In November, 2009, Runcorn Rowing Club buys a new (2nd Hand) top eight craft for the club’s senior men. George Perrin sets about organising the senior men into a fighting force to rival Kelly’s heroes. Yes, his was the task to equal that of herding twenty domestic cats.
In the first few weeks, our squad was coming together in the new boat, chasing the junior squad up river, gradually catching them and eventually creeping past the slower of the junior girl scullers.
By Christmas, we were making progress. Crew selection for the squad was a question of “who has the commitment to be in the boat.....at 8am Saturday and Sunday mornings. Be there, be in the crew. Congratulations, your selected!
After Christmas, with coaching input from chief coach, the crew were treated to rapid rigging, rapid re-jigging, and regular technical challenges like burning hoops presented to a lion. We jumped.
February, after in house training pieces against Liverpool University and Trafford Rowing Club, we entered Runcorn Head of the River; the veteran version of the Runcorn crew faced up to the local veteran opposition from Grosvenor and Royal Chester, and just lost by 5 seconds to their equally matched efforts. Mmmm, not bad. Then the open version of the crew raced in IM1 status against Agecroft’s development crew. The feeling as we swept past Agecroft, pulling away from Grosvenor’s senior crew, was as exhilarating as it was surprising. We were achieving our pre-Christmas dream. Santa had delivered!
From Runcorn Head, the ideal preparation for the assault on the tideway because of its equivalent length and identical challenges of course features, we added confidence, conviction and now a little ruthlessness to see us attain our best performances. We faced up to the tideway challenge by focussing our hopes for a leader of eight men on one individual: our cox, Laura Gardiner (14). Of all of us, she developed most each outing, steering smoother, picking up on instructions, on passing on information, on motivating and reassuring us.
By the North of England’s Chester Head, we had developed greater confidence and needed it. The veteran crew needed to improve to be victorious. We did. We were. It was a fantastic row from start to finish. All the technical changes of the last weeks saw us leap ahead of Grosvenor and Royal Chester. The afternoon: the senior crew. Chased from start by Durham University II and Shrewsbury School’s elite first crew, Team Runcorn set off with a plan. The plan did include moving over to let Durham and co pass without breaking our rhythm. The plan was very wrong. Mid course, change of plan required a rethink on what to do to keep Durham and Shrewsbury behind us longer, longer, AND through to the finish line. WOW. Top ten finish.
To the London Tideway...home of the Boat Race. End of the Winter objective. All the (very limited) training had to be put to work. The crew, 14 year old cox, a sixteen year old, a near novice rower, and two forty+ year olds and a 57 year old combined with two university graduates as our power house and a poor doctor plucked out of his over-working hospital had to endure a pre-race on the water pep-talk mercifully terminated by the coercion by the marshals. After that, the race was a breeze. Perfect course from start to finish, great rhythm, adequate length, and a plan to catch Norwich by the end of the course. The chasing crew gave us good pacing – until they mounted a navigation buoy after Harrods. We felt good down past Fulham, and then had Laura challenge us to catch Norwich, our target crew, who started four crews ahead of us. Passing the Black Buoy we had overlap. Passing the Putney Boathouses, we had contact (literally) and then, full of adrenaline, to the finish line. Goodness, that was something remarkable. How much can you smile after almost 19 minutes of effort. We all did. Big smiles. And why...because we knew we had done our very best on the day, and our best was a top 100 finish. 99th! Runcorn Rowing Club was 99th!!!!! Another WOW! That was a ridiculous target in February.
And finally, the Vesta Veteran Tideway Head. Sunday morning. Our crew were not fully awake yet, a few firm pieces in the warm up, and we were less comatose. A headwind, another dreaded pre-race pep-talk to make the race seem not so bad, and off we went, shortened reversed start, soon the cheers of Hammersmith Bridge, blasting, the bend, Chiswick Eyot, more blast, the Bandstand, keep on blasting, Barnes Bridge, pushing on, last few minutes, hang on in there, a bit more, and still more, and just a little more yet. Is the tide really going in with us???, ....and finish and wind down, thank goodness. The massed queue of finished crews crammed into the narrow turn round area (which should have been below Putney Bridge on the wide Thames) was chaotic. We turned around as early as we could to avoid the crunch. We met more chaos at the crossing point, and more infringing the rules to avoid the chaos of a reversed and shortened start.
The full experience was achieved. Race, result, time penalty. We still finished a strong 21st; less our time penalty, we would have been at least 10th. Ahead of the Nottingham Veteran C crew! Not a million ticks behind the ultra selected crews of Crabtree and veteran mecca Quinton. And again, considering the mix and the developed talent and experience of the crew, were we not able to smile at our achievement with a great deal of satisfaction.
For both our crews, for the summer. We are going to have to keep the crusade going to see what we can do over a shorter distance. Easy-peasy. Thanks for the fun and the ride.
Who would have thought that a year on from our first entry in a Tideway Head in many years that the result would be so different.
2009 - an irregular group of vet members wanted to go to London to be part of the event for the experience and to 'take part'. That crew learnt a lot, but were wide-eyed and expectant and in awe of the crews from far and wide. We finished 170th out of 214 entrants.
2010 - a determined and well-disciplined crew set off from Furnival with an expectation that we would be able to better that result by some margin. We took to the water as fastest Vet VIII+ from the North of England HOR the weekend before, but we were not complacent - the Tideway is an altogether different river to the Dee.
We had been training all during the winter - something that many crews in the North-West had not managed because of the weather and ice during January & February. We had paced with Liverpool University and occasionally with Trafford, so we knew we were improving.
The crew was pretty solid and consistent with various members rotating to ensure all outings took place. George's and Matthew's competitive outlook gave each outing the edge it needed; we were improving, but they would not be satisfied with our performance, or each other, for some time. Improvements were noticeable in the balance and the platform that allowed us to focus on our splashy catches and the send. The difference achieved in one winter - with the help of a new boat and an excellent cox - was so great as to be astonishing to a relative novice like me.
The Event was over a shortish course and the 'wrong' way owing to tides. As we mingled amongst other boats below Hammersmith bridge there was time to have a little banter with rowers known to George in the knowledge that this year we need not be quite so humble or meek.
With John and Eric as Bow pair to tidy things up, Ben at three had surprised himself how pleased he was to back in a boat on the Thames after such a long break since University whilst I was still beaming to have the medal from the previous week on the Dee. Graham and George provided the reach and power in the middle of the boat and Henry and Matt the finesse at the stern. Laura steered a steady course past the three boats we overtook and made the most of the available flow and her experience from the previous day's race.
Our warm up and the run to the start was not all we would want it to be, but once we passed the starting launch and heard the cheers (thanks Tasha) from Hammersmith Bridge it clicked into gear and the boat began to run.
I don't know whether it was the fine tuning an hour before launch was the key or the emotion of the event, but I for one was getting around the pin to add a little extra to every splashy catch and was able to hang on to every drive.
The recoveries were sweet, clean, down and away and even when we turned into the wind the boat maintained the run we were putting into it and as a crew we maintained the rhythm we had built and practised all winter.
Every stroke benefited from the cold cold outings during December and January, every finish from the miles on the Weaver and every recovery from the feedback after each outing.
When we finally arrived at the University stone we were not sure where the timing point was, but we left everything on the river.
20th is a creditable and stunning finish from 204 entrants for a club that has been missing from the Tideway for so long and still leaves us something to work on over the full course next year, but, hopefully minus the penalty for being too eager to cross the river on the return journey, we might be nearer to a top 10 finish.