Midsummer 2017

Inconsiderately midsummer fell midweek this year, therefore as it is a very energetic row the general consensus was to celebrate the solstice at the weekend rather than before work. The week before had been rather warm, thermometers going over 30 degrees which any respectable English person will get quite excited over. Other people had been messing about on our stretch of river to the extent that we were a little out of place – apparently there is some sort of world renown regatta to which we were not invited to participate.

As usual at 4am we congregated on the landing stages – geese having a rather earlier than usual start to their morning. Boats were located and dropped into a river (a quad rather cheekily nicking the preferred spot of the eight) rowers piled in and having observed all the correct safety procedures we set off. As it was still rather early in there were no other people around at all. Four (presumably having spent the previous week admiring the Queen’s speech, her attendance at Ascot and the Trooping of the Colour) was inspired by Her Majesty’s wave and so on his progress through the town waved at imaginary subjects, graciously acknowledging their devotion in turning out so early.

Through the bridge (without a close inspection of it) we looked with scorn at a supposedly good boat club that weren’t out and about and on to admire the pretty lights of Henley. Four still regally waving at hypothetical onlookers who had turned out to witness his progress.

Charging down the river we chatted to the odd swan and duck, none of whom seemed especially impressed or interested in the spectacular show we were putting on. As ever the eight was rowed with particular skill, so much to the extent that the three quads that were out were left miles behind. As we approached the narrows in a fit of generosity we paused to let them catch up (although we claimed it was to listen to the nightingales so as not to hurt their feelings). In the run up to Temple Island we admired the white posts, which have lost none of their menacing presence since last year and allowed one of the Quads a go at racing us.  Needless to say they failed abysmally to overtake despite trying to reorganise the finish line several times.

In a feat of spectacular navigational skill the eight moored itself up to the familiar posts (Three rightly insisting on somewhere to rest her glass) and quad after quad piled into us. As the last one approached champagne was opened and Midsummer was toasted. Poetry was read – for some unknown reason the mention of the species Castor fiber cause hilarity in most of the crews and we quite failed to see the sun rise on account of the clouds getting in the way. Several bottles later the coxed quad decided we had done quite enough drinking and merry making and so extracted themselves and pottered off, the other quads following suit, one of which made the stupid mistake of splashing Stroke in a fit of Midsummer induced rage.

Having untangled itself from the river bed, reeds, posts, riggers and everything else the crew of the eight managed a very nice spin and prepared to race off after everyone else. Or it would have done had Cox not fallen off her seat. After a re-arrangement of seats we pottered off again, determined to have a good racing start off the Island.

The navigational channels at present are rather poorly marked out with tiny little buoys some of which have a sneaky way of moving into the way of a boat. Bow, Three, Five and Seven all noticed this phenomenon despite a bit of semaphore from the Cox who didn’t think it worth bothering the rest of the crew with.

Going up to the start we meandered our way through the rather tight gaps (Bow and Two sensibly taking no notice of what nonsense Cox was saying and sorting out the steering themselves much to everyone’s relief) and we positioned ourselves into the Middle Lane. Spotting the Quads ahead spurred us on to new heights of superb rowing. Down the course we charged only pausing briefly to wave at a passing scull. The astute observations made by Cox about how blades worked were appreciated by all, especially when the observations turned out to be quite true. 

Doing a bit of nifty overtaking past our Island we launched ourselves at the landing stages just in time before a few USA crews charged past looking as though they knew what they were doing. Four dashed off to get breakfast ready and after emptying boats of bottles, the rest of the crews piled across to Four’s house for a splendid breakfast. An excellent start to the day, shame about the rugby afterwards.

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Rowing in June!

As a general rule rowing during June at weekends  is restricted in Henley. Other crews are about going at an uncivilised pace, regattas are closing off bits of river and cruisers are going all over the place with little sense of direction. This means that whilst the inclination to appreciate our surroundings is there we quite often have to forego a row and take the option of lie in. True to form however the crew were never off duty from wildlife watch; Three capturing ducks pretending to be dogs in their excursions around Henley.

The second weekend of June brought hot sun and strong wind. Having dispatched various crew members up to the British Masters the leftovers filled up a couple of quads and spent happy hours pottering around our stretch of river, getting irritated by the lack of navigational skills of every one else. News came in from Nottingham – the double had done rather well (3rd in their category) and the wind was picking up. As we had battled with a rather unforgiving wind in the morning of the Saturday we offered no sympathy.

