After our intensive training on a 2k lake in Plovdiv, Bulgaria for a week in the middle of May, the men’s squad came back ready for the two remaining regattas at Dorney Lake (location for this year’s Olympics). Unfortunately conditions at Dorney weren’t quite as idyllic as Plovdiv with strong cross-headwinds at both Metropolitan (2nd & 3rd June) and Marlow (16th June) regattas.
I was racing in the IM2 coxless four in both regattas and we had some success. At Metropolitan regatta, we had a good heat on the Saturday that saw us finish second in the heat and get straight through to the final in the late afternoon (with one of the fastest times of the three heats as well). We took what we had learnt from Plovdiv and were able to put in a good row, sitting ahead of London RC in the lane next to us. Some bad luck on the lane selection meant that we ended up in one of the windiest lanes for the final and this impacted our overall result – evidenced by the same London RC crew we had beaten earlier on getting in just ahead of us (having won the repechage earlier on in the afternoon) and leaving us in last.
We were still pleased to have been in the final though and saw this as a positive step in our progress. We thus showed up on the Sunday with high expectations, although knowing we had the tougher of the two heats. Unfortunately, our steering broke just after the start (not early enough for a re-row) and we were forced to zigzag down the course fighting the rudder that was jammed on bow side (an easy race for stroke side!). This put us out of the running for qualification for the final but we were still able to race against Twickenham RC and avoid finishing last.
We had all been following the weather forecast for Marlow regatta and so turned up slightly apprehensive about what lay ahead. The wind was stronger than Metropolitan regatta but we arrived with a new, more stable boat (on loan from Mortlake Anglian & Alpha Boat Club) that we hoped would let us ride out the conditions better. We were allocated a lane in the middle of the lake for our heat so not the best, but not the worst, and a good row saw us finishing third (and so through to the final as only two heats) ahead of Upper Thames RC. What’s more we had a faster time than everyone else in the other heat. The more sheltered lanes (6 and 7) took the top two positions, unsurprisingly it could be said. Our third-place finish unfortunately put us in lane 1 for the final in what can only be described as near hurricane conditions. The very strong winds had already seen all the eights’ races abandoning the starting blocks for “free starts” at the 1,750m mark (something which our IM2 eight had the pleasure of experiencing!). Five minutes of tapping/heaving the boat round at the start (which nearly saw us capsize against the huge waves that were pummelling the boat and tired us out nicely) finally saw the boat straight.
We were then able to get going (some boats had realised the lawlessness that had taken over at the regatta and so started slightly earlier than the rest of us!) only to have waves crashing over the bow side of the boat and the boat constantly being pushed to the side of the regatta course. The wind had pushed all the buoys over leaving not much of a lane “0” and a gust of wind and waves saw us pushed into one of the returning umpire launches. That marked the end of our race really although we kept going (mostly in lane 2) to the end and recorded a very slow time. We informed the umpires of the unsafe nature of lane 1 and hope that the lane was avoided for use in the remaining races. Once again, we took comfort on our heat race as we were beating boats that we knew we would meet at the qualifying races for Henley Royal Regatta. We certainly saw that in windy conditions, lane allocation has a big impact on rowing at Dorney – hopefully there won’t be similar problems at the Olympics later on in the summer!
The four of us are now training hard in Henley in the evenings in the run up to the qualifying races on Friday and are hopeful that we can qualify to have two boats representing Sons of the Thames at Henley Royal Regatta.