FIVE senior crews from Stratford Boat Club travelled to Dartmouth in Devon to compete in the gruelling annual Head of the Dart river race.
The event is a processional time trial, this year running upstream from Dartmouth to Totnes over a distance of 15km. The race attracts entries from all over the UK and some entries from Europe.
Crews compete in a very varied range of coastal and river boats including pilot gigs, canoes and fine boats. Stratford BC crews rowed in fine boats, more suited to calm inland river conditions.
The launching of boats was from the Higher Car Ferry slipway in Dartmouth – requiring prompt and exact timing by each crew to ensure launching between the very regular ferry crossings.
Once afloat, boats travelled downstream before turning and waiting in the marshalling area in the very busy and choppy harbour for the race to start. Crews had to contend with other river craft and passenger ferries – often generating waves which breached the open-top boats. This required prompt bailing out by the crews.
Once under way, the race itself required a high level of skill in negotiating the numerous moored boats, navigation buoys, mud flats, river traffic and other competing crews.
More open sections of the course were very choppy due to the wind conditions. As the race progressed upstream, the river conditions became a little calmer as the river narrowed.
Crews then had to negotiate a number of sharp and twisting bends before finally straightening for the last 1,000m as the finish line at the Dart Totnes Amateur Rowing Club came into view.
Top performers on the day were the Stratford/Mayflower Rowing Club mixed masters crew (coxless quad) of Tom Doherty, Victoria Ward, Sian Maher and a guest Mayflower Rowing Club member – winning their category in an actual time of 53 minutes, 21 seconds.
Other Stratford crews were the men’s masters crew (coxed four) of Richard Field, Graham Cann, Dave Edwards, Richard Anderson and Jessica Cann (cox) – actual race time of 01:00:17; the Mixed Masters crew (double scull) of Phil Marshall and Gina Fusco – actual race time of 1:01:35 who got swamped before the start by a rib which went past at full speed only 20 feet away.
The whole rear deck went under the waves, the footwells were full and the water was up to the slides. Luckily the crew had packed two plastic jugs, so they started bailing and after ten minutes got rid of 80 per cent of the water but could not get the rest out.
They therefore started the race with two inches of water sloshing in the bottom, which was added to by wash from a second boat during the race, so they duly completed the course with approx 20kg of water onboard, which had to be emptied before people could lift the boat out at the finish.
Another impressive result was the women’s masters (single scull) of Christine Goodwin – actual race time of 1.06.59.
The women’s senior off-peak members of Rosie Stone, Andrea Duxbury, Rona Fitzpatrick, Clare Nash and Alfie Nash (cox) rowed in the women’s masters (coxed quad) category, competing in only their second fine boat event. Rowing without competition (time only), they recorded an actual time of 01:04:36.
Coach Alfie Nash said: “Although the event was a logistical challenge – the transportation of boats to and from the start and finish locations – it proved to be a very interesting and enjoyable challenge to all crews taking part.
“Crews stopped over and were able to appreciate fully the hospitality of both host clubs as well as their fellow competitors.”