Saturday, 19 November 2011

Winter head

The Winter Head is when all the world comes to Cambridge. Or so it seems, from the crush at the start on our little provincial river.


Here is the crowd milling around before division 2 [Note: the pic is 800 px wide, so isn't all visible on a small screen. In which case, you can click on the pic for a full view]. It was a gorgeous day - fortunately we had an odd number so were on the towpath side so got to get out, stretch, relax, have a nice wee, and sit on the convenient bench in the glorious sunshine and watch the poor folk on the far side in the shade.

Notice how some of the boats on the banks are facing the Wrong Way. This is because - we can only assume - Cantabs have Tideway envy. However what they forgot is that the Tideway is really very wide, and there is lots of spare room to spin. The Cam is rally very narrow, and there is just room to squeak an VIII round, when there is a boat on the bank on both sides. Anyway, I should not cavil, because it was a jolly nice day.

winter-head-speed Those are the speeds from my GPS watch, for the "M1" crew in division 2 and the "M2" crew in division 3. Conditions were very good, and similar, for both divisions. M1 probably averaged, by eye, about 16 kph (perhaps a fraction slower) which is 1:52.5 (if it were 15.5, it would be 1:56. If you thought the course was 2500m (I do) and believed our 9:32 time, its 1:54.5). M2 averaged perhaps 14 kph which is 2:08.6 (giving no allowance at all for the Cam's sluggish flow). Note that the trough-then-peak about 4/5 of the way in, on both traces, is associated with the railway bridge: I think the trace gets thrown off there. There is clearly an offset on the rowcoach (well, of the impeller really) of perhaps :10, it would be nice to do some exact tests with that sometime.

Err, so, how did we do? OK I think - nothing too spectacular, but it was a decent row for M1. I never know what to say about the actual races: we're big boys now, no-one catches crabs and its a head race, so nothing interesting happens. And also for M2, though a few pips lower and the fitness started to tell past Ditton corner. Oh yes, and we had the excitement of being passed by CUWBC (featuring, I think, Anna) on Ditton corner. I really should have kept to the Plough side of Plough reach and let them come through that way, but we'd (we'd? I'd) taken a wide line around Grassy so I stayed on that side, sort-of hoping they might take the outside line on Ditton, but if course they didn't. In the end, all that happened was we went a bit wide on Ditton, too.


The finish of division 2 was a bit chaotic, too. All went well initially - boats came through, some stopped on Stourbridge - but then eventually they started to back up, until by the end there was barely space for boats to get over the line, as here (the finish line is from about where the most distant banked VIII). At one point there was the terrible crunching noise of honeycomb breaking, as someone backed their VIII perpendicularly into the side of one on the bank. Oops.


M1 and M2 had decided to swap over on Stourbridge common, because we were in successive divisions and feared getting stuck. In retrospect, and because M1 was 215 - ie, close to the head of the division amongst competent boats - we'd have been better off changing over at Peterhouse. Landing space on Stourbridge is at something of a premium, and the second crew gets a short warmup, and there is the hassle of not starting and finishing at the same place. However, it did mean we could visit the cake stall.


Link to the results.

M1 (9:32, 70th overall, 3rd in IM3 class): Cox: Simon. Str: Kate (welcome back for a special guest appearance), James H, Andy S (taking a brief break from the olympics), Will W, Chris W, William D, Paul "loves the cock" Holland, Bow: William C.

M2 (10:35, 4th in Nov class): Cox: William C. Str: Steve Gull, Ralph, Eben Upton, Brian McGuinness, Dave R, Dave B, Paul H, Simon.

W4+ (11:55, 3rd in Nov class): Cox: Meg. Str: Joss, Mel, Sarah, Anne.

W8 (11:41, 3rd in Nov class): Cox: Cox Alison. Str: Laura, Janice, Lorraine, Annie, Bev, Jo, Meg, Amy.

(Amy also rowed with her UCL crew).

More pix at flickr.

Monday, 7 November 2011

The MILF boat [*] goes to town

The Ladies had a crew (Joss, Mel, Sarah and Anne) all trained up for the Tideway, but no cox (because Meg, who had trained with them, wasn't available for the day). Hearing of my l33t coxing abilities [+] they enlisted me; and after one outing to weld crew and cox into one seamless unit, we were ready. The race was at 12:30 (the exact timing year to year is dictated by the state of the tide) so there was no ridiculous getting up and off before dawn as the men had to for the 2010 VIII's Vets head. Mel skillfully directed us down the North Circular to Tideway scullers where we had to pick our numbers up (a bit annoying that you have to go to the finish to pick up the numbers, because most people, like us, boat from near the start, because it makes far more sense to have a nice warm-up beforehand than a long tedious row back after the race).

DSCN2334-de-trailering And so we arrived at the embankment near London Rowing Club, where we were to boat. For those who haven't done this before, the first step is to find your trailer (Sunday is the Vets head, with 230 entries. Saturday was the larger Fours head, with about twice as many entries, and we were sharing space with the likes of Robs and Tabs as well as college crews on the Downing trailer, ably driven by Gripper (and I do mean ably: we watched him get down the lanes back to Emma and though its gate afterwards, and he was getting through with inches to spare). So Spare Rib had sat on the trailer all Saturday). The next step is to get the boat off, fairly tricky when it is on the tip-top rack and none of us are giants. After that comes re-rigging but at least, since this is a IV and not split, we didn't have to put the hull together.

