Pairs Head: Little Boat, Big River
It was time. And what better preparation than moving down to Cornwall four weeks previously. However, no amount of practice on the Cam could have prepared for the feel of our (Andy's) little yellow boat on the dynamism of the Thames. Not even the outflow! Still, looking over the river wall in front of Sons of the Thames, the water piling up and breaking on the upstream edge of the pontoon, laid an extra layer of trepidation to the thought of setting off and what lay ahead. No cox, no stern four, no bow four. No bow pair, no stern pair, just bow (desperately trying to steer a ‘good line’) and stroke (providing the power, at well above a safe heart rate).
But this was also a sad occasion. Probably my last row for the foreseeable future and I wanted it to be something to remember. Pushing off, the boat peeled away with the stream and we started the paddle up to the start. What a big river, and what had the navigation rules said? Cross at which buoy? Oh well.
What a sight as we moved past Chiswick Bridge and began marshalling. Swarms of us, normally such a rare breed. The Pair. Quite proud not to have received one, even polite, instruction from the marshals, we were in place and ready to turn in to the flow. One of the beauties of small boats is the camaraderie. We are all in the same boat, and yet not. A few good luck wishes and we pulled in to the stream and were lined up and ready to go. Winding it up under the bridge and, ‘number 69, Chesterton Rowing Club, GO!’ Good rhythm. 10 strokes, look. Where are we going? Where should we be going? What was that advice. Lots of subtlety about imagining a certain number of boats between you and which bank but basically, stay in the middle. So in the middle we stayed.
Next bridge in sight. Line up. Look. Lined up. One last look. Back off Conor!! Not so close, but close enough from a very unforgiving bridge pier. Now through to what seemed more like a sea than a river. Where was that middle again? City, behind, where drifting back but Star had passed them and were bearing down on us. We should move over, but to where? They seemed more than capable of figuring out an overtaking move on their own. There went the pennant. Now relax, enjoy and push. My corner was past and now it was Conor's turn. Traffic seemed to be gathering ahead but shouts from the bank meant we knew where we were. Hammersmith bridge loomed ahead and our first overtake required some care, Putney Town, but the line seemed good. Then another bellow, this time from above, and it was time to wind up for the finish. Last 200m. Then last 10. Ignore the boats ahead, just go. Everything. The finish was there but when were we past it? Well, there was nothing left so we took it down.
No relaxing in the pair though. Spin. Upstream, trying to keep it together to avoid being washed downriver, and then the sprint across the still racing traffic (over 500 boats!) to get back to the pontoon and safety. Why am I always surprised how draining this is. And I am sure that the ramp gets steeper on the way out (I know!). Beer and food and wait for the time, the position.
4 th in Club, worth it and a good end. Always could do better, and want to do better, but happy (and we beat most of the Cambridge boats!).