STRATFORD Boat Club rowers shone at Saturday’s first major event of the rowing head season – the prestigious Fours Head on the Tideway in London.
Raced over the reverse Boat Race course, from Chiswick to Putney, the Fours Head featured 450 crews – including rowers from the Great Britain national squad – taking part in quads, as well as coxed and coxless fours.
Stratford put out two crews – a coxed four and a coxed junior women’s four. Conditions on the day were a mix, being relatively benign up until past Hammersmith Bridge before the strong southerly wind picked up the waves in the last third of the course.
The senior men’s crew of Mike Hourigan at stroke, Tom Coles, Finn Sprackling, Patrick Hourigan at bow, along with coxswain Amie Jones, were pitched into the Challenge Coxed Four event against 11 others.
The crew were determined to start hard and fast and make the most of the better conditions before the wind picked up the waves. Approaching the first major landmark on the course, they quickly began to pick off crews from Lea and Quintin rowing clubs and split times showed them as the second quickest crew behind Barnes.
Knowing conditions would make overtaking difficult past Hammersmith, coxswain Jones called on the crew to really push on in the 2km stretch between Barnes and Hammersmith. They slalomed past two more crews just before the approach to Hammersmith Bridge and shot the bridge alongside another crew from Lea Rowing Club.
They quickly skated past them on the outside of the Hammersmith bend and then tucked in to avoid the worst of the waves around Fulham FC and the run-in to Putney.
It was a strong, powerful row by a promising Stratford crew. Results came out quickly and showed that, not only were Stratford winners of their event, but they had also finished as the 25th quickest coxed four overall out of 137 men’s crews, including the top boats from Oxford, Cambridge and Leander.
The senior squad now move on to further head races at Evesham and Wallingford where they will be looking to build on this performance.
STRATFORD’S junior squad was represented by the formidable coxed four of Katie Wellstead, Talei Dunn, Molly Gill-Swift and Khloe Curnock who were piloted down the course with encouragement, commentary and ace steering by Mimi Hill.
This was only the second time these 16-year-old young ladies have visited and raced on the infamous Tideway course. The crew, rowing extremely well together, had overtaken crews before reaching Hammersmith and they continued in overtaking mode as they hit the rough water, arriving at Putney in a time of 23 minutes, 29 seconds.
This put them in fourth place but, after racing 6.5km, only one second separated the second, third and fourth-placed crews.
Junior coach Dr Graham Collier said: “This was another tremendous effort from these young people as they prepare to join the 700 crews who will contest Hampton Small Boats Head towards the end of the month.”
Club captain Oliver Smith said: “The performance of both crews shows clubs like Stratford can punch their weight and more at these national level events. We would like to say a big thank you to all of our club sponsors and supporters who help us to succeed.”
Stratford’s masters crew competed in the Sunday Veterans Fours Head – a first race for a new quad combination of Richard Nelson, Tim Lunel, Piers Copham and Simon Beard.
The result of fourth in a strong field of 14 crews in the Masters E category certainly bodes well for the future, as did the time which put them 34th out of the overall 280 entries.
Overtaking four crews over the course made for an enjoyable row and an added extra challenge or two for steersman Beard. With pretty ideal conditions for the Tideway, it is difficult to ask for more from a day’s racing.