The Club's Results

Cambridge Channel Challenge, May Term 2005

Channel Challenge crew (College IV+)

Coxed by: Jenny Lee

Time: 3:40:17
the race report should be proportional in length to the race itself, so i intend to witter for lots of time.

the story starts with our being told that the date of the race was the same as that of the may ball. this initially caused a lot of distress and complaints and we felt picked upon by johns. we assumed it was a deliberate ploy to remove their chief opposition by giving us a choice between the race and the ball.

it was discovered that we were made of sterner stuff. we needed to find a replacement cox, but the rest of us were prepared to go ahead with the race and forsake the consequences. we were very grateful for jenny when she decided to cox, despite having said 'never again' after our practice outing in dover. in transpired that she may have actually been drunk when she said she would do it, but in the end i think she was glad to have done so.

then came the organisation of getting ourselves down to dover. we had one car and 5 passports between the 6 of us. we called on richard, who very kindly decided to give up a bit of his time, so we had 2 cars and 5 passports between the 7 of us. the plan for which we opted was that i would drive the crew down on the evening before and then richard would drive home to manchester to get his passport before driving himself and rupert down, leaving at 2am and forgoing sleep. i was not jealous of him.

we got to dover at 8pm, ate chinese and went to bed in the most humid room in the world. this meant that we got maybe a couple of hours sleep each. the beds were also very small.

so we got up at 3.30am, needing to be at the beach for 4. it was then that we realised we didn't know where 'shakespeare beach' was. we'd found shakespeare cliff, so headed for that. we found ourselves going down a long tunnel into a restricted area, which was a worksite for the channel tunnel and looked like a government compound. we were told to turn around and come back the way we came and forget that we ever saw the place. but before we went i took the opportunity to ask the security officer if he knew where the beach was, but he replied that he didn't know, because he was from yorkshire, which further confused me and i thought it was time to leave. as returning to dover, we encountered richard and rupert and we made our way to where the boats were, thinking this was probably safer than roaming through kent trying to find out which white cliff of dover we should be at.

there we found several other crews faffing and spent the next 4 hours joining them in this worthy pursuit. originally we had wondered why we had to be up at 3.30 for a 7am start, but this showed us why. we didn't start until about 8.20. we spent the time packing food into the boat, brewing lucozade and putting 5 litres each of it in the boat and packing kit, administering suncream etc. i also taped up all of my hands and made some shoes. don't ask.

we were the only crew who were made to carry our boat to the beach (which we had now found), but the sidney guys kindly offered to help. the sea was beautifully calm (although it was slightly less so by the time we started) and we spent the last hour on the beach sitting down, whilst all the other crews faffed with their boats.

i should probably take this opportunity to introduce the team. seb pancratz was at bow - notoriously good at faffing, but only so that he is prepared for every eventuality and has done really well, considering this is only him first year of rowing. pedro cunha was at 2 - another first year rower, who appeared to have all the pilot boats named after him, for some reason we couldn't fathom. chris mycroft at 3 spent quite a lot of the time on the beach playing the game of catch the stone with jenny and most of the car journeys revising a book on gambling. i was at stroke and i could be recognised during the race as the one in the silly hat and who frequently swore at the top of his voice as his fingers got trapped for the fifty eighth time. the cox was jenny, who lost the game of i-spy which i played with her about half way into the race and who's only injury acquired was a grazed knuckle from one of the stones chris threw at her.

now - onto the race. we boated gracefully and then watched the splashes as other crews tried to do likewise. everyone lined up next to their pilot boats (each called pedro - and ours had the BBC crew onboard, because we were naturally the most photogenic crew) and then a strange hoot was heard. some of us took this to mean go and the others got the idea as we paddled off ahead of them. we dispensed with the idea of a 'draw 50, wind 50, followed by a stride' and instead settled into a nice solid rate 20. the conditions were still quite pleasant at this point and hardly any water was making it into our boat. we made 6 knots, so were obviously able to get a certain amount of work down here.

