Newnham Short Course – 1st February 2014

W1 – 6th of 20 first women’s boats – 10:29

Thankfully by the time of the race W1 was back to its full crew with a full recovery from last week’s unfortunate ceilidh injury. Undeterred by last week’s Winter Head2Head results, we were ready to set the record straight. But if we though last week’s steam was tough, little could prepare us for what the Cam had in store for us this time. Parking to marshal was challenging enough as we were met by a myriad of boats all at the mercy of the Cam’s unrelenting stream. Indeed after what seemed like an eternity of backing it down and some clever maneuvering by Phil we were finally parked and in prime position to watch the ensuing carnage reminiscent of bumps. The next forty minutes consisted of frantic cries of “HOLD IT UP” and near-miss decapitations as coxes struggled to control their boats against the stream. When we got down to the lock and were lining up to start we knew we were up against some of the worst conditions we would ever face. In spite of this we got off to a clean start and settled into a comfortable rhythm quickly, picking up speed with each stroke. Gaining considerably on the Pembroke W1 crew in front of us, we closed the gap to a length and a half. But as we hit the reach and were fully exposed to the elements, an unfortunate but elegant crab allowed the crew to widen the gap. Nevertheless a crafty wind and we were back up to full speed, ploughing down to the finish line with some interesting pain noises erupting from the bows. All in all a tough but tidy race gaining us a respectable 6th in our division.

W2 – Scratched at the start

A TRAGEDY IN 6 ACTS

ACT 1: THE FLOOD

On the morning of the second of February, shortly after midday, the noble women and (quite frankly heroic) cox of King’s W2 sallied forth across Midsummer Common to assemble at the boathouse. On arrival, it was clear the waters had risen; a submerged bank, the edge marked by one solitary Churchill oar lent an air of mystery to the occasion. On walking the boat out, clad in the finest of mismatched wellies, this air of mystery was quickly overridden by a general frustration with the cold, the wet, and the fact that Churchill and Selwyn were very much in the way.

ACT 2: SURVEYING THE FLOW

This in turn paled into insignificance, when, on spying a Caius boat that were apparently gunning it downriver without even moving their blades, we realised just how shitting fast the water was moving. Our cox turned pale, his face a mask of pain and anguish as he directed us toward the river; the edge; our fate.

ACT 3: PUSHING OUT, ASSEMBLING TO MARSHAL

After literal minutes of intense struggle, the boat and crew were afloat, belatedly pushing out, out into the current. Despite his best efforts (and a fairly terrible rendition of Nicki Minaj’s ‘Starships’) our cox could not lift the creeping feeling of impending doom from the boat as the current buffeted us downriver, boats spannering to our left and right.

Once parked, just past the traffic lights (a major feat in itself given the speed of the river – the girl who pulled us in was almost lost forever) we were to appreciate in full some of the interesting steering as the boats around us danced and span in the wind. Darwin’s Firestarter – even on a good day, one of the most reliably sideways boats on the river – was particularly impressive, though there’s a FAT men’s boat that also deserves honourable mention.

ACT 4: THE RESCUE OF JESUS

In our banked state, we were called upon to rescue a stray Jesus W3 – a scratch crew, lost and helpless in the middle of the river, surrounded on all sides by the stern faces of unsympathetic crews and heartless coxes. Pulling their oars toward ours, we allowed them to parallel-park upon us – a sweet and friendly boat, it could be said that their presence was all that kept us alive in that dreary, 5-hour (20-minute) wait for out division to start.

ACT 5: THE END OF THE RACE

Our division, however, was never to begin. Pale, weak and broken, a marshal came to us in our darkest hour with the news that, due to the inclement (frankly, apocalyptic) weather conditions; today was not a day to race. With barely disguised elation, we span. We span like we’d never span before, our coxes shouts of ‘Back it down, girls’ ringing in our ears, and as we inched upriver, against the push of the current, there was the sense of a weight lifting, birds singing, and a ray of sunshine breaking the blackened clouds.

M3 – 5th of 9 in the Mays Lower Divsion

Our adventure begun well before the race started, with high waters obscuring the bank of the river, while a valiant M3 struggled to take out the boat. We continued with the unorthodox pushing off method of nearly knocking over the coach and spinning twice before setting off down the river, believing it would give us more momentum for the warm up. This was certainly true as we rowed so fast that we ended up spinning immediately before the weir, but after our earlier practice this was no challenge. The display of fearlessness was sure to strike terror in the other crews’ hearts. Over the time taken to pull into the bank we became experts on backing down and our cox an expert on manoeuvring though labyrinths of boats.

On our rolling start, we wound up slightly below the target racing rate, but our cox was quick to call lifts and keep morale up, so we pushed hard against the powerful currents. However, the fact that it was our first race together quickly showed, as we struggled to keep rhythm and technique up and were rewarded with one and a half crabs before the last meant  the whole of bow side had to stop rowing and we needed to re-set the boat.

None of us let this mishap get to us, though, and now the true grit and determination of our crew shone through,  the new rate we set barely dropping upon hitting the reach, where the wind buffeted our blades and the waves rocked our boat. Our cox, Roxanna, at some point bit her tongue and was screaming at us with a bloody mouth, giving us all the motivation we needed to keep up the pace through this period as we used the energy we gained from the rest, and we ended up finishing on a much stronger note than we started. And despite our accidents we still didn’t come last, so the other crews must have been really bad.

M4 – Scratched at the start

After an ‘interesting’ row down with a scratch crew averaging out somewhere around M2.34, King’s M4 was becoming concerned about the increasingly poor weather conditions. After some playful banter with the Newnham marshals, friends from passing crews in the previous division began to row past, all advising us not to race. Some W3 crews even managed the elusive ‘rowing treadmill’ after getting stuck battling against the wind and stream. At this point, we decided it would be unwise to proceed. Next came the daunting task of spinning in the stream. However, our genius of a strokeman (Mark), instead suggested that we just remove the boat, walk it around on the bank, and pop it back in. Enthused by his ingenuity, we proceeded to show off our boat maneuvering skills to all around. Then we rowed home. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon…