THERE was plenty for Stratford Boat Club rowers to be happy about following their efforts on the River Nene at Peterborough and at the Wycliffe Big Head.
Saturday saw Stratford’s mixed masters double scull of Heather Hayton and Thomas Doherty make the long trek across country to Peterborough and, racing in two of the three divisions, they took on the men in the men’s masters and open events for some much-needed race practice due to a lack of mixed doubles.
A sunny but extremely windy day saw the first division men’s masters double sculls race hotly-contested as seven entries were led off by Stratford. Conditions on the way to the start began to get challenging as a combination of exposed location, high winds and a strong stream made it difficult for all the small boats (singles and doubles) to steer.
Once racing finally got under way, Stratford managed, despite the blustery conditions, to settle into a good rhythm and pull away from the pursuing men’s crews.
As the race developed, it soon became apparent Stratford were in a battle with a very good quality men’s double crew which made its way through the field to close on Stratford.
Strong headwinds and rowing against a significant stream led to overall times being longer than normally expected but Stratford were pleased to finish as the third fastest crew of seven.
In Division Two, Stratford were competing in the men’s open double sculls event. However, the conditions had considerably worsened with winds reaching up to 60mph, causing the river conditions to become almost impossible.
Chaotic scenes developed as crews struggled to control their boats and manage the conditions, with the result being a delayed start to the division. Rowing conditions were so bad that even the fours struggled to steer and maintain any race speed, turning the division into a survival test!
Conditions saw the remaining Division Three suspended for all but eights racing, with the course reduced to half its planned length.
Hayton said: “We were pleased to take on the men again and come up with some scalps and have a good race in Division One, making the long trip worthwhile. Division Two proved to be a real test of character and nerve rather than racing!”
MEANWHILE, Stratford’s junior squad made their way to Wycliffe Big Head where changeable weather and gusting winds greeted the WJ17/18 squad, but even this was a welcome change to the recent weeks of fog-bound and flooded conditions of the Avon.
The Wycliffe Big Head is raced over a distance of 4,500m from Slimbridge to Frampton in Gloucestershire and 178 crews took part in the annual event.
The initial challenge was getting on to the course under a very low bridge and high water! This was the first opportunity for a newly-formed eight to test themselves against established crews from Marlow, Monmouth and Chester to name a few.
The Stratford crew of Katie Wellstead, Mili Wilcock Emily Browne, Khloe Curnock, Molly Gill-Swift, Alice Baines, Amelie Sartain and Maiya James, coxed by Hermione Hill, were unfazed by their competition and, leading from the front, they dominated the race in a time of 16:58 to bring home a gold medal.
After a brief rest, the girls took to the water again in the afternoon division, splitting into two crews. First down the course in a time of 18:45 were Browne, Wilcock, Baines and Wellstead in a four coxed by Hill.
Spurred on by their success in the morning division, the girls once again achieved gold medal status with the fastest time of the combined women’s and junior 18 coxed four events.
Finally it was the turn of Gill-Swift, Curnock, Sartain and James. This crew formed only two weeks prior to the event and came home in sixth place out of a field of 11 coxless quads – a good result given the stiff competition of more established crews.
J17/J18 coach Colin Bell said: “Given the lack of training time on the water, the results are a good lead up to their next competitive event at Worcester later this month.”
Stratford’s sister club King Edward VI School took two coxed fours to Wycliffe Big Head. They competed in men’s open fours and novice fours, winning gold in both races against some of the top rowing school opposition in the country.
Racing first in very blustery conditions was the top boat of Joe Hodson, Felix Crabtree, Adam Bayliss and Cameron Dalrymple-Baker, very ably coxed by Jamie Mitchell who beat highly-ranked crews from Shrewsbury School, Kings Worcester and Shiplake College to take home the winning pennant in just over 17 minutes.
In the second division, the novice crew of Dalrymple-Baker, Fred Allanson, Tobias Bretschneider and Sam Thornton, again very ably coxed by Mitchell, won by nearly a minute from Monmouth School.
Coach Bill Sullivan said: “Rowing at KES continues to thrive and the squad will now aim to maintain their progress heading into the West of England Championships in early March and the prestigious Schools Head, run on the Tideway on March 18.”