so maybe we'll be able to retain the Novice Championship at BUSA this year. The women's Senior 3 VIII was really novice as they had to substitute their stroke after Clover fell down some stairs. They beat Edinburgh who were also a novice crew racing in Senior 3 by almost 2 minutes. The MUBC novice women, really the 2nd novice crew, did well to finish in the middle of the field.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 11:05 PM