Head of the River Race 2010

A Little Paddle on the Thames

7 am: Fire at Cambridge Station - Jakob claims this was started in the bakery although later admits to being slightly confused with the Great Fire of London.

7:10 am: Pile into Kate's 106 with suspension sagging and struggle to Royston, with engine groaning for mercy. Conclude that Peugeot did not develop the 106 engine with transportation of four big oarsmmen, one cox and five kit bags in mind. Watch our favourite video on the way ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7v6Qc30OyYc ) and use as it as a basis for last minute suggestions for Kate's calls.

9:30am: Putney embankment. We are (surprisingly) on time (editor's note: a significant number of the crew were not on time: we know who you are are!) to find Paul guarding the boat and blades and in need of caffeine. Handily the big fin that was fitted after we loaded the trailer is still attached to Doreen Halifax, much to Guy's relief. We rig the 1st and 2nd boats (the 2nd VIII felt like a lie in that morning) and narrowly convince James to not put the 7 rigger round a lamppost before bolting it to Kieran West.

That leaves plenty of faff time for getting changed (including lots of discussion on what to wear) and sleeping on park benches, laughing at all the keen beans going out for pre race paddles, including the Molsey VIII (including quite a few headline names like Tom James, Tom Ransley, Andy Triggs-Hodge, Acer Nethercott) who had rigged up next to us and came back to find we'd nicked their spot.

After a rousing pre-race speech from Jo, that included the traditional '**** off John' we fought our way to the water and boated as quickly as we had done at Henley (another victory for us, but something that never happens in Cambridge strangely) with only one blade nearly hitting Jo in the face.

We went through our usual warm up, and threw in a practice start sequence. Not our best, but it was ok winding to 36 and settling to 34ish and then going back down to light as we joined the four abrest flotilla going upstream along the Surrey side. Kate kept us on our toes varying the pressure and throwing in some hard turns to weave us around the hordes of muppets heading to the start, including an Italian crew who's cox had dispensed with a cox box in favour of the lighter polystyrene-cup-with-no-bottom approach, presumably to save weight (editor's note: how did you notice this Michal if you were focussing in our boat?!)

We reached our marshalling point just short of Chiswick Bridge on Surrey, bang on time to spend the next age tapping up and down trying to get our bows to within a couple of feet of the bank to satisfy the marshall on the bank, whilst simultaneously fending off crew 194 who seemed intent on ripping their number off under Sava's rigger. Christ they looked like a bunch of miserable buggers. Crew 196 arrived ten minutes later to try and squeeze in in front of us, not before entangling themselves as best they could and unwittingly exposing themselves to Julian's flirting. Once he'd got bored of their stroke man, Julian finished by politely asking where they wanted us to overtake them (only one of the UWE crew noticed that they were going off behind us anyway).

Then the heavens opened, demands for in-flight refreshments for middle four were refused, and our division was called up through Chiswick. Fortunately the rain soon stopped giving us a chance to bail some of the water out, have a quick loo break before the tops off call came. All the layers came off, along with some discussion of quite how naked we were allowed to be. Hugh at bow did his mandatory neck stretches to ensure maximum flexibility and rotation to allow 360 degree vision. James took some more photographs of Hugh. Stern pair practised their most menacing facial expressions. Middle four stowed away the travel scrabble. That was it, time to focus in, spin it around and paddle down to the start.

We went into the start sequence through Chiswick up to 36 and settling to a powerful 34, with three and a half lengths of clear water between us and AK ahead of us, with us closing the gap slowly but surely from the first few strokes. Before we knew it we were through Barnes and there was nothing within sight behind us and we were closing down AK, who were making pushes off us the entire way. It got a little rougher around here, so our much choppier session on the Thames a few weeks ago set us up well for this. At some point around the Eyot we got overlap with AK and both crews pushed round a third crew way off to the Surrey side. At this point, it was like regatta season already, with Kate calling to bring our bows level with their 4 man, their bows and then counting herself up along them two seats at a time.

Finally we came around them and pushed off to a length or two clear. The rate came down as AK had taken a lot out of us, but Kate called for a bow 6 push into Hammersmith and the boat sat up and the rate came back up as we started to enjoy the slightly smoother conditions. Like we'd said before, it was a new race from Hammersmith with Curlew RC 3 or 4 lengths ahead in our sights. We gained water on them slowly, but this section of the race felt like an eternity, so we hung with a fairly good rhythm to Fulham and then started to build to the finish giving every last ounce past the boat houses at Putney and through the finish at Dove Pier. After the wind-down the relative silence in the boat said it all - we had all given it everything. The tanks were, officially, empty.

Thanks to John for trailering, Paul for joining the VIII at short notice and Jo for her months of hard work so far this season.

Michal

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