Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island you will, I’m sure, be aware that much of the country has been under water recently. Sadly this included my rowing club, for the second time this year. So far, so normal; we flood fairly frequently and have a good protocol in place both before and afterwards. We’re well accustomed to shifting ergs out of the gym and boats out of the compound, not to mention scrubbing out the gym and loos afterwards. Although our hearts sink when the flood warning comes through, it’s never cause for alarm.
This year, though, has been rather different. The waters rose far higher than ever before – well, at least higher than ever recorded, though the Great Flood of 1607 might, admittedly, have given this one a run for its money.
More significantly, it rose way higher than predicted, which meant that by the time we realised quite what we were dealing with it was too late.
We watched with grim fascination as the waters rose…
I was away at the time so could only observe impotently from afar. We knew that the boats in the outside compound would be at risk. Some public-spirited members of the club did heroic work shifting what boats they could, and releasing others to float, attached just by a bungee, so they didn’t get crushed against the racks above, but before long access became impossible.
News of my precious single, Girl on the River, which I haven’t even managed to get out on the water since her naming ceremony, was contradictory. I heard one report that she’d been moved into the boat house, but someone else told me that she’d been released to float (sensibly, but worryingly contrary to the terms of my insurance policy). But all we could do was wait and watch.
When finally the waters receded, the scene was a sorry sight. Boats lay in pieces, rent in two by the powerful water. Indoors, the picture was equally devastating. The electric sockets, already carefully sited at ceiling height instead of low down, had all been flooded, the loos had sat under several feet of water (don’t even think about this) and everything was coated in a thick layer of unpleasant, stinky silt.
It was important, of course, to maintain perspective. Our clubroom upstairs had escaped the flooding – just. The damage wasn’t as severe as that suffered by other clubs on the Wye and the Severn. And all of this was as nothing compared with the traumas suffered by the mostly elderly people living in the riverside houses on the opposite bank, whose homes had been filled to the brim with river water.
It also helps that disasters like this bring out the best in people. We had generous offers of help to clean up from Llandaff and City of Bristol rowing clubs and good wishes from many more. In town, when I visited the flood relief HQ in a local church to deliver some wellies and coats I no longer needed (much sought after by people clearing up their homes, as you can imagine), I found a superbly-organised operation stuffed to the gunwales with items donated by people desperate to do their bit to help.
As for Girl on the River, I discovered her safe and well in the boat house, to my immense relief. I can’t wait to take her out on the river again when the river subsides.
The clean-up is now in full swing. We’ve hosed, swept, scrubbed, swabbed and disinfected, hour upon hour.
My bath at home has been turned into a soaking station for boat shoes (soaking them in Halo sports wash – a top tip courtesy of none other than Sir Matthew Pinsent – is a brilliant way to get rid of that unpleasant flood odour) and anyone walking past my house is probably a little startled to find a laundry rack currently festooned with shoes outside my front door.
Some boats can be mended – even some of those which looked truly beyond help (which put me in mind of Homer Simpsons, “It’s just a little dirty; it’s still good, it’s still good…”)
Others, inevitably, will have to be written off.
For those of you asking about insurance, our boats are all insured but the building is not – getting flood insurance for a building that floods so regularly is far too costly to be worth it. Sadly Sport Wales has refused our request for help, so our Treasurer and Chair are spending many unpaid hours, cap in hand, in the queue for various grants, but it looks like we’ll be doing a lot of belt-tightening this year.
Now all we can do is pray for better weather. It felt like no coincidence that my article about greener rowing clubs came out in the week that so many of the clubs featured were dealing with the aftermath of catastrophic flooding. My next blog post, you won’t be surprised to learn, is going to be about climate change.
Till then, stay dry,