July 11, 2010

In the faster crew

At the last Henley Veterans' Regatta yesterday my E (over 55 years) quad scull had first to beat an unknown quantity, a new combination crew of Bradford on Avon and two guys from Dart Totnes. They looked like they could scull well and looked lean enough to be fit so we knew we had a race on our hands.

We'd a fair start and gradually pulled out a length lead within 250m where we had some unexpected support from the ladies in our club, Grosvenor Rowing Club.

I was warned for my steering (done with my right foot) a couple of times as the boat was difficult to control in the inevitable swell that the passing launches kick up at Henley. But we went on to win the heat in a respectable time of 3.31 in the otherwise calm conditions.

On our way back we watched Dart Totnes's main crew have a comfortable win over Eton Excelsior in 3.45 but we knew that the times meant little. If the opposition had been reversed then so would the times have been.

And so to the final. We did two practice starts down by the Henley School of Management. Stroke took an air stroke on the third stroke of the first start because he got his hands caught in his T shirt so he took that off and there was absolutely nothing wrong with the second practice start. We were ready. We sat in the shade of Temple Island and waited for our worthy opponents to arrive.

Arriving at the stake boats one of them shouted, "Let's have a good race Grosvenor." We both knew that it would be good.

Attention ... GO!

Our start was not as good as the practice start but good enough. Dart Totnes, we knew, had an appalling start at the National Masters Championships and would undoubtedly have been working on it. And so they had been. They were level with us after 15 strokes. But then we had the edge and were creeping ahead. I called for cleaner finishes and the boat moved a little bit more easily through the water. I was warned for my steering but I'd already corrected my error as I'd sensed my proximity to Dart Totnes. With my peripheral vision I sensed we maybe had half a canvas lead. Not much! Then calamity! Something happend, we don't know what, maybe a bit of launch wash or a wave created by the head wind but Mike, our stroke, lost control of the blade in his left hand and it sliced into the water getting stuck at the finish, then another duff stroke when he clashed with the scull of the three man, Jeremy, behind him and then another bad one before he had sorted it out and was able to scull properly. This is racing!

We'd gone from being a little bit up to being almost a length down in a moment. The skipper of the Dart Totnes crew spotted our plight and called for a push of ten strokes from his crew to take advantage of it. I would have done the same.

I shouted GO and we were off again knowing that we still had enough of the course remaining to put right the damage done but that it would be even harder than we had bargained for. We already knew it was going to be hard to beat this committed and extremely fit crew from Devon.

They called for push after push. Ten after ten. But we could hear them being called and this only served to fire us up even more and our counter pushes seemed to be more effective than theirs. Passing the regatta enclosure there was a lot of shouting. We were creating a stir.

The water was calmer here and our sculling more relaxed but still very determined, strong and effective. Although our race was not going according to plan it was going well. Extremely well in fact. We were asked the question and not found wanting.

We passed the Fawley signal, which we knew was thirty strokes from the finish. Their captain announced, "30 strokes" very conveniently. Saved me shouting anything. We were now only half a length down. But we all knew that we were catching up because their captain sounded louder each time he shouted as we were nearer to him.

But we were running out of river. He was calling another ten. Each time we pushed harder and were stronger and more encouraged by the response from our other crew members. Could we do it? We could hear the finish commentator through the loudspeakers at the finish line. He was close. We were not making mistakes. It was the final ten. But it was too late. They had beaten us by 1/3 of a length. The umpire congratulated us and said he thought that we were going to catch them. We were still gasping and I was uttering expletives. But the anger soon changed to disappointment.

Mike called for three cheers for the opposition who were busy congratulating us on a fantastic race. It was indeed. Shame about the result! They were lucky, it turned out. We'd produced a terrific performance. This is the sort of race that you remember, even though it was a shame we were not the ones now picking up the gold medals. So we've had two excellent races this year against Dart Totnes, one at the National Masters Regatta and one at this popular Internaional event for masters. A memorable year so far and one to be proud of.

Posted by Stephen Walker at 10:26 PM

July 08, 2010

Off to Henley-on-Thames

No I'm not a week too late and no I'm not going to Henley Royal Regatta, which was last week and was great ( I popped down on Saturday). No I'm off to Henley for the last Henley Veterans' Regatta that starts tomorrow, Friday, to race in E Quads (for those over 55 years). Next year the regatta is to be called the Henley Masters' Regatta, much more appropriate!

We have a heat on Saturday morning against a composite crew from Dart Tones RC and Bradford-on-Avon and if we get through that then we should meet our arch rivals the 4x from Dart Totnes in the final at 14.36 provided they have beaten Eton Excelsior. The other six crews that we beat at the National Masters' Championships a month ago seem not to have entered our event!

Posted by Stephen Walker at 08:10 AM