Vets Fours Head of the River Race Report

For masters rowers there are a few landmark events in the season where crews get to test themselves against the best the country has to offer. Last weekend’s Veteran Fours Head (4th November) is one such event and sets an important marker for the season ahead.

Masters events might draw fewer consistently quality entries and garner less attention than senior events, but at the top end competition is fierce. Many of the fastest crews feature rowers who earned representational honours in their day.

This year, crews raced on the ebb tide from the University Stone, Mortlake to Ranelagh Sailing Club, Putney. At around 6,500m, the course is 300m shorter than the normal course due to works at the usual finish point. A total of 256 crews entered including the following Star Club crews: Masters F4+, Masters E4+, Masters D4+, Masters D4x and Masters B4x (composite).

Star crews performed exceptionally well, cementing the club’s reputation as a force to be reckoned with in masters’ rowing. Wins were secured in F4+, E4+ and B4x with a third place in D4+ and 6th place in D4x.

Star Masters squad has high hopes for the season ahead and is targeting gold at British Masters, Henley Masters and World Masters in Budapest in 2019. The squad couldn’t have had a much better start. The road to Budapest is long, but that trip in now well underway.

Here’s how the races went down…

Masters F Coxed Fours (average age range 60-65)

Colin Hunt reports: “Luckily we were blessed with good conditions which suited our Wintec 4 as it does sit low in the water and we would struggle in rough conditions. Charlotte our cox, (David Taylor’s daughter) was a big asset on the day, with a lot of tideway experience. She gave us some great technical calls during our nice low rate paddle to the start keeping long and relaxed. We were nicely warmed up when we arrived at the marshalling point.

“Our main threat was Abingdon who we had beaten at this event last year, but by only 0.6 sec. We knew they would be out for revenge! We were starting directly in front of them, which was good, because we could react to their race plan. They would either hang back and try and stay in clear water or attack from the off and try and intimidate us. They chose the latter! They came to within about 2-3 lengths when the starter called go. The race was on.

“We decided beforehand not to let their tactics dictate ours. We had a good clean build over 10 strokes and hit our race pace rhythm at rate 33. It felt smooth, long and relaxed. We have been working on lower rate pieces, but with more work around the pin and more effective length. This was paying off. We had more time to breath on the recovery and be ready for that next leg drive.

“They also went off at good pace and probably made up a length on us. But we were moving well. We kept our length and stayed relaxed. We were ready for them. We started pulling away. We took back the length they gained and probably a bit more.

“Barnes to Hammersmith seemed to go really quickly. It could still go either way. Abingdon were hanging on to us. We knew Hammersmith was going to be choppy, it always is when the wind is in the opposite direction to the stream, but we coped well with it and didn’t lose too much boat speed. It was about this point that we caught the younger ‘E’ 4+ tailenders. We held back at the start to try and avoid having to overtake them, but we couldn’t avoid it.

“It was at this stage that we dug in. We were determined not to lose our technique in the rough water. It paid off. We pulled another length or so away from Abingdon. They seemed to be running out of steam. This gave us extra momentum to push on. We had one last crew to catch before the finish…Warwick ‘E’ 4. We were determined to overhaul them before the finish, but were still conscious of the fact that Abingdon were still close enough to push on and try and overhaul US!

“The plan was to do an ‘organic’ build at Fulham football ground, giving us about a 500m run in to the finish. We were tired. I must admit I did look round once or twice willing the familiar site of the football ground to appear. When finally it did, I knew we had beaten Abingdon. We drove on. We were coming up on Warwick. We kept the boat speed going. We overlapped them and finally just drew past them on the finish line. Exhausted but elated!

“We appreciate all the help that Ian Taylor has given us in coaching and boat rigging. And all the support from different club members on the day.”

Masters E Coxed Fours (average age range 55-60)

David Sogan reports: “The E4+ consisted of David Sogan, Kevan Armstrong, David Gowing, Dom Hawes and Cox Sam Darcy, a Star Junior who bravely stepped in at the last minute.

“We had very little preparation for the Vet Fours Head, first getting together just a week before. We were also using a new boat (Dubai Flyer) and for three of our four practice outings we were still making adjustments to the height and pitch of the riggers. We only got to do a couple of 500m pieces at full rate before the race.

“Conditions on the day were reasonably good for Tideway with a mild head to cross-wind. We got off to a good start, spinning up to 37 and then settling at 31½. We got into a strong sustainable rhythm and before we reached Barnes Bridge, we overtook Marlow (with Sam very deftly taking them on the inside of the bend) and then Reading just before the bridge.

