Devils Tails from the Riverbank 8


There’s a tiny bit more to add to the bit in the last issue about the Lithuania trip, but before I do anything about that I think we need to catch up with some Regatta news before I forget it all.


On Sunday 28th April, we took two crews down to race at Leicester Regatta. I can’t say we exactly covered ourselves in glory as both boats were knocked out in the first round: our men’s coxless quad (4x-) lost to Leicester (on their home turf) and the Ladies 4x- lost to Burton Leander (which is a shame – but no shame if you know what I mean). All I will say is, that it’s a very narrow stretch of water for racing down and the wall on the towpath side is a very solid one. I’ll leave you to work out the rest of the story for yourselves. On the plus side though, it was all good experience, great company, we bumped into one or two old friends who are now rowing with other clubs and the bacon cobs and home-made high-energy cakes on sale upstairs in the clubhouse all served to make the world look nice and rosy again. There was one bit of disgraceful behaviour which might interest you though (and no. It wasn’t me this time, before you jump to any conclusions).  This was my first experience of ‘Narrow Boat River Rage’ which isn’t something I’d have expected to happen at such a steady and measured pace. It’s a generally held perception that the essence of narrow-boating is that everything happens in a relaxed, steady and unhurried manner; hence the prevalence of boats named things like ‘Time Out’, ‘Lazy-Daze’ and the like. I don’t know what had gone wrong with this particular idiot’s day, but something had evidently put him on some sort of a ‘slow simmer’ for everybody’s entertainment. Since this stretch of the River Soar is so narrow, just wide enough for two boats to race down side-by-side, at Leicester Regatta the boats all mill around in a lagoon beyond the finish line and paddle up to the start in batches every quarter of an hour or so. The boats then turn at the top and the races are run one after the other in quick succession whilst the next batch of boats is gathering in the lagoon. If a narrow boat comes along, they join the boats milling around at the bottom and then lead the next batch up to the top when the time comes. It all worked fine until our simmering idiot came along, wouldn’t wait in the lagoon like a civil member of society, wouldn’t heed any warnings or instructions from the marshals on the bank and headed up the course tooting his little hooter at the two 14 year-old school-boys who were at that time racing side-by-side down the river towards him. I don’t know what he can have been thinking of, but the effect was even less impressive than trying to make a grand entrance through a revolving door (which I don’t think is possible). Having set on this course, he then tried to strike a dashing profile up there on the back end of his boat, one hand draped nonchalantly over his tiller, the other grasping his horn, whilst for the next 700m of his journey, a tow-path packed full of rowers, rowers’ friends, supporters, parents and sweet-hearts were all busily thinking up new, amusing and derogatory names for him and his boat. There were no collisions or sinkings, but that’s down to the alertness and capability of the youngsters whose race he scuppered. It’s certainly no testament to his character in my view. Exciting though, isn’t it? Never a dull day.


Our next foray into the world of competition was Nottingham Masters and Club Regatta at Holme Pierrepont on Sunday 12th of May. This is getting slightly difficult to report on now, because I’m starting to forget who went and what we did whilst we were there. I know the sun was shining, that we could get a good cup of coffee from the kiosk there and that neither of our crews . . . Yes. . .  It’s all coming back to me now. I think we took more or less the same crews as to Leicester, with the exception that Michelle, worrying (needlessly, as it turns out) that she might have been holding our Men’s quad back by not being a man, jumped ship and joined the ladies’ crew, leaving her seat free for her husband Jeremy to take over. She needn’t have worried because we still lost the battle, though I can’t remember by how much (perhaps conveniently). I think the rowing lake at Holme Pierrepont was built back in the 1970s and hosted the World Rowing Championships in 1976. It’s six lanes wide by 2000m long and comes complete with grand-stands, timing lights and score boards, so it’s a bit like rowing at the Olympics really, just without all the TV coverage and fame. Other than that, and also apart from the fact that our 1000m sprint started just half way along it, it’s almost exactly the same. The ladies’ coxed quad race was about 20 minutes after ours, but they were hampered by one of their seats not working right, so it was all a bit of a shame and then we all went home.


