Saturday, March 31

Tideway tribulations

Talking about my own sport for once - down to London today for the Head of the River Race. My crew were starting somewhere in the lower half, and boating from Thames Tradesmen, so we had to row up a bit, turn downstream and go through Barnes Bridge, then turn into the marshalling area.

That was, shall we say, interesting. The wind had been blowing all day, but the marshalls had looked at the water and thought it was rowable. As the tide changed, we went through the bridge, and the conditions were, shall we say, rather interesting. Despite having throroughly taped up the riggers to hopefully reduce the amount of water that splashed up from them and landed in the boat, we were still left with an inch of water in the bottom of the boat when we reached our marshalling area. Rowing is hard enough as it is without having to haul an extra load of weight down the course, as Cambridge showed in the Boat Race last year.

Never mind, though, we bailed out the excess water (with the help of a polystyrene cup that floated past, along with some boats numbers). Then the race started - with the light shining behind them, the splash of water flying up from the riggers as Leander charged through Barnes Bridge was quite impressive. The crew from Italy and Molesey followed - the Italians losing ground as they looked to be having more trouble with the water than the Londoners. Indeed, rather a lot more - I expressed the opinion that they might sink.

After a few more boats went past, there definitely were sinkers. Pavia CUS from Italy definitely went down (edit - no they didn't. I'd thought that it was crew 26 that went down, someone else had said it was a foreign boat), followed shortly by two more top 40 crews. Further up at Hammersmith Bridge, I later heard, many of the other crews were also suffering, either sinking or being forced to switch crew members from rowing to bailing (at least one of Leander's crews swamped [Leander III], the crew being forced to abandon the boat as the rescue launch had to get them to land and then rescue another crew), with as many as ten crews rumoured to have swamped.

Needless to say, the Marshals stopped the race. One marshal boat went past us announcing the abandonment. I shouted to him asking for marshalling instructions - nothing came back. The crews around us all decided the same thing - they wanted to get back to the boat houses, fast. The boat houses were on the other side of the river - turn and go now.

Suddenly there are 300 plus crews on this stretch of the river heading in all directions. Our novice cox, thankfully, is an instinctively good steerswoman, and somehow threaded us through the carnage into the landing area - we were about the fourth crew back. Our clubs top boat, who were in the top 40, were probably very annoyed at the cancellation, as they hadn't swamped or even had to bail, so had got nearly all the way to the finish. And then had to row back.

Photos have already started appearing of Flickr - here

Also the abandoned Italian boat


Alex said...

Standign on Barnes Bridge I was extremely glad I wasn't competing this year-those really weren't fun conditions.

Also good work from your cox not to panic if only a novice, as there were plenty of others out there who were doign exactly that.

Thoughts on whether you should all have been allowed to boat in the first place?

AverageEarthman said...

To be honest? No. And I should have known that, let alone the people running it.

The wind had been pretty steady all day, and it was rough enough when it was blowing downstream. When the stream changed, it unsurpisingly got worse, and it was going to get even more choppy for the later crews. I think they were gambling on the wind dropping later in the day, which I think it did eventually (it looked flatter by six, although still choppy)

I'd thought that since they were letting it run, Barnes Bridge was going to be the worst bit. Evidently, it wasn't.