the captain of our pilot boat had the intelligent idea of getting clear of the other boats and heading off on a different course to start with, so we soon found ourselves in lonely isolation, with nothing but the waves for company. we made good time in our first half an hour, at the end of which we heard that we were narrowly in the lead of maggie. we had a brief stop for a drink, going down to pairs as the other pair drank. this was pretty efficient and cost us less than a minute and no bailing had to be done - there was only a couple of inches in the bottom of the boat at the moment.

setting off again, the waves began to get a bit larger - long rolling waves that would be very frustrating as sometimes one could miss most of a stroke on one side or be unable to get the blade out depending on the height of the water. one of the main difficulties became timing - quite frequently people would have their strokes cut short when a wave hit their spoon, meaning we would spend half a second regaining our rhythm. shouts of encouragement came from andrew on the pilot boat and direction for jenny as to the best way to france. these were completely inaudible, however, but the thought was appreciated (and we did find france too).

an hour or so in, we were instructed to easy, as we had to give way for a tanker (i was up for bumping it, but was persuaded otherwise). maggie would have had to easy as well, but possibly not for quite so long. after waiting for about 2 minutes, it had gone past and we set off through big wash (imagine the equivalent of the georgina on the cam, just about ten times faster and millions of times bigger). these were really big waves, knocking us this was and that, sending quite a lot of water into the boat. jenny would try to tell us when a big wave was coming, but usually she couldn't tell until we had hit it how big it was.

the pace slowed considerably in this middle period, as it was very difficult to get effective work on. the record was now clearly not possible (although if conditions had held as they were in the first half hour, we may have been on for it) and we just had to keep ourselves going. half way and then three quarters of the way still came quicker than we expected, so this kept our hopes up. unfortunately we were taking on quite a lot of water, and although jenny was able to bail her compartment continuously, there were 4 seperate compartments at each of our footplates, which we had to stop and bail every 30 mins or so (especially in the stern, as the riggers would tend to send water there). it transpired that our supposedly watertight buoyancy compartments were also being steadily filled with water, which didn't help, but the boat seemed to be sitting nicely out of the water, so we were never in any danger of swamping. it also transpired that maggie didn't have to do any bailing, because they had only one compartment, which the cox could be continuously bailing.

the final 5 miles or so were slightly calmer, although nothing compared to the calm on the dover side, so after one final drink/bail/toilet stop we decided to take the work up a bit, having heard that we were almost level with maggie, but on a different line into the finish.

we continued to be neck and neck until the finish, but we were unable to go any faster. jenny was told it was going to be the first crew to hit the beach. in the end, they finished a tantalising 3 minutes ahead of us. jenny stuck to her instruction and did indeed hit the beach, which caused the boat to be swamped by the breakers. we were past caring, though. we were met by several random french people, an annoying cameraman and a fairly gleeful maggie crew. it was quite a mission to get the boat out, filled as it was with water. our compartments had flooded, drenching all our kit. but we hadn't needed it, nor had we needed any of the food or half the lucozade we had brought with us.

we spent the next hour trying to warm up on the beach. when we landed we could just about see the next crew - the deloitte boat landed about 10 mins after us. another half an hour or so brought the sidney crew and the OTC crew. it appears the oxford boys had missed our beach by quite a few miles and arrived after just over 4 hours as well somewhere else in france.

we had to hurriedly get our boat away and get to the ferries in time for our ball. in the end, we didn't get an earlier ferry, but still got the 5pm one. going into a champagne reception in our lycra, which i think slightly confused the deloitte representatives. we also weren't in the best moods for chatting to them, tired as we were. we did make it back in time for the ball, though.

all in all, it was quite an achievement and im glad to have done it. the blisters will heal and the sleep missed can be regained im very grateful for the opportunity to compete in such an event. (Graham)

1. Splashy splash
2. Coping with the swell
3. Close encounters...

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