Masters win medals at Henley

Old Gits Win Shiny Medals

In 2010, after having a nice couple of days out at Henley Masters (in which we were beaten by a bunch of former Olympians) a plan was formed. Next year we would come back. We would enter a younger event (when all the Olympians would still be busy being Olympians). We would practice.

 

 And so a bunch of able men shrugged off their slippers and put down their pipes and trained (please imagine the montage, the river froze over, some people went running, some people injured themselves at weights. Gareth cycled up a mountain. Tim rowed with CUW. Guy drank tea). There were victories along the way, there were injuries, and we rowed with Gripper.

The day dawned on which we would see if all the training had paid off. Our opposition was to be Champs, which raised the stakes somewhat (could we return to Cambridge if we lost?). We knew we were faster over the Cambridge Head course. Unfortunately the Masters Henley course is only 1km. And we (well everyone apart from Dave) were younger so Champs would have a 2 second head start. Champs were also the British Masters B National Champions. Nevertheless we were raring to go. So we meet at City to fill the two cars. And promptly find that Barney is missing.

Eventually we get to Henley, with all 9 crew members. And it is then that we notice that circumstances have conspired to make our task even harder. There is a cross wind, and it is pushing the towpath side crew into the booms. In fact...no one is winning on that side. Unless they have a massive head start. Great.

We have a good warm up, playing chicken with some cruisers who for some reason are ignoring the navigation rules. Then we wait. As do Champs. And we wait, and we wait, and Guy's lycra fades even more in the sunshine. Eventually the Umpire manages to rock up. Unlike at HRR the start is at the upstream end of the Island, so is not that sheltered from the cross wind.

The Umpire tells us "Champion of the Thames you will start on my first go, Cambridge City you will go on my second. There is a 2 second head start. I shall call it "attention, go, 1, 2- sorry I mean attention, go, 1, go. Is that clear?" (Guy is admittedly looking a bit confused, but we have practiced this. It will be fine). I get the bows to pass blades to other people so we have at least a chance to go off without hitting the booms.

"Attention. Go. 1. Attention. Oh S***, Sorry, Go"

We are off. Unfortunately Champs now have a bigger head start than they are meant to, and are a length and a bit ahead. Dave and Guy wind it to 45 (hello! where did that come from!), we stride to 42, I call a second stride, and we settle at 41.

The start is good. We begin to close on Champs, the higher stroke rate combined with the grunt of Tim, Gareth, Stephen and James allowing us to slowly grind down their lead. The wind takes us, and it takes Champs too, and both crews are blown towards the booms on the tow path side.

I'm calling the seats as we take them, and starting with Barney the boys sit up as they come alongside the Champs men. Meanwhile I am praying I can keep us out of the booms- one gust of wind takes us towards them (stroke side remain calm), another takes us quite a way over (thankfully in a gap between the booms) and we are at Barn Bar, 500m gone and half a length down (all I can think is "keep it out of the booms, keep it out of the booms, booms, help!, waaaaa! help"- I hope I didn't call this). Thankfully middle four are laying down the power regardless, while bow pair are keeping the boat level in the tricky conditions (despite Ben's blade scraping along the booms) allowing Dave and Guy to drive it on.

The wind quietens and we now begin to move- hitting a stronger rhythm at 39 though it is still more about how much we want it than about how well we can row. Our technique is right on the edge. We are taking seats. But we are running out of river. Finally it happens- I am level with their cox. I call it, the boys loosen up and suddenly we are rowing better.

750m and we start to move for home. The boys dig deep, and we hit a strong connected patch of rowing where the boat begins to move well. But Champs are digging deep as well. Every move we make they match, every seat we take they take back, and we dance down the course exchanging the lead from bow ball to bow ball.

Finally we get the lead and hold it, and it is the last 10 strokes- we push on trying to maintain the advantage.

Neither crew hears the beep in the wind. We continue racing past the finish.

My heart thinks we've done it. But my head wants to be sure. Everyone else in the crew is thinking the same.

People on the bank tell us we have won (again, no chance to hear the announcement with the wind) and we pull into to the winners pontoon to collect our medals. We have done it! We have won at Henley Masters. And we have beaten the British Champions to do it (who fought valiantly the entire way).

Only one thing remains to be done. To post a picture on facebook to annoy Jack.

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