Further news came through on the Sunday from up north – it was far too windy for any rowing at all! So the quad came back having traipsed all the way to the far flung reaches of the country for no race.  Again, the crew in Henley bravely battled against wind, other crews and cruisers once again asserting the fact that this really is our bit of river. As we drank tea, ate cake and watched the river go by from the club balcony we came to the conclusion that actually this bit of river was too busy to be fully appreciated and a plan was decided upon for the following week. We would go through Marsh lock and head up towards Wargrave. Cox was delighted (new wildlife to spot) Four happy to be playing around with locks (we would obviously be going through them before the lock keeper was awake) and the rest of the crew pleased to be getting away from all the crews who thought they were better than us. 

An 8am start saw brilliant blue sky, empty landing stages, empty car parks and an enthusiastic crew. Cox letting on that she had never actually been on this section of river and still wasn’t a lock fan. As usual such whining was ignored and we set off. A quick chat with goslings and wagtail resulted in us being at the lock before the keeper was in, so with considerable agility Bow leapt out the boat onto a ladder and went to find out if the lock was ready for use. Posing manfully by the clockwork mechanism Bow managed to get the lock gates working; they slowly and dramatically opened and in we went. It was noted by various people that the instructions coming from the coxbox were increasing in pitch. Obviously there is a mechanical fault somewhere, it had nothing to do with being in a lock. As the water started to pour in from in front of us the boat started to spin. Not even the pretty flowers on the side of the lock could distract everyone from this terrifying fact. 

After perhaps half an hour sitting in the lock we finally saw the gates starting to open. Having topped up our tans and waved at various people walking around the weir we were ready for the off. Bow was collected in a feat of amazing navigation and off we went into the unknown, the promise of a pub at the far end enough to keep even the most dedicated of rowers happy.

Once we had past the swimmers and fishermen (the latter of whom looked at us as though we were totally insane) it became apparent that this stretch of water was far quieter than our own. This was to lull us into a false sense of security – it is rumoured  there were trees that unmercifully cast of branches at passing rowers, or sneak out into the middle of the river and attack with no warning.

Cox, determined to keep the crew safe took no notice of what they were doing and instead wittered away to anything that moved, giving helpful instructions as to the difference between grey and yellow wagtails. Passing another lovely looking house with river frontage several people began to think about retirement homes and where the best place to go would be.  On arrival at St. George and Dragon we were very distressed to find it wasn’t open for a mid morning pint. A goose had also nicked the landing stage in preparation for its opening – clearly a kindred spirit. 

As we pottered back it was noted that most people were so enamored with the view of the countryside they were paying little or no attention to their rowing technique. Waving at a fellow crew from Henley also out on the stretch that we now deem our own, we made our way back to the lock. As the danger sign loomed over us Cox sensibly slowed the boat down half a mile before the weir.  The lock keeper was up and about and had turned on the electricity so instead of sitting in the lock for half an hour or so we were through in a matter of minutes. A lovely change from what is now a very congested bit of river and without doubt something that will have to happen again soon.

 

Walton and Weybridge Regatta

This was the first regatta on the racing calendar for us, so we had practiced carefully, racing up and down our stretch of the Thames, irritating the swans and generally getting in everyone else’s way. This meant we were more that prepared to take on whatever Walton and Weybridge could throw at us.

The Thursday before a few of us rocked up to dismantle a boat. Sadly for us it was pouring with rain and there wasn’t a robin to serenade us as there had been last year. Nonetheless with four of the crew plus a cox that sometimes could use a spanner and at other times attempted to use a power tool we managed to de-rig. Despite the lack of crew and presence of a cox the boat ended up on the trailer with various blades with eventually the right number of riggers. Meeting time was agreed and we all hoped the rain would hold off for the race.

Race day came around – bright sunshine, a gentle breeze and a very optimistic crew. On meeting at the club the Wow Bow pair took control of transport, instructing people into cars and ensuring that we all had the correct kit. Two very sensibly had ensured that she looked fabulous in a bid to prevent any awkward questions about heel restrains or a lack of race cards. (As a disclaimer for British Rowing we had all ensured our membership was up to date, it was simply a case of keeping race cards in safe places which could never be found, and of course safety first at all times).

An uneventful journey to London found us talking at great length to an enthusiastic car-parking attendant, eventually allowing us to park in a nice green field close to the river. We trotted down to find the trailer (Five had been a total saint and had driven it up from the club at some ungodly hour) only to find it was half a mile from the landing stages. Thankfully Three had an app that tracked him so we were eventually able to locate where we should have been. Something to do with trailers not really going with narrow roads – it was explained. Bits of boat were located, riggers appeared, blades were extracted from somewhere and we set off to find a bit of road to build a boat on. Unfortunately there were loads of other boats around (smaller, less important ones) so eventually we set up shop in the middle of a road. After the usual faffing around of left loose, right-tight, cox wandered off to find numbers and do the humiliating weighing in.

