This is more of a training camp report than a race report so it's on the long side.
We started our trip to London as we meant to carry it on; we had a new trailer, we'd established there was enough accommodation for everyone (even before leaving Cambridge!) and loading the boats went pretty smoothly.
Sadly, things went pear-shaped pretty soon afterwards (for M2 at least). On Wednesday morning we suddenly found ourselves in urgent need of a bowsider; doing the usual thing of asking around in breakfast we got more volunteers than I'd anticipated, with Zoe and Chloe being prepared to come down, and Jedge and Barney prepared to get the earlier train. We went on levels of keenness and inconvenience and took Jedge for the first outing of the day, and Zoe for the second (which was at the same time as M1's outing); Crouchy subbed for David who couldn't make it until Thursday (and to stay for the race if Tom's ankle didn't hold), and Simon for Sam who wasn't there until the race. The first was smooth and much calmer than expected; the second was a light technical outing where we furiously battle paddled with M1 both ways (leading to M1 victory on the way down, a stern talking to about how what we doing before wasn't actual battle paddling, then an M2 victory on the way back). Further good news was that we had to strip all the riggers off both boats every day; this time added up with every new equipment failure.
Thursday was our sightseeing tour to the palace of Westminster. I was sick so this is a second hand account, but Jedge switched sides, we put Crouchy in M1, moved Simon to M2 for me and kept Zoe. M1 put a bucket in their empacher so Rob could be at stroke. Luckily we had David back. Glorious sunshine and calm conditions were had by all; out of a sense of not wanting me to be jealous all the rowers came back with stories of rain, cold, much wash and high waves, and quite a lot of water in the boats. 2/3 pieces were won by M1, with the last one drawn? M2 broke and lost a top nut, M1 damaged some backstays. Joy. Neil managed to lock his car keys in his car, and made the long lonely trip back to Cambridge to pick up spares from Ingram with an 8 minute turnaround at Cambridge station.
M2 arranged for Rob Shearme to be our bowsider for the day. For Sam, M1 arranged... Crouchy, again, having rung him up on Thursday night immediately before he was about to step onto a train back to Cambridge. I gather not everyone was perfectly pleased with this solution. Rigging took forever, as top nuts and washers needed finding, backstays needed mending and we managed to split off the pin from the plate on 803 and had to steal one from further down the boat. This delay was not appreciated by Crouchy, who had to be back on dry land by 12. The first outing was fun; three pieces, of which two of them were wins for M2 (at 28 and 32); the middle one was awful as we failed to interpret what JPD had told us about the power we were putting down. M1 didn't feel like a second outing, but M2 went out again to get Liv more familiar with the river. Thoughtfully M1 left their boat out for us to put away after our second outing, during which Neil and Ben shared some banter. In the evening we headed to Jake's for some crew bonding.
We'd arranged (in this context, arranged well in advance means 'the night before') for Chloe to come down and row with M2 on Saturday; M1 found a girl Ed and Rob knew from rowing elsewhere. Rob was throwing up, however, so in keeping with the trip they persuaded Imogen to come down with about half an hour's notice where she jumped on the same train as Chloe. This was after she'd got up to go sculling at what must have been 04:45 to watch the sunrise. Apparently M1's outing was really quite good - it was JPD's attempt to fix their front end. M2 merely went for a paddle, familiarising ourselves with the course again (it felt long), then headed straight to spoons for 'crew pasta' as we were kind of knackered and wanted an early night. Neil managed to get in a riposte back at Ben. Chris found us a sub to race with! So we could let Fordy go to his wedding and drink as much as he felt like.
It turned out this was the only thing which went smoothly on Sunday, as we woke up to find that Neil was far too ill to row. Panicking started then, and we tried all the others we could think of. Sadly, Crouchy was also ill, and nobody could get hold of Jason. We put Imogen in the boat for the pre paddle (fortunately she'd decided to stay the night in London) where we met Sam V and tried not to make him regret agreeing to this (given we were in 'matched eights' and he was in the 'faster crew'). On the plus side, we rigged the boat very quickly today. Neil made his slow and painful way to the boathouse, prepared to get in the boat and pass out half way down the course. We finally got through to Jason who'd woken up at about 10:50 who said he couldn't make it as he had family friends visiting (but would think it over). A few minutes later I got the very welcome text that actually, he would come down and row if he could get there in time. There followed a period of anxious waiting, crew chatting and watching the IC crews look professional doing the same. I had a lovely conversation with a man who'd come up to watch from IC boathouse and recognised our colours as being First and Third - he harked back to the days half a century ago when we were regularly winning Henley and I had to make some rather hurried excuses for our present performance...
We went downstairs and started trying to get vaguely in the queue to boat, and in the final minutes before we'd have been committed to taking Neil, Jason cycled up. We pushed off with Ben at stroke, Sam V at 5 and Jason at 2 (annoying when your stroke man is ill on the day of the race), and rowed hurriedly down towards the start, knowing full well that we were now quite late, and the slow crews surrounding us weren't helping either. Marshalling/paddling to the start was slow, wet and cold; we got some decent paddling in but no bursts, broke a footplate and tried to stay tucked in while the other crews drifted and rowed into us. At least we had a working cox box - M1's failed as they pushed off, so Chloe jumped on my bike to deliver them a new one; miraculously they managed to pull in somewhere she could meet them (to the detriment of her shoes, and to everyone's surprise). On our very slow way forward to Chiswick Bridge we got to watch Molesey and Leander moving their boat depressingly better than we can. Also Queens' loltripod.
The race itself was better than expected, given the morning we'd had. The chronology of this report is a bit muddled. We wound it a little bit slowly/late - the start happened before I was expecting, but we wound it up to 34 for a few strokes before striding it down to 28. We pushed this back up to 31 and tried to get into the rhythm which had worked so well for us in the past. For the first few minutes all that was running through my head was what JPD had said the evening before: the only thing I had to do was set-up a rhythm with Ben so middle 4 could do the work; it wasn't our best but what we had seemed to work and it wasn't long at all before we made our first overtake. We generally kept our composure and balance, failing in some of the wash, especially around the bridges, but we always got it back again and carried on moving.
The second overtake was much more exciting: after a rocky patch when we had slight overlap, we came by what must have been the outside of the crew as Liv was turning for the corner and they waited to go wide. With our superior practice at being bumped we didn't let their bow catching our stern phase us but pushed on past, coming through the first crew and onto overlap with the next boat along. My memory is a bit hazy here, but I think we overtook them on one side at the same moment as the crew behind us overtook them and us on the other. We pushed off the crews behind us and got back into our race.
At some point I remember Liv calling the half way point at a section I'd dearly hoped was more like 2/3; from then on the race seemed to go on forever. It turns out Hammersmith to finish is much further than it is while paddling. I was obviously getting weaker and the lesson to take into next time is to pace a long race rather better than that. Liv's coxing and time estimates were very good, however unwilling I was to believe them at the time. There may or may not have been one more crew we overtook. As we passed the black buoy the previous 18 minutes or whatever started to really show, and as we drained our tanks we rowed less together and with less balance and composure. This felt like a pretty irrelevant detail and winding it down past the finish line was half blessed relief and half very painful legs.
- Not enough Go Pro footage for a montage (this upset some people)
- Made our expedition to Peterborough look easy
- Huge thanks to JPD, Neil and Tom R for organising the trip, use of IC's facilities, the launch and JPD's excellent coaching