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Bournemouth takes on the Tideway

By Dominic Brancaleone

On March 29, four members from Westover & Bournemouth Rowing Club joined four Canford School rowers to compete at the annual Head of the River Race on the Tideway in London.

The Head of the River is one of the biggest events in the rowing calendar, with 400 crews of eights taking part in a race from Mortlake to Putney – the 4.5 mile Oxford and Cambridge boat race course rowed in the opposite direction.

The race attracts crews from all over, with some big names in the top crews. For example, this year’s top Leander crew was made up of five world champions, two world medallists and two senior internationals (including their cox) – so it’s fair to say The Head of the River race is a pretty big deal.

So how is it that four motley coastal rowers wound up competing at this prestigious river-rowing event? Well, thanks to club coach Paul Newman and his links with Canford School, Westover were able to form a crew and train under the watchful eye of Ian Dryden. As one of the four Westover rowers initially chosen, the whole experience was eye opening from the outset.

At WBRC, we’re used to more modest facilities – a makeshift boat store positioned in-between a space between two buildings, and a shipping container for the rest of our equipment. Compare this to Canford, where they essentially have their own private stretch of river, a full boathouse, separate store for blades and purpose built pontoon and it might go some way towards explaining why we felt we were getting a peek at how the other half live.

But we were made to feel very welcome and actually we have some great facilities for a club that is essentially homeless – so we can’t really complain.

After a couple of short training sessions, the crew was starting to gel and we had our first practice race at Kingston Head on the 21st of March. As coastal rowers, we’re used to slightly slower boats that are built to withstand coastal conditions. However, Kingston taught us that we could cope with the higher rates the riverboat demanded, and we finished with a decent time that showed we could be competitive in our category at HORR.

As the big day approached, weather warnings were issued and the threat of another cancelled HORR loomed. It was definitely not what the organisers wanted, following two years of cancelled/abandoned races… the night before the event they issued a statement to say that everything was going ahead as planned. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. I’d been suffering with my chest all week and I didn’t want to let the crew down by stepping in the boat knowing I wasn’t 100%. So, I sent the only man for the job – Kieran Pulford (who I’m sure spent the previous week stabbing a voodoo doll with my face on it).

Conditions were slightly choppy on the day but the high winds didn’t quite materialise and the race began at lunchtime. The Westover & Bournemouth team, made up of Rosie Fuest (cox), Jonathan Naylor (Canford), Aryan Sheik (Canford), Michael Joscelyne (WBRC), Kieran Pulford (WBRC), Leigh Darlow (WBRC), Ali Esinduy (WBRC), Berite Gregory (Canford) and Harry Griffiths (Canford), took to the water and put in a great performance to achieve a very respectable position of 114th overall and fifth in their category.

As a club we are coastal at heart but it was nice to see what life on the river was like. And who knows, maybe next year WBRC will be able to field a full crew and enter of their own accord. Until then, we’re grateful to Canford School for the opportunities they’ve provided, then it’s back to the hard graft to get ready for our own race season starting in May.

If you’re interested in giving rowing a try, don’t miss our Learn to Row course taking place on Saturday April 25 at Hengistbury Head Outdoor Centre. Email admin@wbrc.co.uk for details.

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Editor in chief Suzi Dixon studied at Bournemouth university, went away for a while to work at The Daily Telegraph, then moved back to the sunny South coast for a quiet (er) life. Bournemouth News & Info is her website and she is assisted by the fabulous Fred From France in all things geeky and technical. Hire us to make your website, too, if you like.

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