Everyone appreciates that there are rules that must be followed. It would not do to have no limit on how tiny a cox is. That way a crew might attempt to tell a cox that pie is a bad thing. Usually the weighing in results in a small slip of paper that is discretely handed over to a cox which can be flashed at an umpire without anyone else seeing it. No such discretion today. A sticker was presented – one which was firmly attached to the front of cox with a very clear ‘Weight OK’ circled in bright black ink. Cox then spent the rest of the day complaining about this – surely this was simply a label saying the labelled person ate too many cakes. The irony of course was that Cox usually provided cake, and today was no exception.

On the way to the landing stages we effected a neat nine-point turn neatly ruffling the hair of random junior who didn’t get out of the way. Blades had earlier been dumped in a well-located hedge and so on instruction of a very helpful Marshall we started a lengthy boating process. During this we were a little distracted by a boat that had managed to sit itself on top of another and seemed to be going at a very funny angle bearing in mind the way to the start was in another direction. Launches were deployed and with much importance the double was rescued from the clutches of an eight which had set off in the wrong aspect in mind.

Trying to maintain our own composure we neatly avoided a buoy and headed up to the start. Past a weir (another important looking official placed strategically above the DANGER sign), past a few swans and then into pouring rain. Needless to say Cox started to complain again, and in an attempt to stop the whinging Stroke gallantly threw a waterproof at her.

Despite wet sunglasses we did a few practice starts, waved at a crew that were sheltering under a bridge, and passed judgement on the local motor boats. After watching other people trying to get onto stake boats (and remembering the fiasco from last year) the whole crew were somewhat tense at the start. We did however, with the amazing efforts of the bow and stern pair, manage to shame the opposition in getting into position first, despite being second to the start. The stake boats were well-manned, and after some rather odd instructions  from the umpire (point into the bank – like we were going to) we were ready to start.

The ‘Attention, Go!’ was said with very little motivation and clearly was not up to the standard that we used to. Still, we had a clean start. Off we charged, determined to win the first race of the season. Past the swans; surprisingly well behaved this year, past a pub (all credit to us, we didn’t stop) and on past a few barges. Up until then we had been doing really well, we had kept pace with our opposition, they had perhaps gained a few feet but nothing to write home about. Once past the barges though the opposition caught the stream and away they pulled. Despite our best intentions they managed to cross the finish line in front of us.

Despite this we were very pleased with our row – the first race of the season is always a difficult one and we had managed a respectable time. Heading back to the landing stages we found a spot that wasn’t too wet and began the odious task of getting out. Again, a helpful Marshall was on hand to help – blades were thrown unceremoniously into a bush, the boat was marched down to trestles and dumped in the middle of the road. Three strode around with a spanner, stylishly undoing nuts with a fantastic set of nails, Four made a beautiful string of seats, Seven and Six manfully gathered up eight blades and strode off into the distance with them. As the rain began to pour again we abandoned tools and rushed into the boathouse to find a dry spot.

Once the weatherman had finally organised some decent weather the boat was walked back to the trailer. A groupie helped out with a bit, Cox carrying three trestles and a cox box all by herself. As the stern four expressed great annoyance at someone interfering with the loading of the trailer the bow four and Cox took the tea order and meandered back to civilisation.

On settling down into a corner of the feeding area we were approached by an enthusiastic individual who wanted people to do 500m time trials on a slightly lopsided ergo.  Having nominated Stroke and Five, we cheered, motivated and insulted them on until they managed to finish another spell of torture. Resisting the urge to visit the nearest bar we contented ourselves with toffee shortbread and strawberries. A good start to the racing season without doubt!

Signs of changing seasons

The daffodils are now over. The hanging baskets of Henley are demonstrating once again why the town has won gold in Britain in Bloom for several years running. The May Blossom is out and the trees are now in leaf, with rowing crews in training for the impending regatta season. Despite this the wind is still in the north and there have been rumours of sightings of the odd frost early in the mornings; giving further credence to the old saying ‘cast not a clout till May be out.’

On the May Bank Holiday dozens of  swallows were seen darting about over the river, (their enthusiasm for fly catching has lost none of its zest since last year) and the ducklings were causing quite a stir. IMG_3362

Racing starts have been practiced much to the annoyance of the local swans who seem to take it as a personal insult that their peace is being invaded. These territorial feathered creatures are best avoided – even an eight going at full pelt will steer around them if the cox knows what is good for it. Sadly on a nice breezy Saturday morning several singles did not know what was good for them and the swans were seen launching a coordinated attack on anything they could reasonably see. Were all the singles accounted for afterwards? We were unable to say owing to have gone into sprint mode, in a frenzied rush to avoid the attack of the second wedge of swans.

