GRR – we wuz robbed

If its mid September , it must be time for the Great River Race , that wonderful , eccentric festival of traditional rowing on the tidal Thames  that takes the form of a pursuit  race  from The Isle of Dogs to Richmond.  This year Ben and I teamed up , rowing Kingfisher  our 15 foot skiff , with two young sailors from Hamble  as our mandatory cox and passenger.

From Great River Race 2011



Some folk consider this as a bit of a lark and are happy just to finish , but perhaps 25% the fleet of 350 boats  are serious racers . No guesses as to  which party we belonged to then , although with oarsmen over 40 described as “veterans” , Ben would have his hands full making up for his greybeard father over 22 miles and 3 hours of rowing.

The good news is that a strong flood makes it in effect a 15 mile race , whereas the bad news was that strong headwinds  with gusts up to 25 knots were forecast , and anyone who has ever rowed in such conditions  will know the extra effort that is required to maintain headway , let alone race.  We were given a fairly good handicap of + 12 minutes , with some of the faster boats starting up to 30 mts behind us , but this meant that if we were to win we would be out on our own ahead of the fleet and rowing against the clock for the whole race.

And this is precisely what happened.  By Tower bridge we  had made up the time on the early starters , possibly because the wind against tide created a rough ride that saw our crew pumping and bailing fit to bust to keep us afloat  , whereas others were looking distinctly waterlogged. Then the heavens opened and squall after hail ridden squall swept the river as we pulled along , completely on our own save the accompanying rib.

As Richmond lock hove in sight (2.5 miles to go) the rib  assured us we were 500m clear of the next boat , but were as flabbergasted as us to find that far from having its gates open for traffic , the lock was shut , forcing us to a standstill.

After an age the gates started to open , but not before a Celtic Longboat and two dragon boats had come racing round the bend to join us , and once we were eventually allowed through they sped off into the distance. Eventually we crossed the line in 9th place , but if the 5 or more minutes we were forced to wait are taken account of – our time would put us at least  in the first 3 , and possiblymake us the winner.

The jury is still deliberating a week later , and if we were upset at the time , sanity has now prevailed (” its only a friggin boat race !”) and I suppose we will  just have to train harder for next year and see if we can make it third time lucky!

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