On a wet and very windy Saturday, 9 alumnae of MECBC returned to the Cam to take on Pembroke Regatta.
Before the race, we had known that due to a small number of entries, the racing will proceed in round robin rather than knock out format — we would get 3 races, one against each other entrant for the women alumnae division, which included two crews from Pembroke crews and one from Caius.
Rowing experience post-graduation varied. Two of us still live in Cambridge and row/cox regularly. Two more are training and racing with crews in Peterborough and London. Two of us scull/row weekly in Paris and Berlin. The other three have not been in a boat from 5-18 months.
Having said that, we have all been in the 1st VIII at some point with MECBC (except Pauline, who was not eligible, rather than not capable!), and when including subbing, likely have rowed with everyone else, just not in this exact combination.
On the day of the race, nearly everyone seemed to arrive at the boathouse within 5 minutes of the agreed meeting time (on that account, probably already doing better than when we were still rowing with MECBC). After a flurry of hugs and “how are you”s, Laura, as keen as ever, suggested a warm up on the erg. We did, under the authoritative coxing from Christina, on the 8 ergs that are now squished into the men’s changing room. I tried and failed to beat Jess and Ola either side of me during the warm up, so it is good that I’m at the bow seat. Then, we fell almost into the routine of old times, getting blades out, running back upstairs for a last minute trip to the loo, taking out Owen, getting everyone (plus Haribo) in the boat, then we pushed off.
The warm up was rowing in sixes, brought down to fours as we got stuck behind a rather slow men’s crew. At the Green Dragon footbridge we took it up to all eights, a little wobbly to start with, but we found a platform in less time than expected. At the railway bridge Christina called for a practice start – the first of two before the race. It was surprisingly reasonable – we were fairly cohesive, and took the rate — in a scratch VIII — up to 32. We tried another one further down the reach, then paddled around the corner, spun in the narrow section outside the Plough, and parked to wait for the race.
While parked, we consumed what Mollie called “an astonishing amount of Haribos”, caught up with old friends, and spotted familiar faces in other crews. Soon we were told to push off, and were told we would be racing on the meadow side.
Once we have paddled around the corner, we realised that the gusts of crosswind made it incredibly difficult to row, stay parallel to the bank, or stay on the meadow side. After what seemed like forever trying to line up, the “go” caught us somewhat by surprise. From my bow seat perspective, Pembroke pulled away from us at the start, but then, we held them alongside, all the way down the reach. For me (and I suspect for others) everything started hurting sooner than it would have in the height of my MECBC career, but we knew the drill, and under the relentless rhythm set by Sally-Anne and Reana, we pushed through and clung on for every inch against Pembroke. The race stretched on as the lactate burned in our legs. Mark yelled something about New Hall as we headed towards the railway bridge. We held our heads up and pushed on. One thought, crystal clear, echoed Mark’s words: yeah, this is it, this is why I came back to row for my club.
We had the advantage of the corner through the railway bridge, though we suffered for about two strokes (and it was not much more than two strokes!) with a crab in the boat. Pembroke pushed back at Morley’s Holt to finally take the finish and the win at a length ahead of us.
We turned around to wait at Chesterton for our second race, while consuming more Haribo. Although the outcome of the first race was not what we wanted, we were nonetheless quite pleased with how we fought, trading blows with them all the way down the Long Reach. It emerged that the Pembroke alumnae crew we have just raced required all its crew members to have a sub 8 minute 2k score. We felt even better about ourselves.
It got wetter and windier, and finally we were told to go up for our second race. On the row up it was clear that the gusts across the Reach had become even stronger, though we managed to keep our practise starts tidy. Another wait at the top of the Reach, where we found out that we are racing the Pembroke 2nd alumnae VIII, and that due to the worsening conditions, this would be our last race. We were determined to give it our all, while somewhat relieved that we would not have to wait around for another race.
As we came around Ditton corner, Christina warned us about the upcoming wall of wind, which we ploughed through to make it to the start line. This time we were on the towpath side. Again, lining up seemed to take forever, and again, the start took us by surprise (Christina later told us that we started one stroke after Pembroke). But this time, we were more evenly matched. We pulled away from Pembroke at the start, and worked at extending the advantage. However, we were still racing against an experienced Pembroke crew, who held on to us and did not fade away. We tussled again all the way down the Reach, and at the Railway Bridge, they launched a powerful surge that seemed to close the lead we had on them. We stayed together, dug deep, and fought back. Pembroke tried to steer for best advantage towards the finish, leading to a blade clash at Morley’s Holt — which we both rowed through. A few push for tens later, we made it to the finish — just a canvas ahead of Pembroke, but a win nonetheless. We were happy with the outcome, and the race, and even happier that we can now go back to the warm and dry boathouse!
We had a confident paddle back, then moved on to the Fort St. George for lunch. Reana complimented us for being “super easy to organise”. Well, thanks are indeed due: to Reana for putting this crew together, and to MECBC for letting us use the equipment, and moreover, for hosting yet another lovely Neptunes Dinner. Most importantly of all, a big thank you to MECBC for teaching many of us to row, cox, and coach, for forging friendships and opening up opportunities to connect with our local rowing clubs, wherever we end up. We hope to be back again in 2018!
Pembroke Regatta 2016
MECBC “Oars of Phwoar” crew
cox: Christina Larkin
S: Sally-Anne Bennett
7: Reana Maier
6: Laura Desert
5: Jess Manning
4: Pauline Pilote
3: Morwenna Jones
2: Ola Janusz
B: Wing Ying Chow
Also see Mollie’s write up of the race and dinner (with more photos) here! http://ohsomo.com/2016/02/07/oars-of-phwoar-neptunes-dinner-2016/