A first sighting for us this weekend – a Mandarin drake and his lady friend were spotted at Temple Island. It turns out these rather impressively dressed ducks are in fact ‘perching’ ducks who like to live up trees and when they do get around to having ducklings they literally kick them out the nest and let them fall to the ground. IMG_3380

True to form in May the mayflies have started to emerge. Cox gave the instruction that all were to keep an eye out for these rather bizzare insects and so after a fruitless search on the river we found one in the boathouse. Beautiful big eyes which may have given inspiration to many a fake alien, and a most intricate pattern on the wings. The species caught today Ephemera danica like many others does not feed, has two adult stages and may spend up to two years being a nymph in the river for no more than four days as a free flying insect. Only a few were seen today, doubtless in a few weeks there will be clouds of these insects flying about the river. Just in time as well, the swifts have arrived in Henley!

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Bank holiday weekend rowing

Spring is now in full swing. Today the first martins were sighted buzzing around, evidently delighted to be back in cold, windy England after a long journey from the sunny southern hemisphere. The last few rows have been accompanied by duckling spotting, goslings and losing a fin from the stern of the boat. All these things are essential in welcoming in the new regatta season. As confirmation to this Henley Royal Regatta is busy sorting out the boat tents and grandstand, (as well as doubtless writing our invitation to row in the Grand Challenge cup) booms are going into the river and the town is beginning to look distinctly festive. 

Having taken the last head race of the season by storm (Abingdon once again did an excellent job of putting on a head race we could enter as a mixed crew) our attention has now turned to regatta racing and sprints. This supposedly requires more concentration from the crew and cox and today was no exception.

Despite being distracted by a rather nice muslin moth we set off to the sound of geese cackling and the sun trying to shine. Having performed a variety of racing starts the previous day the crew were not particularly anxious to do several more and instead put in a request for more sedate rowing. Cox of course ignored this and decided that sprints and starts were far more interesting, but as the light was quite good made the decision that rowing slowly would allow for nicer photos to be taken so sprinting and starts would have to wait. 

On the approach to Marsh lock various geese and goslings were sighted, whilst the crew observed how the weatherman had predicted howling gales and torrential rain; consequently it was still, the sun was sighted as well as a distinct lack of cold.

There is a new fashion creeping into the spin turns performed – something to do with not using blades the wrong way around as well as trying to give the legs a break. Like all decent crews we will reject the latest fashions until we have mastered them to perfection and then claim it was us being the trend setters all along. The geese continued to cackle at us and in a frantic dash to get away six put so much power through his footplate it fell off. And so sitting at the end of the island we admired the wildlife and decided which old people’s home we would like to end up in. 

A brood of freshly hatched goslings pottered by and the cormorants hung their wings out to dry. Past the bridge the terns had settled onto posts that had helpfully been placed into the river and gave us approving glances as we sped past. As a regatta was currently underway at a neighbouring town the river was ours apart from the odd scull and quad. This gave us ample time to meander down the river taking up as much space as possible without going sideways. Past the island cox bravely stood up in the boat and frightened off a passing runner despite the best efforts of the bow four.

At the lock as there were no spectators we attempted the fashionable spin which would strike fear into the hearts of any opponents. After a few squeaks from the stern Bow and Three took the decision to stabalise the boat. It is a technique we will perfect in years to come!

More ducklings were spotted before Temple Island – again giving the crew a not-needed break, but then a single was spotted and so the race was on. Photography was abandoned, and we charged off in pursuit. Past Upper Thames and Phyllis Court we went, excelling at the technique and speed. Typically, as we were about to complete the over-taking manoeuvre the single decided he had finished his race. Past the bridge we stormed past showing no mercy at all. The regatta season has our name already on the winners’ lists!

 

Vesta HORR

In true Henley fashion we had trained hard for this – boats had been out at least four times beforehand with an approximation of the right crew. Cox had complained at length about the size of her seat which cannot be much more than 12 inches across. The Henley reach had been an excellent practice stretch of water in the run up to the race; we had had wind, rain, gales, waves several feet high and a river that would turn red.

After much deliberation it was decided that there would be three boats entered into the Vesta Head. The ladies had their masters eight, the mixed masters and a novice eight decided that the Tideway would be a fun bit of river to mess about on. This required an extra cox to the usual as well as an extra boat. Cox for a happy moment got terribly excited thinking that she would be promoted into the newer eight but as ever was disappointed when someone else managed to get the new improved cox’s seat.

