STRATFORD Boat Club’s masters squad turned in an impressive performance at Sunday’s penultimate race of their head calendar – the Vesta Veterans International Eights Head of the River Race – on the famous Thames Tideway in London.
Held on a flood tide the week before and on the same course as The Boat Race, the event attracted a full field of 231 crews of national and international stature from as far afield as the United States, making for a spectacular sight on a sunny if blustery day.
The event had been in doubt due to heavy winds and tides which resulted in the Head of the River Race for seniors being cancelled the day before and also caused disruption to the Schools Head event earlier in the week.
Organisers Vesta Rowing Club were provided with blustery but rowable conditions which, although resulting in a shortened course of 4km, meant racing could commence on time and to plan.
Stratford’s masters, racing in their composite eight with Bridgnorth Rowing Club, were up against a strong field, many of whom they had raced the previous week at the North of England Head in which they narrowly beat Grosvenor, York and Agecroft, all of whom were out for revenge.
Starting in 67th place behind two Grosvenor crews, Stratford rowers Simon Beard, Tim Lunel, Richard Nelson, Tom Doherty and cox Becky Stokes, joined by Bridgnorth colleagues Paul Wallace, Stuart Round, Rob Graham and Alan Champion in their Masters D age category event, powered off the start at a lively 34 strokes per minute.
It was not long before their high tempo closed down one of the Grosvenor crews, who made it very difficult for Stratford/Bridgnorth to pass, forcing the crew out of the stream on the wide bend at Chiswick.
Finally, after a number of strong pushes, Stratford/Bridgnorth moved clear but having lost a significant amount of time in the process. This allowed a very strong Marlow crew, themselves being followed closely by a powerful Dutch crew, to close and challenge for the place.
The Stratford/Bridgnorth crew, ably stroked by Wallace, were not going to give their position up without a fight and maintained a strong rhythm at 34 strokes per minute up to and past Barnes Bridge, putting clear water between them and Marlow in tricky conditions.
A final push saw them maintain their advantage to beat Marlow in under three seconds in the final moments.
Despite the tricky conditions, the crew were able to finish 35th overall out of 231 entries and ninth of 18 in their D event in a time of 14mins, 28secs, claiming many high quality scalps including Lea, Molesey, Thames, Worcester, Reading, Thames Tradesmen and Marlow.
Crew member Beard said: “This was a solid row in very difficult conditions against very high quality opposition and we can all be very pleased to finish in the top fifteen percent of entries and with our overall performance.”