For Trevor and Rodney this was their first time on the “Tideway”, and rather than details of times and places, we would like to offer some impressions of the day - hopefully to whet the appetites of other club members.
The Thames Tideway is the home of some of the greatest rowing races. As well as the Boat Race, head-races for 8’s; 4’s; 2x/- and singles are held at different times of the year. The Pairs Head in October saw a huge fleet of pairs and doubles race 4.5km from Chiswick Bridge to Harrods Wall – names evocative to anyone who has ever listened to a Boat Race commentary.
The first thought was “what a difference a week makes”. Last week - the bucolic charm of the River Yare in Norfolk on a lazy warm summer day, and the only Masters pair in the race. This week - the mighty, muddy Thames with a fast flowing ebb tide, cold rain to soak and chill us through before the start, and dozens of Masters pairs; including 5 entries at category F (possibly the largest accumulation of Cat F pairs since Dunkirk).
Race organisation was impeccable. Visiting competitors are hosted at a dozen or more different clubs along the river who deal with the housekeeping; leaving the race organisers to manage the race. Please note a spot of envy creeping in here - our Marathon would be so much easier if the race organisers didn’t have to spend so much time worrying about car parking!
We were hosted by the Tideway Scullers School, who were extremely helpful and responsive to queries before the race day. There was a buzz about their club, with what looked like hundreds of boats packed onto a postage stamp sized site; and very much a working clubhouse. Boating was a bit hairy by our standards – down what seemed never ending, very steeply sloping concrete steps, finishing (depending on the state of tide) either straight into the water, onto a shingle bank or onto muddy rocks. No pontoon or landing stage here – you get your feet wet pushing the boat out far enough to float it clear of the fin, and then climb in. Fortunately the river felt warm compared with the rain.
To us, two great advantages of launching at Tideway Scullers were availability of parking and rigging alongside the adjacent Dukes Meadow (another evocative name); and the fact that the club is at the start, which meant that as we were starting at the back of the fleet, we were able to slot into our marshalling position as boats went up to the final holding position before the start. This saved us an hour and a half sitting waiting in the boat (in the rain). The downside of this however was that after the race we had to row 4.5km back against the current.
As for the rowing, fortunately the force 6 winds that had been forecast for just before the start held off, and the river was quite calm. Rowing with the current was not as difficult as we had anticipated, although there is clearly much to learn about steering a good racing line on the Tideway.
The greatest thing about the day however was that as “ordinary” club rowers we were racing with the best. We can now boast that we have raced with Leo and Frazer. OK - they beat us by 3 min 25 seconds BUT WE WERE THERE AND WE WERE PART OF IT. With all the adrenalin surging through us and the current sweeping us along, we rated several strokes a minute faster than we can normally manage, and it felt GREAT.