A couple of crews were going up to London for the HORR the day before and they had been instructed to leave the trailer in an accessible position so that we would be easily able to hop into the boat the next day. Sadly luck was not with us – the Tideway was deemed to be at odds with a nasty wind coming from the North-East and so the main race on the Saturday was called off. This resulted in a few grumpy people who missed their chance to race on a slightly wider bit of our very own Thames.

Still, we were not put off. At 8 o’clock sharp (despite clocks going forward and us losing a whole hour’s sleep) we assembled into cars at the boathouse and charged up to London. Putney Town rowing club were our hosts, and as they were at Four’s head, they were a superb club to be looked after by. Sadly our very own Three had sustained an injury in the line of duty that week and so we had scoured the streets of Henley for a replacement. Amazingly we found one that was happy to join in!

On arrival we observed the wind (22 knots gusting at 40) and peered down at the river which was about as low as it could reasonably get. Five strode manfully down the steep steps and had a very close look at the bank ending up with muddy trousers. We were enthusiastically greeted by fellow Henley club members and after the usual faffing about with trailers and outfits we started the laborious task of boat building. Having done several head races this season already we very quickly had the boat off the trailer and in one piece. Seats were given out by a helpful bow and then we sat twiddling thumbs for an hour. Cox tried hard to give advice to anyone that would listen however as she wasn’t particularly sure which way we had to go for the race it wasn’t terribly helpful. Even when brandishing a map upside-down it was only due to close scrutiny of other crews did we get insight into the direction of the start.

So gathering up blades, bottles, boats and a box for a cox we meandered down a steep set of steps to the river. Cox then started to fuss about how deep the water was and how it would go on her highly fashionable wellies which Bow had so kindly borrowed off a youth. Stroke (already bored with a whinging cox) picked up the cox and dropped her in the boat which kept her relatively quiet for the boating process. A very kindly Henley chap then gathered up wellington boots and we pushed off. Or more realistically we sort of shuddered off the river bed, the stroke side rowers digging up portions of the Thames as we went.

Turning about we sprinted off to Chiswick bridge and then we relaxed into a nice sedate potter up to Barnes Railway bridge (always further than we remember) and then along the nice long bend to Hammersmith. Before we reached Hammersmith the marshals started to get lively, shouting at us to keep in, but not too close to the bank, keep moving, mind out for racing crews, row as an eight, 209 STOP!! And then they start to contradict each other. KEEP IN! 209 GO ON THROUGH! NOT THERE! True to form as usual we ignored most of what the marshals said and did our own thing (only sometimes saying hello to the bank) and eventually it was time to turn.

Pointing our bow into the stream the tide caught us and pushed us around and we were off. The start and finish had been carefully located on the way up so we knew when we had to start rowing impressively. Winding up we powered past the start and then shot underneath Hammersmith bridge giving a little wave to the Henley supporters watching. We charged on, settling into a nice rhythm. No boats were around to over take, although there was one behind that looked as though it had intent, so we ignored it and carried on, making sure that our steering was much better. The row to Barnes bridge was a long one although we managed it pretty well. The crew had given specific instructions that they wanted to be told the minute that Barnes was in sight and so at the first opportunity to cheer them up they were told about its presence. It might have been that it was still 2km away but they didn’t need to be told that. So onward we went, aiming at the Barnes bridge beginning to see other crews pottering back after racing. Past Barnes the last bridge to go was Chiswick and then another 200m or so until the clearly labelled finish. By now everyone in the boat (except cox who was still wittering on about legs and winning at HRR) was a little tired and looked as though they would rather kick the cox out than do any more rowing for her. Still, as it is rather difficult to row and throw someone overboard the valiant crew put on another burst of speed until the end. After which they collapsed over blades only to be told keep rowing because cox wanted a nice cup of tea and there wasn’t one in the boat. It is perhaps worth mentioning here that all our training in Henley had been in vain as the sun shone brightly on London and the wind gave us very little bother so we were totally over-qualified for this provincial race.

After a grueling row we were all very grateful that Putney Town Rowing Club was only 50m away, and that there was a lovely person waiting there to give us wellies and help us onto the landing stage. Boat out and de-rigged we feasted on various cakes and congratulated ourselves on an excellent row. We had not been over taken, no crustaceans had been caught and we were all feeling very proud of ourselves!

Piling into cars heading to the Blue Anchor we found out that the Mixed Masters crew had the fastest time out of the Henley crews! We dined out on this – frequently reminding our Novice Men counterparts – much to their annoyance until finally after a splendid lunch we headed back to Henley victorious. As ever an excellent day out!

 

Bird watching – Lapwings sighted!

