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The Club's Results

Women's Head of the River Race, Lent Term 2014

1st women's VIII (Intermediate 3 VIIIs)

Coxed by: Yining Nie

Time: 20:30.3
I've always hated WeHORR, having lived through some terrible experiences there in the past, but this was a fantastic race, and I'm very glad I was convinced to go this year.

Up until a week ago we weren't sure whether we'd be doing the race at all. High river levels and strong streams had the organizers sending out updates about abandonment plans and reduced entries. Luckily, our fine showing at Peterborough regatta last summer meant we avoided the very stringent new Novice entry requirements. When we arrived at Furnival gardens for our morning paddle the river was choppy, and there were a few strokes where I wondered if capsizing or an ejector crab were a possibility later in the race. We made it back to the (correct) pontoon eventually, soaked through and sobered by the river conditions.

The weather was beautiful, and we sunned ourselves during our picnic in Furnival Gardens. We had a surprise visit from Mark, when he saw Valkyrie's bows sitting under the cherry trees. By the time we were on the water for marshaling the river was much flatter and conditions were looking perfect.

Marshaling for WeHORR is always traumatic, with panicked umpires in launches screaming at crews overlapped for 10 boats to move up, to keep moving. It was a good chance to hone our tapping skills, and Blanka was delighted to have the opportunity to stroke when 'bow 5' were called upon. Early on we had our usual good-race mishap, when trying to extricate ourselves from overlap with Bridgnorth's bows caused us to knock their GoPro off their number. We felt terrible, but they were very kind about it. We're hoping to do something to rectify the situation though.

About halfway through our hour-long tapping session, we discovered that City of Oxford B were almost directly across the river from us, featuring our very own Liz Hill. Much waving and shouting ensued, but it was lovely to see some friendly faces on the river, as Olivia Skilbeck in the HSBC boat passed us on the paddle up as well. Possibly the highlight of the pre-race session though was getting to row next to the (eventual winners) GB Olympic composite boat for about 3 strokes before Yining easied and let us gape in awe. This element of British rowing always amazes me. Amateurs can watch world class rowing at HRR for free, and a bunch of college rowers, some of whom only noviced a few years ago, can row in the same race as Olympians.

When we eventually set off we had a long paddle up to the start. We wound to 37 just before Chiswick Bridge and settled onto a long, powerful 31 with amazing rhythm. We passed the crew in front within a minute or so, and then began the long row in relative isolation. There was little opportunity for sightseeing as the focus in the boat was absolute. Yining gave us some timing calls and distance gained on Churchill ahead. We took a few 30 stroke pushes, consolidating our speed and reminding ourselves to tap down, place early, and drive with the legs. The rate held steady at 30 or 31, and with the strong stream it felt like we were flying.

As we settled into the middle third of the race I was cursing myself for not memorizing Thomas' series of landmarks. We rowed through what felt like a desolate moor for several minutes before seeing the houseboats and Furnival Gardens come into view, to the rousing cheers of 'YEAH TRINITY' from the ever-audible Thomas. Yining told us we had gained another length on Churchill, and we came through Hammersmith ready to kill it in the final third.

By now our legs, core and backs were reaching their limits, but we had a new race to begin as we were beginning to close in earnest on Churchill. We were sat at 3/4 of a length coming by Barn Elm, and they were sticking. Yining called the mile post (I think - the race starts to get a bit foggy here, I can't remember if the buoys or mile post came first) and I tried to remember the conversion to metric, but my brain was so fatigued that there wasn't much I could think of other than legs, legs, legs. We took another 30 stroke push and started to move up on them, but were still battling as we came by the buoys. At overlap I could hear the crowds and Putney and turned to look for the pier. We were winding, taking up 2s and emptying the tank. We crossed the line barely able to move our legs up and down the slide, but managed to paddle through the bridge to the screams of the umpire.

After the finish, Kate turned around to me and said 'that felt amazing', which pretty much summed up my feelings too. The only way I could put it into words was 'the Fairbairns we never had'. Before today, I had only had one race that felt incredible from start to finish, and that was Fairbairns 2009. This race was a similar feeling. Our first strokes were crisp, there was consistent power the whole way through, and the rhythm and rate held steady. This was a brilliant way to wipe out terrible memories of WeHORR for me, and hopefully the first of many great races for the rest of the girls.

The results were tinged with disappointment for us, but ultimately it felt like a brilliant, solid race, and one which we'll remember proudly. It was the first time most of the girls had rowed on Tideway, and Yining did an incredible job steering a course she had never seen before. Huge thanks to Laura for subbing in seamlessly, and to Fordy and Thomas for making our lives very easy, as always. Now, on to Henley and Mays! (Julia A.)
Well done girls! Great to see you all (and Valkyrie!) on Saturday. Sorry I couldn't give any advice on steering the line - I remember being rubbish with steering this time 5 years ago...(in fact just reading the report back then confirms I was overwhelmed by the size of the Thames). Good luck for next term's racing! (Mark)

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