It’s not often that rowing commentators go quiet during a race. There’s nothing they like better than a bit of mid-river drama, eagerly reporting capsizes, crabs and catastrophes with equal relish. So I consider it quite a feather in my cap to have made the commentator go completely silent during my novice doubles race at Ross Regatta this weekend.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. That was my second event of the day – the first was a masters quad, where we’d agreed to race as a younger age category to get some competition. Sensibly, we’d decided I wouldn’t steer this time; Ross is a tricky course with a bit of a bend and plenty of trees to get entangled in. Oh, and then there’s Shipwreck Beach – a dangerous little strip of shingle that by the end of the morning had lured a world champion sculler and even the host club’s own President on to its shores. Letting an idiot like me steer would be asking for trouble.
Over a mere 550m course there was no room for error so the plan was to get off the start like a rat out of a trap and… er… yeah, that was pretty much the race plan. And somehow, in both semi-final and final, we managed it, even taking the rating down a bit in the final to spare my legs for later.
Just like that, I was no longer a novice sculler (though I was still allowed to race as a novice later that day – it gets too complicated to move people up a status within the same day). I had my card stamped, collected my pot and felt pretty pleased with myself.
Until later, that is. I’d strong-armed a friend into racing with me when I’d discovered there was to be a masters novice category. As newly-minted Ds, this was, we reckoned, the best chance we’d ever get to win in a double. Our bubble burst when we discovered we were to be against an A crew from City of Bristol, with no handicap, but since I’d agreed to steer this one I reckoned our advanced age wasn’t our biggest challenge.
How right I was.
To be fair, it wasn’t all terrible. We started reasonably well and I was pretty happy with my line for the first half of the race. With 200m to go, our oppo was ahead but I wasn’t too worried; we were finally getting some run on the boat and with the staggered finish I felt we might even be able to catch them.
As we approached Shipwreck Beach I took us closer to the middle, feeling slightly smug – I’d cleverly remembered to avoid the hazard. But I overcooked it. My partner hit the lane buoy with her blade and I realised we were too far over. “Harder right”, I shouted. Alas, it was too late.
I’ve only a hazy recollection of what happened next. I heard a great shout from the bank, looked over my shoulder, saw a boat right in front of us, shouted, “Hold it up!” and… BANG! That’s when the commentator went quiet.
It turns out the Bristol girls had caught a boat-stopper of a crab and had swung round to the edge of their lane just as we headed into their path. It was basically a big, novicey mess.
We managed to disentangle ourselves with a bit of backing down and limped over the line in second place. I gather there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on the radio to figure out how to call the verdict but it came in as a win for Bristol and I couldn’t find any fault in that. By now I was more worried about our boat – I urgently needed reassurance it would be OK (it was – a new bow ball later and it was right as rain). I also needed a bit of time to lick my wounds – once again my sketchy steering had cost us a race and I felt bad for my crewmate.
But in the end it all turned out fine. My doubles partner was incredibly gracious and claimed to have enjoyed the race despite the melodrama. And a while later we bumped into the Bristol girls, still dry despite having lost their novice status. Their club mates were nowhere to be seen and nobody seemed to have any plans to dunk them in the river (a longstanding rowing tradition for ex-novices). So my shipmates decided to throw the three of us into the river together.
And you know what? It felt great. It was a fitting end to our day’s rollercoaster racing and a lovely chance to make friends at another club. The fact that Ross had managed to lay on a scorching hot day for it made it even lovelier.
The next day I picked up another pot with a win in an eight (against a rather hot and hassled crew from Ross who had kindly given us opposition, despite having to be pulled from all four corners of the regatta – much appreciated) and ended the weekend on a high.
The strange thing is I’m almost glad we had that blip in the middle. A reminder of how badly things can go wrong made the wins all the sweeter. It seems I really am an incurable drama queen.