As February has rolled into March and the wildlife is beginning to wake up to spring it seems fitting to make a note of what is present on the river. As ever the RSPB have requested that we submit observations of avian sightings as part of the ‘Big Garden Bird watch’ and not wanting to be outdone one outing in an eight the focus was not on rowing but bird watching.

Winter seems to have dragged on especially in the cox seat – the cold always seems to linger at the back of any boat, especially when the boat is far too small in the stern for any reasonably sized person. It was a great relief when the temperature went above freezing, and even more when the river calmed down a bit and stopped messing about with the steering.

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As ever when we are in training for a big race (HORR) the local fauna, flora and weather becomes far more interesting than usual. Storm Doris had been through and knocked a few trees over, including one off the end of Temple Island. We tried hard not to let this put us off bird watching, and indeed surrounding the fallen tree were numerous birds evidently irritated by the deviance from the norm of their usually tranquil existence.

To the great excitement of cox passing back towards the town happily dallying around a field often filled with sheep were a pair of lapwings. This was excessively diverting, the boat stopped (seven kindly instructing people on blade heights in a very generous attempt to distract people that their amazing efforts at 5k had been thwarted by a feathered object) and stroke whipped out a camera.lapwing

In subsequent outings the lapwings were the subject of much discussion, were they a breeding pair who were settling in the delightful town of Henley on Thames? Were they merely passing through on their journey to warmer climates? Or were they just there to distract us from our hard work preparing for the climax of the head season?

Certainly birds appeared to be pairing up for the breeding season, in the course of an outing very few birds were seen alone. Coots were building nests, geese were making a racket in their attempts to put people off invading their territory, grebes were practicing their diving in readiness for their dancing, mallards were everywhere and even a pair of kingfishers were sighted. Hopefully this is a sign that spring is nearly with us!

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Henley Four and Eights – February 2017

It seems like a long time since we had had a proper race. Memories of Wallingford and London have faded into a bit of a blur and so a new challenge was needed. The aim of several masters’ boats is to race in the Vesta Head in March, and so a warm up for this exciting event was needed. How better to do this than race in our own territory with minimum travel costs? So we entered into the four and eights’ head.

Too much practicing for such an event is a bad thing. It makes people overconfident and results in a highly relaxed crew, which is no good for racing. So we had at least four outings planned before hand, sometimes even with people who were going to actually row in the event. It was as though everything was set against us however, a fortnight before the race the Thames had a slight tantrum and painted itself red. (In light of previous training Cox refused to take people out until Old Father Thames had settled down a bit.) Our strokeman then dropped out resulting a last minute substitution. And so pushing off from the landing stage on race day was the first time we had rowed together.

The sun was starting to shine as we pushed in front of a Bristol ladies crew and heading up to the bridge it was observed that there was the usual carnage going on around the landing stages. Feeling superior owing to the fact that we had boated well away from all this we neatly avoided collisions with other crews and barges to start the row up to marshalling point.

As with any race where novice eights are involved there was the usual chaos at the start. Despite this race being on one of the best stretches of water in England there isn’t an enormous amount of room for manoeuvres (especially if a Cox can’t work out right from left) and so one usually ends up facing the wrong way or on the wrong side. We did however spot a similar looking crew to us from Wallingford who were looking forward to the tea and biscuits at the end of the race. Comparing ourselves to the sprightly young things from Bristol who were starting behind us we felt that perhaps the rules for categories should be amended slightly.

Notwithstanding the excellent marshalling the race started on time, although we did get a slightly delayed start – one chap said go, another said stop until we ended up doing an excitable rolling start five meters away from the timing start board. (We had tipped a wink to the chap on the start line, although it appears that this favour was forgotten.)

Charging past Temple Island Cox continued to sprout the usual nonsense which goes with the usual head racing. Eyes up, heads on the horizon line, please sort out the catches. As Bristol youth overtook us we settled into a nice rhythm which carried us past Upper Thames and into the Regatta enclosure. Going past the cheering crowds on the bank we graciously gave them a spectacle for the finish. We had moved out to allow one crew to overtake, however another crew was forcing them out and so there was a minor contact made with a few blades. Stroke ended up on Seven’s lap, Six lost his feet and Five ended up with someone else’s blade in his arms. Cox, keeping a relatively straight face ignored the carnage and told them all to carry on. Crossing the finish line the risk assssment was completed and we pottered across to the other side of the river to take on the bridge. A young persons’ crew, (the ones who had caused all the mayhem in the first place) vey kindly (or perhaps very sensibly) let us through first and we trouped back to the clubhouse for tea and biscuits.

It turned out that we had actually beaten the Wallingford crew – a very good result.

Veterean Fours Head

Summer seems now like a distant memory! Frost has been sighted on landing stages, the swallows are long gone and the tufted ducks have taken up their winter positions.

