STRATFORD Boat Club was successfully represented at this year’s Vesta International Eights Head of the River on Sunday.
The race, which is the premier veterans’ rowing event of the year, is held over the championship course which is better known as the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race course in central London on the Thames.
On a clear but blustery day, around 250 crews set off from Mortlake for the 6.8km timed race down to Putney at ten second intervals, making for some exciting racing over the whole length of the course.
Stratford provided the majority share of a composite crew with fellow Midlands clubs from Warwick Boat Club and Bridgnorth Rowing Club. The crew, stroked by Paul Wallis from Bridgnorth, comprised Tom Doherty (Stratford) at 7, Richard Nelson (Stratford) at 6, Rob Graham (Bridgnorth) at 5, Tim Grimsdale (Bridgnorth) at 4, Gary Clay (Stratford) at 3, Jon Martin (Warwick) at 2 and Simon Beard (Stratford) at bow, with Sarah Graham (Bridgnorth) at cox.
The crew, racing in the Masters E age category section (55 to 60 years), were up against formidable competition with no less than 34 competitors in their age group.
The crew, on the back of a much-improved showing at the North of England Head at Chester the week before, got off to a fast start and took the rating up to 34 strokes per minute under Chiswick Bridge as they crossed the start with Bewdley and an international Danish crew starting close behind.
A solid rating push off the start saw the crew opening a significant gap on the two immediate crews behind as they approached Barnes Bridge. Tricky winds saw the Tideway live up to its reputation as a tough place to row with some large waves leaving most of the crew and the cox soaked.
However, undeterred, the crew settled into a good rhythm, maintaining 32 strokes per minute for the whole of the remainder of the 6.8km course. This paid dividends as they proceeded to catch a Broxbourne eight by Chiswick Eyot which led to some lively advice on the merits of considerate steering being exchanged between the crews!
With over half the race completed and the crew going well, a big push saw the crew clear Hammersmith Bridge and its legendary rough water and they proceeded to catch a number of crews as the final few kilometres beckoned.
This led to some exciting racing as the Stratford composite crew closed past Fulham FC with no less than four crews all line abreast across the river.
Holding their own and with some excellent coxing from Sarah Graham, the crew pushed between Putney Town, Ardingley, Grosvenor and Bradford-on-Avon clubs to inch over the finish line in front, providing good excitement for the crowds of spectators.
Hard racing over the whole course in blustery conditions saw the crew record a time of 22 minutes, 7 seconds, finishing 13th out of 35 crews in their Masters E event and 107 seconds behind Moseley – the fastest crew of the day and overall 63rd out of 245 crews which finished the event.
Tom Doherty, Stratford’s masters vice-captain, said: “This was a crew put together in mid-January which has been limited to one training session a week.
“The crew has shown consistent improvement over the weeks from a poor race at Nottingham to record a very good result with our best row to date in tricky conditions on the Thames, something of which we can be all proud.”