Great River Race Report

Tuesday, 6 September, 2016

Last Friday evening we assembled at Richmond in preparation for the River Race the following morning - Watch & Pray had been launched at Greenwich and was moored neatly alongside Governor - another beautiful gig from another club. Plenty of wholesome food courtesy of the local scout group and some brilliant music from the funky Dutch brass band Tartouffe ensured that we were fully relaxed and nourished for our upcoming battles.

An easy trip by rail to Greenwich for some of us and a spectacular 007 style arrival by rib for others put us in good spirits. From Greenwich it's a 40 minute row to the start line, this involves a circumnavigation of the O2 arena and spectacular views of the developed areas of Docklands. Once at the start area we found ourselves milling around amongst our fellow competitors - another real spectacle but one which involved constant collision avoidance, being pushed by the tide in one direction and by the wind in another direction. Unfortunately at this this the crew took the advantage of their coxes temporary indisposition in full flow to practice an impromptu racing start which resulted in the necessity for an embarrassing emergency change of clothing - scurvy swine I say !

Called to our starting berths 5 minutes before our allocated time, and then away! No racing start this time just 10 to get away and then to settle into race mode, jumbo oars at a rating of 26-28. Within a few minutes we encountered some very confused Bristol Channel type waters which we had known were coming but nevertheless you simply don't expect to experience such dramatic water in the middle of London. The GRR is a handicap race with the slowest boat types starting first and the fastest starting last nearly an hour after the starting gun. The field of 44 gigs started pretty much together and so our initial battles were with gigs, both racing and avoiding them at the same time, soon however we were beginning to overtake other craft and whilst it's great to be overtaking so many other boats it was the gig field that we were measuring ourselves by. Governor had got a good start and was away from us but within sight, our other early battles were with Smudger and Senara. After nearly 4 miles we passed under Tower Bridge - a pinch point in the race needing some weaving around and getting up close and personal with other boats, this attracted a little bit of vocal criticism, not all of it jocular but we stuck steadfastly to our task, weathered the insults and maintained our rhythm. Usually the water levels out after Tower Bridge however we encountered a further couple of miles of agitated water, big swells riding into us on the bow quarter making our progress harder than we had anticipated; still we were spurred on by the crowds assembled on the procession of bridges all the way to Westminster. Stopping for the occasional water break, jelly babies, chocolate raisins etc we pressed on past the great sights seen from our unique perspective. After Westminster the crowds diminish and the steering becomes a little easier, still locked in battles with Smudger and Senara and with Governor still ahead but within touch, vainly hoping for them to run out of puff. The visual highlights are past us by the time we get to Wandsworth, however we're still only at our half way point, more than an hour of racing behind us and more than an hour to go. Beginning to weary a little we executed an all crew seat swap, each member exchanging seats with their neighbour, this refreshed our bodies a little and only a little time was sacrificed in the exchange. However Senara found a burst of energy and we were unable to hold them off ,they looked strong and rowed through us, Smudger who had been in front of us for some miles seemed to slow and we were able to take them comfortably and put clear water between us. Soon after Wandsworth the race gets harder, the muscles tire, the crowds have gone, there is less visual distraction and the thrust of the incoming tide seems to have disappeared. This is when each rower has to fully exploit their inner reserves of grit, it can be a dark space, everything hurts, everything, comfort is nowhere to be found and still we are fully committed to the race. Rowers offering words of encouragement all round, morsels of comfort gratefully received by their crew mates, water and sweet breaks giving only momentary respite. We continue to overtake boats but unusually we have no gigs pushing us and no gigs within reach. We get to 18 miles rowed and we can now visualise the time and distance now needed, another mile and we begin to pick up the crowds of supporters around Richmond and once at Richmond Lock it's just over a mile to go, the river bank is packed, all boats cheered on and rounding a corner the magic words... ' Finish line in sight! ' spirits lift and a final big effort to try to overtake our final boat. Through the line and then the pain and nausea overtake the crew, slumped, knowing that everything had been given, that there was quite simply nothing left in the tank. A few moments of recovery and then a very short row to the riverside pub where the gigs assemble. It's a special moment, elation, the emotion of the race, the feeling of being absolutely drained, beer, prosecco, cameraderie, gratitude.

Our final time was 2h 39m our position, 21.6 miles rowed, 10th gig home out of 44, 49th boat out of 324. We were overtaken by only 5 boats, Senara, two dragon boats and two outrigger canoes, oh and one of the most bizarre moments - being overtaken by our Tartouffe friends from the previous evening in full (musical) flow but very much under power.

Phew! A big day on the water...