The previous week saw huge numbers of crews piling into Henley for the Henley Sculler’s Head. This involves lots of boats taking to the river, much jostling on landing stages and no rowing for local crews unless they are racing. As a considerate group whom did not want to show up other crews we manned the landing stages, timed every crew we could see and made plenty of bacon sandwiches. Cake was also devoured with great enthusiasm.

On the Sunday afterwards a very nice group requested a cox for Veteran Fours Head. Being someone of impeccable taste the cox insisted on taking them out first before agreeing to the race, but was so impressed by how seriously the crew took its natural history that there was simply no possible way to refuse such an offer.

Race day came around rather quickly. The previous day the Fours Head had been battling its way along the Tideway. With a good wind and plenty of rain the conditions had made it less than pleasant. Typically though for us the sky cleared and the wind dropped. On arrival at Putney Town Rowing Club we piled out of a car and went to greet the boat which some kind body had driven up for us.

On assembling the boat (righty tighty, lefty loosey – cox is still to get the hang of this one) it was noticed that some plonker had left part of one of the backstays behind in Henley. As a crew that takes health and safety very seriously we started debating on the best approach to such a difficult issue. Wrenches were obtained, several backstays donated by a very accommodating Putney Town and the stern pair entered into a lengthy engineering enterprise to fix the problem. The end result was eventually achieved by the use of a vice, screwdrivers, WD40, gaffer tape, a hacksaw and any other tools we could reasonably find. With a splinted backstay, boat and cox box we plodded off to find the river.

Boat from Putney Town is very different to boating from Henley. The steps down to the river are steep, covered in silt off the Thames and there are no handy pontoons to get you started. So we slithered down (applauded by some lovely locals as we went) and started the usual chaos of getting into a boat. Bow had very kindly provided some very smart wellies for the ladies, three had purchased a new shiny pair, stroke however chose to wear sandals and was surprised when he got no sympathy for wet feet. The difficulty for us was now not having a friendly bank party to grab hold of wellies and put out of the way of the tide. Especially as cox was unable to remove said wellies unaided. Putney Town rose to the occasion again – gallantly collecting footwear and putting them out of the Thames’ reach. Pushing us off with a ‘have a good row’ it felt like home from home.

The journey up to the start was uneventful – we respectfully passed several other crews, giving way to ones we liked the look of, ignoring the ones we objected to. The river was flat and calm, the wind dropped and whilst it seemed to be a very long bit of river we eventually reached the marshaling positions.There is a certain skill in staying in the same place on a tidal river. It is a skill that is being developed by a large number of crews, and whilst some have the knack of doing very small gentle movements others find it more of a challenge.

Boats had started to go past – the race was well under way and we pottered up to the start. Marshals were barking orders, crews were making an interesting job of turning  and there was general carnage which suddenly (on a quick spin) turned into a nice line of boats, all in the right order and facing the correct way.

Paddling up to the start stroke noticed the boat behind winding up stroke rate and pressure. Needless to say cox missed the start totally (there is no useful sign saying START or if there was it wasn’t noticed) and so on the approach to Hammersmith had it not been for stroke taking the lead we would probably have been overtaken.

A local crew (IM3) were ahead of us to start with, so we followed their line up to Hammesmith, (cox totally getting the right lamppost) after which a spurt of excellent power drew us level. Motivated by this we shot past with a heart warming speech about valour and comradeship from cox. The long straight from Hammersmith to Barnes gave us a very nice stretch  to settle into a good rhythm which took us all by surprise. As a result getting to Barnes Bridge took less time than we expected. Past the next bridge (Chiswick) we stormed into the finish line, even managing a bit of an extra push towards the end. No one overtook us, we had reached the finish – what more could we ask? And our host club was about 50m away!

A lovely chap who had pushed us off dashed off to get the wellies for us and after a bit of fumbling around (it is very difficult to get out of a boat and into wellies) we were back on dry land. The Thames had kindly risen up by several feet, so we had fewer steps to carry the boat, less mud to get on the nice wellies and a shorter distance to carry the boat.

After a quick de-rig (the taped up backstay still in place!) we flopped into the Putney Town boat house bar with tea and flapjacks. iPhones were out in force – what was our time? Did we beat the ladies? The crew we had over taken had a respectable time and we had finished before them! According to the website however we ‘Did Not Start’ much to our horror – we certainly had started and finished! After a large amount more tea and flapjack we headed for home – back in Henley for 2pm, just in time for an afternoon snooze. An excellent day out, fantastic row and hopefully soon we will be in possession of a very good time for the race!