DSCN2339-spot-the-mistake Then we had a fairly easy time of boating off the concrete hard - since this is the Vets head, and thus a smaller race, there isn't too much press for boating spaces. If you look at this photo carefully you'll spot the deliberate mistake. And I don't mean me having to rush off and dump the wellies back in the trailer while some helpful passerby holds the boat, because we didn't have a support crew. Anyway, we pulled in and fixed the mistake pretty quickly, and off we went, though with a little less margin for getting to the start than we'd intended.

This was the big moment for me, and I now appreciate the difference between sitting in a boat being merely required to row under orders, and feeling the responsibility of navigation on the big scary Tideway. However, it quickly became apparent that everything was going to work out OK, the flow was about expected (the race is run on the ebb tide, so you're rowing up against the tide), we could quite happily move against it, the chop was OK - of this more anon - and the wind wasn't pushing us about much. Being in division 4 our marshalling position was on the Surrey side, so I had no river crossing to worry about. After a while I realised I could spare my crew some effort by going up as close to the bank as possible to minimise the flow. And so we paddled up, going through exercises and then mixing light, steady state, and a few bursts. But there is plenty of room for that - its about 7 km to the start, compared to 5 km to the Baits Bite on the Cam. The race started at 12:30 (not quite promptly) and you're supposed to be in your marshalling position by 12:15 - we weren't, quite, nor were many others. We sat around for 1/2 hour while divisions 1 and most of 2 went off (I say sat around, but of course the crew has to constantly keep tapping the boat along to stay in position against the flow, about every 10 secs, so no-one gets any rest. I experimented with letting them decide then it was time to tap, to try saving my voice and making it easier for them, but it didn't work, as too often you need a manoeuvring stroke thrown in) then moved up above the bridge while the rest of 2 and then 3 went off, and then, excitement, division 4 was spinning (we were nearly the last boat), time to dekit, and we're now pointing the right way and heading for Chiswick bridge...

And so, the race itself! We were boat #229 out of 230, and so had been a bit afraid of getting left adrift. Marlowe, at #227, had pratted around so there was a huge gap between them and #226 off in the distance. We gained on #228 quite rapidly, and passed them on the first bend (they didn't move out of our way as they should have, my first course imperfection, but given the stress of the start I probably wouldn't have in their place either). Somewhere between Barnes railway bridge and the beginning of the Hammersmith bend #230 started moving up on us. We held them for a while with a few pushes, but they kept coming, and oh-so-gradually squeezed past us (I even got to do some Tidy-esque "I've got their 3-woman; now give me their 2"). We had a brief exciting blade clash when we moved back up on them once they thought they were safely past. On the Hammersmith bend the nice water at the start gave way to chop and some rather large waves like this . That threw us for a bit, and #230 began to pull away; with #228 dropped astern we were largely on our own after that, as far as the crew could see, though we were still in contact with #230 from my view.

If you're interested in how my track compares to a professional cox, I've done a mash-up of me-vs-Tidy.

From then, it is down to hard work from the crew combined with a bit of encouragement from the cox, until we got over the finish line, thank goodness (I find it hard to know what to say in the middle of a long piece other than rather unhelpful equivalents of "row harder you slackers". We got by on a mix of legs-10 as often as I thought realistic; various technical calls (finishes; hands; rhythm (gosh that is a hard word to spell, happily it is easy to say, though not easy to respond to); ratio) to recall them to their duty when they drifted into their own shell of pain; and general encouragemnt ("make it worth your coming here") and noting the milestones, and the times, as we went round. I flogged them a bit further than needed because I wasn't quite sure where the finish line was (it is upstream of Putney bridge, not down) - sorry about that. #230 were decent enough to give us three cheers once over the line, so we returned it. And so back to the start (with the river level now much lower we were in the gunk not the concrete) and de-boat, de-rig, and re-trailer (not aided by several boats needing to be re-arranged. As Gripper said "its always Robs" :-). A quick cup of tea in London Rowing Club gave us a chance to admire their glorious clubhouse and history, complete with enormous oil paintings of Chaps with Sideburns rowing at Henley. And so home (tediously, via TSS to return the numbers and reclaim our £6 deposit) and then the last boring bit - detrailering the boat, rowing it from Emma to home, and finally all stowed away safely. As Anne said, we really should have gone out for a drink to celebrate at that point, but we were all too knackered.

And our result? Somehow, compared to actually participating, that doesn't seem too important. But we had a time of 26:44 and an overall finsh position was 209/216 (1 dnf, 13 dns). Which was better than we'd expected - perhaps the organisers shouldn't put all the Women's novice boats at the end next time, but should mix up a few of the older Mens masters crews :-).

Top tips

* I didn't bother with wellies, just sandals, and not even those for the finish. If you have no support crew you're probably best off not bothering with wellies, and just going barefoot or flip-flops: the river really isn't that cold. [Struck; see the comments]
* Parking near LRC is easy enough on the Sunday.
* The race number that goes on the boat into the front holder is designed to be secured with a little nut and bolt. You can hold it on with tape, we did, but a nut-n-bolt would be neater.
* Make sure you know where your boat is supposed to go on the trailer. Ideally, get hold of the loading plan so you know where everyone else's is supposed to be too, so you can correct the inevitable mistakes.
* Take a couple of plastic cups, or perhaps better a sponge, in case you need to bail. Had the waves been only a little higher, we would have definitely needed to!
* Get one of the crew to write the post, then you won't get such a dreadfully cox-centric view :-)


* Anna had some problems that we didn't.
* More pix
* Vets Fours Head site.
* Everything you ever wanted to know about steering the course


[*] I'm not sure who coined this term but I'm fairly sure he is married to one of the crew members. So don't blame me.
[+] Yes yes I know: no-one else was available.