We held our own mini-regatta at Trent Lock on Saturday 1st June as the culmination of this year’s Learn-to-Row course, when all names were put into a pair of hats and competing crews were drawn out comprising a mixture of learners and experienced members (a vain attempt to even things out a bit) followed by solving the problem as to what to call the crews. We ended up with 6 crews and a rare assortment of names like ‘May-Day Holiday’ and ‘Rigger-Jigger TV’ spring to mind but I forget now. We named our crew ‘Genghis Kahnt’ but I forget quite why. Each crew had two races from up by the scout hut above the ‘Navigation’ down to the finish line at our clubhouse and the winner was the crew who won the most races. Sounds simple enough. In between our races, our Junior squad held their own series of races so we had a good morning of intense activity and shouting from the bank and went home absolutely knackered and ready for a good long hard sit down for the afternoon. The morning’s racing showed how much strength and potential this year’s Learn-to-Row course has brought in. I’m sure our racing squad captains will be very sorry indeed if we don’t manage to convert at least some of it into pots and trophies. Hats off to our Membership Secretary Philip Thompson for running such a successful course.


The following day (Sunday 2nd June) was Trentham regatta which I was telling you about two episodes ago. At Trentham, I felt that our Men’s coxless quad (4x-) could have had a genuine chance of winning it (but for a couple of blunders and the course being 200m too short for us). When we got back to the landing stage, we hopped out of our boat (Posh Pete) and our ladies hopped in for their 4x- race. They were in a very exposed lane out in the middle of the lake and had a bit of trouble with the cross- wind, coming in 3rd sadly. You may recall my yarn about our ladies 4x- that sank at Trentham Regatta two years ago, after breaking the nose off their boat by ramming into the Safety launch. Well, this was the very same (now repaired) boat, with at least half of the same crew in it. Happy memories. Shortly after our ladies’ race, our men’s coxless four (4-) came an extremely close second in theirs. Later on in the afternoon, Darren Hickman (who had stroked our men’s 4x- race in the morning) came in 3rd in his single scull (1x) race. He told me that his competition had their own very modern and stylishly personalised boats so they obviously did a lot of this sort of thing. Whilst they were waiting in the choppy waters at the top end of the course, bouncing around in the waves reflected off the end wall there, he said that one of them was being very nonchalant about sitting his boat with his blades off the water. Before you shrug your shoulders and say ‘so what?’, I suggest you have a go at doing it. We might be tempted to call it ‘posing’ but regardless of that, I think Darren reckoned there was no particular shame in losing to people like that. Our ladies’ coxed four (4+) had been moved to later in the day to avoid the need for some of them to be in two boats at the same time. Sadly, this key piece of rescheduling information hadn’t really filtered very well through the organisational strata of the event, so they and their opposition were left bobbing about in the chop up at the top of the lake whilst race after race set off before them. It must have been a bit like that ‘waiting room panic’ feeling when you’re wondering whether you should make a nuisance of yourself and ask if they actually know you’re there. Anyway, they did finally poke their noses down towards the start line and had been entirely forgotten, as it happens. Two boat-loads of stiff, weary, aching backsides were finally unleashed down the course, after having sat for so long out there in the wind and weather and our ladies came in second.  I’d gone home by that time (as supportive as ever) but I understand that the lake had become a lot more choppy as the day wore on and they had pretty gusty conditions to contend with.


All these stories about how we’ve lost races might not sound particularly impressive, but I’m convinced that improvement in our composure in the heat of battle is going to reap its reward this season. I think both of our men’s crew races at Trentham were potential wins for us, but if it ever happens, I’ll make sure you get to hear about it.

Ed Sinfield

Devil’s Elbow Rowing Club – Recreational Captain