Monday 21 March 2011

Womens Eights Head of the River Race 2011

The crew: James, Ali (not well enough to row), Janice, Lorraine, Bev, Mel (lovely sub!), Claire, me, Jo, Anne PHOTO: Simon E

Saturday morning dawned bright sunny and warm, as promised by the Met Office. Our first task was to load the boat onto the trailer, and then wave it off to be driven down to London by another club. Then we all headed for cars and trains to make our way to London.

We were boating from Furnivall Gardens which has always been my favourite place to boat from on the Thames. It is close to Hammersmith Bridge which is about two thirds of the way down the course and is the best place for spectators to watch from. It also means that you get a warm up rowing to the start and not to onerous a row back from the finish. This year Furnivall only accepted 11 boats so there was a relaxed atmosphere as we rigged the boat ready to go, and we had inside space to store kit and wellies.

Rigging Dawntreader PHOTO: Ali B
Blades ready PHOTO: Ali B
Soon, our boating slot arrived and we carried our eight down onto the pontoon. We pushed off and that was when we realised something was wrong. Only the stern four of the boat could hear James's voice over the speakers connected to the cox-box amplifier. Our boat splits in two, and the wiring is connected at the join by a waterproof rubber connector. I was sitting in the 5 seat, just behind the join, and so I checked the connector. Two bare-ended (but insulated) wires came out of the connector in my hand. Ah. Problem. The solder had come loose inside the connector. If the connector is broken, the four girls in the bow can't hear the cox. So theat means they can't hear his instructions to manouver the boat, or his voice when the race begins, encouraging them on through 20+ minutes of pain. Last year, the cox box ran out of power halfway down the course and so I knew how awful it is to race without a cox. As I was closest to the broken connector, I took it upon myself to find a way to fix it. However, we had to get to our marshalling position first, and couldn't just sit there and fiddle with it. So we kept rowing, relaying calls down the boat until we reached our spot. Staying in one place on the Thames is tough - the stream flows about as fast as a pair of rowers can row, so you always have to have some people rowing. 

The offending component!

Once we were roughly stationary, I tried just sticking the bare wires back into the loose half of the connector. Voices from the bow confirmed that they were getting intermittent noise from the speakers so I knew all was not lost. After a while, I discarded the loose part of the connector and tried just sticking the wires into the half of the connector still attached to the bow end of the boat, losing the part which was broken. I also cleaned the little bits of wire that were sticking out of the insulation as best I could. Stripping the insulation off would have been advantageous but I didn't have a tool to do so. Stuffing the newly cleaned wires as far as I could into the connector, I learnt from the bows that they could hear James voice. The insulation on wires provided enough friction to hold the wires in the rubber of the remaining connector and so I just hoped beyond hope that it would hold. We had another 20 minutes of marshalling and then a 20+ minute race. It held through the marshalling, and then we were off. There was nothing more I could do but hope.

The race started well, and we got into a good rhythm. Rowing on the Thames is quite different to rowing on the Cam, as the water is much rougher, and rowing with the tide means that it feels strange when you place your blade in, as if you haven't really got enough connection with the water. Still, we maintained well, and James' coxing kept us going, Soon we could see Hammersmith Bridge, where we knew our supporters would be cheering for us. We could see our club flag and also a great sign made by Simon - 'ROW FASTER, CHESTERTON, THE BAR IS OPEN!' which made me smile through the pain!

PHOTO: Simon E
That's us in the middle, about to overtake Essex on the left PHOTO: Simon E

At this point, we began to overtake the crew in front (the University of Essex) which was great fun. James thrives on this kind of coxing - when there is a real competition on our hands, and we slowly but surely passed them by. At this point in the race, overtaking was just the encouragement we needed to keep pushing to the end. It seemed to go on for ever, but eventually there was the call to wind it down. I felt pretty wrecked at this point, and couldn't speak to ask the question to which I desperately wanted the answer: Did the connection hold? Eventually I managed to gasp out the question, and got the answer that it had held, which was the best part of the race for me!

We had a bit of a row back to Furnivall but it wasn't too bad, and the sun was still shining. Our supporters met us on the pontoon and we took the boat apart to put back on the trailer before heading for a meal at Pizza Express. While we were there we learned that we'd come 271 out of 302 boats (all results by division), with a time of 23 minutes 21 seconds which wasn't too bad considering that we were a 'scratch' crew - with a sub (thanks so much, Mel!) who was rowing for one of the girls who was too ill to join us. Thanks also to our supporters on the bank and to James for his coxing.

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