Veteran Fours Head of the River Race 2012

On the Saturday youth, athleticism, endeavour and rigour. On the Sunday, maturity, grit, well-honed skills and a hint of algipan on the breeze. At the Veteran Fours Head, the will to win is exceeded only by the compulsion for self-ridicule.

As with the Pairs Head, some of the club’s most worthy representatives were the ones out on the Tideway in the square-shaped metal boats who helped to make this excellent event a success. At the risk of leaving someone out, we should thank Cat, Anna and Kate.

A mid-day start had plenty to recommend it, the early morning frost melting in a crisp autumn sun which illuminated the colours of hundreds of visiting clubs.

Trentham Universtiy RC were with us again at Hammersmith, as were and one or two Cambridge clubs who seem to have made us their operating base on the Tideway.

This account is from the Vet D 4x boat because that’s the one I was in. After a gruelling practice outing to Chiswick Bridge the previous weekend, we paddled away from the Sons of the Thames pontoon with more resolve than style.

Behind me in the engine-room, the Boerike-Scrine turbo diesel – they of a close second place in the Vet D 2x division of the Pairs Head. In the bows, command and control safely entrusted to the matchless rowing brain of Baldwin.

Crowded with fours and quads in the sunshine, there was an unexpectedly carnival feel to the Thames at Chiswick, although these painterly observations soon gave way to the necessity of paddling down to Chiswick Bridge.

I'm not one for counting, so it was a big plus to have Brad's stroke meter in the back with me. I noticed it said 33 as we passed the stripey pole that ends the university boat race... steady, we'd talked about 32.

As the bridge faded into the distance, the crews behind became reassuringly smaller. That said, Stephen's calls from bow showed it was taking a long time to catch the quad in front. We'd later discover it was a City of Bristol crew.

We passed the club grateful for the support. Maybe we were already overlapping Bristol, I can't remember. But it seemed as if we were locked together even as we overtook other crews, Baldwin adroitly steering through small gaps.

Steady at 32, I expected us to go past them, but the Bristol crew just wouldn't roll over. It's never easy that Hammersmith to Putney stretch, but this was the hardest I've known it. Along the boats at Putney, Bristol pushed away to break the overlap. We beat them on time, but in this head race turned match race, their indomitable refusal to be overtaken seemed like a victory in itself.

Back in the bar at Linden House, the results were in before the sausage and mash was on the table. (It's a well-run event the Veteran Fours Head.) We were third in our division, and fastest crew from Sons... just. Somehow though, I think it's the epic battle with City of Bristol Rowing Club that we'll all remember.