“We maintained the same rate up to Hammersmith Bridge putting more distance between us and the crews behind and gradually catching up with more crews in front.

 

“The headwind hit us after Hammersmith with the water getting quite choppy. We had to drop the rate a little and lost a bit of composure but still pushed on. We overtook the Xpress E4 by Harrods Depository and then the Bedford D4 by Fulham Football ground.

“We raised the rate back up for a final push from the yellow buoy and put in a strong finish. We knew that our main competition would come from last year’s winners, Monmouth, who started five places in front of us. When the times came out we were surprised to see we had beaten them into second place by over 27 seconds.

“Sam Darcy, who was coxing on the Tideway for the first time kept an extremely cool head, giving us great calls and steering exceptionally well, especially when overtaking other crews.”

Masters D Coxed Fours (average age range 50-55)

Pete Isaacson reports: “The Masters D4+ is a new combination put together a few weeks ago, so outings prior to racing were limited to five times. The combination of Dave Rainbow, Ivan Higgins, Pete Isaacson and Tim Isaacson coxed by the very lovely Martine brought together a blend of experience and determination.

“For Tim and Pete this was our second race in 25 years, the first being Bedford Head a few weeks previously. Talk about a shock to the system, 21 minutes 16 seconds of race rowing.

“For David and Ivan racing has certainly been more commonplace. So, the question was would Tim and Pete and their lack of boat fitness be able to support the stern pair of Ivan and David throughout the duration? I guess you never really know the answer to that question until you are in the situation…

“During training we demonstrated a determination to make the very best of the opportunity. We found power in abundance, but a solid platform from which to work was at times a challenge.

“We were scheduled to go off behind London Rowing Club, previous winners who had just delivered success at the Head Of The Charles. We knew that we had a great opportunity to follow this crew that would undoubtedly be fast.

“We set off with lots of adrenaline at 35 and settled at 33. David instinctively realised that at this pace, we’d gone off a little fast and maintaining that level for a new crew would be difficult, so a further stride saw us settle at 29 / 30 strokes per minute. We managed to maintain this for the bulk of the course other than Hammersmith where we encountered some head wind and rougher water. That said, we built solidly past Fulham and finished strong.

“Our thanks to Martine for coxing and to Kev for assisting with the rigging when we realised that a little knowledge is dangerous. There are just some things that you should leave alone. We are looking forward to racing again at Star Head in a few weeks time…”

Martine Kushner added: “From the cox’s perspective, the first few strokes are indicative of the row as a whole and the first few strokes were very convincing indeed followed by a solid first kilometre and an even better second as the crew warmed up. As a crew we’d agreed that race would be won or lost between Barnes and Chiswick Eyot (the boring bit) and that focus was key. It paid off.

“It was always going to be a difficult race and London made it clear that they owned this particular piece of water and with some justification. But that’s bedside the point. From the cockpit of the boat, the ratio felt solid throughout, balance was consistent even when tired and in choppy water, length was maintained and the catch remained pretty vicious and aggressive. The basics are well rooted. The crew came 3rd in a highly competitive category, irritatingly only a few seconds behind the 2nd crew, Kingston (also on home water) and beating all the other crews out of sight.

“This crew is one to fear as it currently stands and has a terrifying reservoir of potential. A few more weeks and London will have a run for its money.”

Masters D Quadruple Sculls (average age range 50-55)

Lester Waugh reports: “The D4 quad stroked by Lisa Boggis and crewed by Phil Cook, Lester Waugh with Steve Sangster at bow made a good start in the favourable conditions.

“With pushes at Chiswick bridge and the Chiswick Pier we were holding following crews well and had taken a crew from London RC. By Hammersmith bridge we were joined by crew 42 from Ardingly whom we held for much of the final third of the race, finishing just behind them and taking 6th position in Class in a time of 20:43.”

Masters B Quadruple Sculls 

Chris Callow writes: “A composite quad with Star Club sculler Chris Callow on board won the Mas.B 4x event at last weekend’s Vets Fours Head, also finishing 2nd overall out of 250 crews behind a Mas.A 4x from Team Keane. Chris was sculling with Ian Palmer (Peterborough City), Dave Smith (Leicester RC) and Alex Miller (Quintin and also ex-Star Club member) at their 2nd competitive outing of the season.

“The previous weekend the crew had competed at Nottingham Autumn Head finishing 2nd in Open 4x’s 0.9 seconds behind the winners. On a near-perfect Tideway the crew enjoyed a solid performance executing the race plan but came away disappointment not to have won the event overall.”

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