Devils Tails from the Riverbank 6

Transatlantic Regatta Season.

I haven’t finished telling you about Julie Paillin yet (one of our two founding mothers). The last time we spoke she’d won three races in as many weeks with her friends from Derwent Rowing Club, which I’ll tell you a bit more about further down with the rest of our regatta reports, if there’s any space left. I’m just back from Trentham Regatta and I caught sight her and Derwent there just as I was leaving. The report back is that she got two wins (in a double scull and composite eight) so she has another two trophies to adorn her walls with.


I mentioned in my last piece about our club founders not being the sort to let the grass grow up between their toes. Julie’s latest project is typically ambitious and exciting and therefore worth the mention. The Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge is a 3000 mile ocean rowing race from La Gomera in the Canary Islands, west across the Atlantic to Antigua. Try typing ‘English Harbour, Antigua’ into Googlemaps and the little red marker will land you on one of a chain of islands which forms a ring round the eastern end of the Caribbean Sea. This will give you some idea of the sort of tan she’s going to have when she gets back. If you want to know more about the sort of challenge this is going to be for her and her crew, just take a quick look (or a long and lingering one) at the Talisker Challenge website ( This is serious stuff and will require a serious level of support and sponsorship, all of which she has set about to achieve in her usual purposeful manner. Her crew is listed in the entrants for the 2020 race as ‘The Transatlantic Trio’ and you’ll find her page (of similar name) on Facebook which gives you an ever-lengthening account of their venture. The second member of the trio is Amy Wood, an ex rowing pupil of Julie’s from Welbeck College. I’m not sure what the situation is with the crew’s third member at present because the initial ‘third man’ had to pull out for some reason (his wife perhaps?) but if not already solved, this issue will be ‘work in progress’ and no doubt dealt with in due course. From what I can make out, this venture is going to cost £140 000 to achieve, the boat alone accounting for £75 000 of that. I might be tempted to wonder where all the boats from the previous years’ challengers are. There may be quite a stash of them piling up in Antigua by now, just waiting for someone to fetch them back to the start, but this is just me looking for cheap Aldi bargains again, no doubt. This is what she’ll be doing in December 2020, whilst the rest of us are reaching for our pipe tobacco and carpet slippers and thinking about a nice slice of Christmas cake to wind up our day with. So, if you have a company whose name and logo you’d like to see on the world stage making its stately progress across the Atlantic next year (hopefully the right way up) Julie would love to hear from you.


Today (Sunday 2nd June) saw five Devil’s Elbow crews racing at Trentham Regatta in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The races were held on the reservoir at Trentham with three racing lanes buoyed off down the length of the 750m course. Our men’s coxless quadruple scull (4x-) was our first race of the day and is the only one I can make any informed comment on, as I happened to be in it at the time. We were in the middle of the three lanes with Liverpool Victoria Rowing Club and Warrington on either side. I think I’d have to say that our start was potentially one of the worst race starts in the history of British rowing, with the ‘GO’ coming just as our bow-man was busy adjusting for a sporadic and unpredictable side-wind. Putting pressure on a blade that isn’t square in the water is bound to have some ‘interesting’ effects in the elegance department and I’d have to say that our first stroke was a complete mess (despite all the beautifully composed, purposeful and effective executions we’d been producing in practice). The result of all this of course, was that the other two boats shot out of my field of vision as we floundered around trying to regain some semblance of poise, hoping that nobody was watching, which of course naturally they were (and enjoying every painful moment of it). Things improved quite a lot after that though. Well, they couldn’t have got much worse could they really? Other than capsizing or sinking.


Speaking of sinking, our ladies had an interesting experience a couple of years ago, at exactly the same regatta and in the same (but now repaired) boat. Having won their race by a clear margin, the organisers made them re-run it because the two losing crews were squabbling over a blade clash they’d had early on in the race. On the re-run, our ladies were again in the lead approaching the finish when, having checked her line over her shoulder, our (lady) bow-man had failed to spot the course safety (??) boat anchored just over her other shoulder. This is one thing you quickly realise when you take up our sport. We make our best and fastest progress when facing the wrong way. As far as I can think, there’s no other sport like it for not looking where you’re going. In coxed boats it’s not so bad because you at least have somebody pointing in the right direction but even that isn’t ideal since coxes are specially bred for their smallness whereas the opposite is generally true for the rest of their crew, particularly in places like East Germany. Quite a good analogy would be, if you were to make yourself a life-size cardboard cut-out of your favourite macho ‘stroke side’ pin-up, blu-tac him (or her) to the inside of your car windscreen and try to drive to ASDA navigating off the kerbs on either side. Well it’s exactly like that coxing a boat. You can see where you’re not going, but you can’t see anything of where you are actually going to be at any time in the near future.  To get back to the point, our ladies rammed the safety (???) boat and sank, having broken the nose off their boat, at which point the course safety (????) boat picked up its anchor and fled for the shore, presumably fearing that they might sink as well out of sympathy, leaving our ladies floundering around out in the middle of the reservoir with their boat sinking under them. Well, you have to laugh don’t you? Sadly, they didn’t win that race.


And neither did we, getting back (finally) to our race again. Having lost quite a bit of ground to both boats off the start, we settled into a good stride and quickly overhauled the crew from Liverpool Victoria and were ahead of them at the finish by several boat lengths. We struggled a bit with the steering in the cross-wind and had a go at rowing in the lanes on each side of us for a bit, which we all found unsettling. If our bow-steersman is finding things difficult then we all feel his pain and the whole boat is unsettled. That’s what being part of a crew is. But sitting settled and composed in our lane I think we had the means of winning that race. Warrington said we were gaining on them steadily towards the finish. Then one of us caught a massive crab and lost his blade underwater for a bit so that sort of settled our hash for us. Still, it makes more of a story for you that way doesn’t it? A straightforward ‘win from the start’ would have been terribly dull for you all. I’ve gone on about my own problems for so long now, there’s no room to tell you about anybody else’s so I’ll save that for next time, because they all deserve a mention

Ed Sinfield

Devil’s Elbow Rowing Club – Recreational Captain