 

 

 

 

Midsummer 2016

It was observed with great irritation that the morning of Midsummer fell during the week this year. This unfortunately meant that we would be unable to celebrate the longest day with the traditional poetry and champagne, as frankly it is generally seen as a bad thing to roll into work smelling of rowing. So the date was changed and we instead arrived at the boat club on a Saturday morning at 4am.IMG_2702

The previous day many of us had been watching the qualifying for a regatta which goes on at the end of June on our patch of river. The geese and coots were getting quite upset, the towpath was turning to mud and there was a distinct lack of hats to indicate the presence of a nice regatta. Various crews were cheered on, some were met with cold stares and along the way the umpires had devised a clever timing system that took three different times for each boat; thus ensuring that we had accurate results.

So at 4 o’clock we turned up, and organised ourselves into boats. An eight, two quads and a siIMG_2716ngle formed the flotilla and in the gloom of the bit of day before anyone else is even awake we got into boats and headed out into a silent Henley. The peace was broken by the occasional lapse into fits of giggles for no apparent reason. Stroke, civilized as ever, refused to row until she had finished the all important Earl Grey tea, which any self respecting person would always have first thing in the morning. Down the to the finish of the course we went, the boat going with a splendid rock.

One quad and the single we left behind at the boat club which for the quadIMG_2732 was awful. They then spent much of the row racing as quickly as they could in an attempt to gain back some of their somewhat shaky reputation as a crew that could win races.  The mist was swirling across the river and there was a definite chill in the air. This gave us the shivers until Stroke and Six worked out that the river was rather warm. The mist did get in the way of the steering of all boats, but IMG_2751none more spectacularly than the quad of winners. They graciously accepted the complements members of the Eight threw at them, and then spent the rest of the row strutting about the river. This unfortunately meant that they missed the all important big post in the middle of the river in spite of  several strange noises from others. This meant that Bow morphed (without a change in wardrobe) into a cox for the remainder of the row. IMG_2754.JPGIMG_2796

Just before Temple Island we paused to allow other crews to catch up with us, and in doing so started to admire the scenery which was beginning to look rather impressive. Two more boats caught up with us, and then as a task force bent on celebrating midsummer with style we ploughed on to Hambleden Lock.

Boats were as always tied into position thanks to the excellent rope tying skills of Five and Four started to open as many bottles as he cIMG_2909ould find. We cordially greeted the swan that had taken a fancy to Stroke on a previous occasion and admired the cygnets which had grown a lot since they had last been seen.

True to tradition Cox recited poetry (the theme this year being something to do with rowing and the Thames) which was tolerated by most members of the fleet, and then Four very kindly added to the poetry recital, inspiring the crew to pay more attention to further sonnets. The poem about the cuckoo was recited much to the delight of everyone – something of a tradition continuing.

Champagne was drunk and we toasted Midsummer – the sky was clear, the sun was inching its way up and the river was ours. Birds were twittering away to themselves, oblivious to the fact that winter was now getting closer. The Egyptian geese came to see what all the fuss was about and evidently enjoyed the company as they stayed with us for much of the champagne drinking. Perhaps they were trying to drop hints that they actually wanted a drink. Or maybe they wanted the crisps that Four found in the boat.

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The sun rose slowly and silently. The mist that had been across the river began to disappear.The merriment continued with no further poetry. Eventually however a few rowers complained of the cold (Cox’s whinging had been ignored on this since the start of the outing) and so we untangled the blades and started to maneuver ourselves out.

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The sun continued to rise as we pottered back to the start of a Regatta course. The mist on the river appearing to catch fire with the bright light. Stroke was compared to a summer’s day, which she seemed to enjoy immensely. Every few strokes however the boat had to be held up as there were important photos to take. A kingfisher was sighted which was thrilling for everyone to see (except those whIMG_3038o didn’t turn round in time which was most of the crew) and the rowers had to steer on account of Cox being far too busy taking pictures.

Off the start we overtook the quad with ease, despite their cox shouting for all they were worth. Sadly we had to stop pretty sharpish so that another picture (or dozen) could be taken.

Stroke then came up with a very cunning way of keeping the Cox occupied. There was another request for poetry which meant a much longer poem and therefore a slightly longer time rowing. Polite applause was heard as we passed the grandstand, and then at the end of a regatta course we stopped to admire a bit more scenery.

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Despite it now being nearly six o’clock there were still very few people about in Henley. no other rowers were seen at all, nor were there any dog walkers or cruisers to greet politely.

Back at the club a handy sculler who hadn’t quite made it out to midsummer row took a few final photos before we all piled into Four’s house where his excellent Lady had put on a splendid breakfast. Once again an excellent row and a superb start to the summer.

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