Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WeHoRR): 1 Championship rowing course (4 miles, 374 yards); 89 years of history; 200+ volunteers; 320 boats and their coxes; 2,560 women rowers. I had been looking forward to it for a while…
Most of the crew gathered at Cambridge Railway Station to catch the 8.45pm to Kings Cross. For the 24 hours previously I’d been enjoying tweets from crews all over the country starting their journeys towards London and now we were on our way. As the only tideway virgin in our crew I was feeling a tinge of trepidation so when the others loaded up with caffeine at the station café I stuck to calming green tea.
Hot beverages in hand we boarded the train. The weather in Cambridge had been kinder than forecast but there was snow on the ground by the time we passed through Royston and we hoped that conditions weren’t too bad for the trailering contingent on the A1(M).
At Kings Cross we jumped on the Piccadilly line and were in Furnival Gardens not long after 10am. The trailer had already arrived safely and we set to putting the boat together along with a number of other clubs boating from Furnival Sculling Club. Again the weather was kinder than forecast and although it was on the cold side, there was no snow on the ground in London, the rain was holding off and the winds were light.
A couple of us went to look for a convenient bush to accommodate our pre-boating comfort stop, circumventing having to use the over popular Furnival Sculling Club toilet facility and, according to Jo, peed on her Quaker ancestors who are buried in Furnival Gardens. Then it was time to tackle the Furnival Sculling Club’s launch facility. Our training plan had been pretty comprehensive but had not included carrying our boat down a muddy metal ramp. Interesting.
Safely on the water we headed first across the mighty Thames then up towards the start at Chiswick. It was still a bit chilly but otherwise the weather continued to be calm. We reached our marshalling position in good time and watched as other boats passed and gathered. Will’s cool coxing, with quite a bit of tapping activity especially for Meg and Amy in the bow, kept us in place while some around us struggled to deal with the flow of the river and the growing number of other boats in close proximity.
Then it was almost time to race so Lorraine, Amanda & myself dekitted down to our onesies. We tried to convince Alex to do the same so that stern four looked uniformly badass but she was way too sensible. It is probably at the point that I should have paid more attention to the fact, Anne, who has been rowing tideway for over 30 years, kept both her beanie and her poggies on.
Just after we spun and headed towards the start there was an omen of what was to come when a large wave came up from stroke side and hit the number 6 position full on, eliciting a squeal from Amanda and leaving her drenched in river water.
Then we were off. A good start and we got quickly into our rhythm. We reached our first landmark at Barnes Bridge and suddenly we hit a squall – the temperature plummeted, the wind and waves got up and the sleet began. It felt like someone had hurled a bit of gravel at my shoulder: Having never known the sensation of hail stones on my bare skin before it look me a moment to realise what was going on. While it was bad enough that the hail and sleet was hitting our backs, seated as he was in the other direction, it was hitting our cox’s face but Will did a masterful job of carrying on and didn’t mention that he had to close his eyes a couple of times until after the race. Five minutes later the tempest went as quickly as it came and we were back to the standard level of challenge though the precipitation had done something to the speaker system and Will sounded like he had been replaced by an alien.
Passing under Hammersmith Bridge we could see the Chesterton Flag and hear mega cheers from Simon and Alex RG. It was great and spurred us on to the finish. Going on through Fulham Railway Bridge, we spun and headed back to Furnival. Having never rowed WeHoRR before I couldn’t appreciate the pleasure of being 95 rather than 295 as much as my crewmates but it was fun to be able to see crews still racing and it took my mind off the fact that we now had to row against the stream. Our time was 23:35.5 – not as fast as we had hoped but under the circumstances not so bad and, according to one informed observer, “very tidy”.
The pre-race toilet experience at Furnival Sculling Club was nothing compared to the post-race changing room experience which was definitely not a place for anyone with privacy or claustrophobia issues. But, having changed into dry cloths, derigged and retrailered the boat, it was off to the Rutland Arms where our fabulous Captain, Lorraine, who has all the right priorities, had booked a table for us all on the first floor with excellent views of the Thames. Here we indulged in beer, food and good company before departing back
Camwards. I arrived home no-longer a tideway virgin, feeling tired but relaxed, happy and accomplished and very grateful of my crewmates and club for making the day possible and successful.
[By Dawn H]