From the Sons M1 boat
After waiting for a year to race the Dewar Shield (for reasons not to be spoken about here), the day had finally come round again! A year of anticipation had increased the enthusiasm within the club and a whopping 72 people signed up for this year's challenge, filling eight boats from Sons (four men's crews, three women's and one mixed). Boats were begged, borrowed and stolen from around the Tideway and thanks must be mentioned to Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club, Thames Rowing Club and Vesta Rowing Club. Some last-minute scrambling ensured that the last boat was filled - thank you to all the rowers, coxes, timers and marshals that participated to make this year's event so great!
To the race, I was racing in the first men's crew and we got out onto the water promptly (after a good warm-up row in the morning and to ensure we didn't clash with the schools who were running an impromptu head race outside Sons). The race preparation was going well right up until a launch (unrelated to the Dewar Shield race) washed us down and half-filled the boat with water necessitating a quick stop at Tideway Scullers for a boat empty (without wellies as we were in race mode!). Back on the water and a soaking wet crew had to wait for over half an hour in the freezing cold for the start, as a school octuple had managed to wrap themselves around Barnes Railway Bridge. School kids rescued, the race started (with reluctant de-kitting!) and my boat rowed over at the head of the river. We had a determined row knowing that Auriol Kensington Rowing Club had a good crew after a close result at Quintin Head. The crew showed some of the symptoms of the early part of the season but the boat speed was there and we managed to secure the fastest time at just over 11 minutes.
A quick shower to thaw out (along with the traditional club photo) and then over to Furnivall Sculling Club for the results. A set of strong and promising results from around the club but the shield was lost by one point owing to a very strong showing by the hosts, Furnivall, in the women's races. Congratulations to Furnivall on their victory (a deserved one this year after the controversy of last year). Thanks also to Auriol Kensington for organising this year's event. We look forward to next year when, rest assured, Sons will be even stronger and I hope will show out in force once again.
Ross Cook, Men's Captain and at five in Sons M1
From the Sons M2 boat
The small hours of Saturday afternoon saw waves cresting at four or even five inches on the Tideway. Dead leaves were seen to move on trees and a drizzly rain threatened any ant foolish enough to venture outside its nest with a catastrophic soaking.
It was reminiscent of the Dewar Shield race from the previous year. Then, Sons of the Thames Rowing Club was enveloped in polar conditions so severe that the decision was made to withdraw the club from the competition. By a quirk of local climate Auriol and Kensington RC and Furnivall SC, were somehow able to boat and contested the shield without us - most of the Sons membership fondly imagining that the whole event had been cancelled.
So at the core of the Sons 2013 effort was a determination to show up. Snapping their fingers at the weather, eight Sons of the Thames VIIIs pushed off from the pontoon. With seven crews from Furnivall Sculling Club and six from Auriol and Kensington Rowing Club, 21 VIIIs and 189 rowers contested the event - probably an all-time record and certainly one for recent times.
A new "Grand Prix" style scoring system meant the first ten in boats in the men's and women's sections would score - additional crews getting just one point. The strength of this is that a club is scored not just on the performance of its top boats, but the full spectrum of active members - social rowers and novices included.
In the Olympic year of 2012 volunteers at all three clubs have worked hard to train newcomers to the sport, many of whom have been inspired by watching the successes of our Olympic rowers.
Before the no-show of 2012, Sons had won the shield for a number of years running, but 2013 was never going to be a push-over.
A long, buttock-numbing delay at the start was due to a school's crew being stuck under Barnes Bridge. Or was that a Russian submarine? It was hard to hear. Eventually a PLA launch went by with a bushy thing like a discarded Christmas tree in the stern. Obviously if we'd been aware of the danger we would have pulled the whole club out of the race.
At last we turned into the stream and began the familiar build-up to Chiswick Bridge. A scratch crew of creaky veterans, we were none-the-less designated Sons M2, and started in fourth position. With Club Captain Tony Brown making the calls from the cox's seat, it became clear that we were gaining on Furnivall M1. Eventually we'd row through them before the finish at Hammersmith Bridge. At that point things seemed to be going well.
Our first VIII looked to have pushed away from an AK unit that had beaten them by 0.2 seconds in the Quintin Head. That Sons M1 time would turn out to be 11.13 - comfortably the fastest of the day. Behind us Furnivall 2 in a borrowed boat (and a few borrowed all-in-ones), didn't seem to be closing us down - and indeed, we finished third.
With Sons 3 finishing in fifth and Sons 4 in ninth it was looking good on the men's side, but Furnivall's women showed in unexpected strength. No fewer than four women's VIIIs took part and it quickly became evident that they weren't there just to make up the numbers. Furnivall's women took first, second, fourth and ninth.
AK W1 was second and our own women rowed hard to take fifth, sixth and seventh, but Furnivall had done just enough. As the result was announced in their bar, it transpired that they had won with 50 points to our 49 with AK on 30.
A large photograph of Dr Furnivall looked on - perhaps with the hint of a smile behind his bushy whiskers? The club he founded in 1896 to give women a chance to scull is still fulfilling that purpose with some style all these years later.
In truth, Sons is still to completely recover from the retirement of some high class oarswomen in 2010 and the departure for Vesta of a number of good female athletes the following season. Those who've stayed however have helped train newcomers to the sport and they have progressed really well. We've been lucky to have Henley and WHORR winner Cat Hart to help with coaching this season and the numbers and ability of women rowers at the club continues to improve. At the same time, the men's squad has built on the successes of last year and we now have the best organised coaching and training regime for a long time.
What's clear from the 2013 event is that the Dewar Shield is closely fought now and 2014 could be more competitive again. That's good for rowing in Hammersmith and the strength of all three Hammersmith clubs.
We are all grateful to the organisers of the event, and the coxes, timers, launch drivers and marshalls who made it possible.