Report by: Chloe Huttner
On 21st-24th September, 14 male and female rowers set out on a 185km journey along the Thames from Jesus College Boathouse, Oxford all the way to Thames Rowing Club, Putney. We aimed to raise funds to contribute towards coaching costs, and of course, to have some fun along the way.
Day 1 was perhaps the trickiest day of all. We all arrived in drizzling rain, piled bags into the support vehicle and prepared for the 48km stretch. We passed through the first few locks without any hitches, apart from some slightly swervy steering and a realization that our technique had got a bit rusty over the summer. Ed Owen, the van driver, would pop up along the way-sitting on a bench at Abingdon, or camouflaged within the trees on the bank. Our first major mishap involved a badly pitched rigger and a disastrous attempt to fix it. With the top bolt in the water and Tim, our cox, feeling appropriately guilty about dropping it, the eight had to row in sixes until we reached a marina with a spare. Lunch was very rushed; it was a fight against the rain getting to the sandwiches before we did. But by the afternoon the sun emerged and we
rowed along some beautiful stretches of river. This section was very remote, which meant loo stops posed a problem. The men might boast about their ergs, but they couldn’t say the same about their bladders. We did pass a few memorable stretches-heads turned as we upped the rate past OUBC boathouse, and ‘Clifton’ lock served as a sad reminder of a very unsuccessful kit order. Arriving at Pangbourne College Boathouse was an enormous relief-the boatman was there to give us a warm welcome and let us dump soggy clothes in a drying room. Attempts to cook camping-style on hobs failed and we all trekked to the nearest pub, for a cosy evening followed by broken sleep on the hard wooden boathouse floor.
Day 2: Day dawned, the rain started up, and we set off again. We had to say goodbye to one rower from the day before-a rower for the Tabs-to back injury, but a new sub stepped up to the challenge. We had some calm focused rowing in the four,
though sing alongs provided motivation as much as serious calls-especially a rendition of the ‘Sun will come out tomorrow’ from our secretly talented cox. Meanwhile the cox in the eight enjoyed commenting about the good food at every pub, and wondered why everyone kept asking about the lunch stop. This day however, was more to schedule-the itinerary proved largely accurate-much to our surprise. As we approached the Henley stretch of the river we admired some very grand houses-bordering-on-mansions, that fringed the river. Rowing the Henley course was pretty exciting for all involved,
but stopping at Leander Boat Club topped the list for highlight of the day. Feeling like drowned rats, we entered a pink carpeted heaven, with heated toilets and photos of many rowing idols. After the lunch stop, we carried on slogging away.
Backs were beginning to ache and blisters beginning to sting, but an element of competition crept up on us as the four and eight would race to the next lock. Whilst some people enjoyed operating the locks, it also involved trick maneuvering onto pontoons and the disadvantage when setting off again.
By the last stretch, we powered the last 3km out at rate 24, apparently going too fast for one set of parents to spot us, and giving us a weird sense of glory on arrival at Marlow Boathouse. Once the boats were away we had the luxury of warm showers and a discounted pizza express meal, plus drinks in the boathouse bar afterwards. We slept on mats in the fancy boathouse gym, but not before a few of us tried the ergs out whilst in their sleeping bags, because extra rowing is always welcome…
Day 3: We said goodbye to Ed, and this time a friendly parent’s car was loaded up. Despite a delayed start, progress was good, and the elusive sun properly started to shine. Whatever aches and pains we had now, it was better than frozen feet and soaked socks. We tapped the boats along, and took the opportunity for some wildlife spotting. Red kites, herons and some other rowers, which was a surprise! A minor hitch involving a broken seat meant two rowers swapped seats, and all men now dominated the four. The women attribute the loss of their wonderful, newly trained up cox, to this moment, when the men’s speed and power obviously seduced him. This time it was the eight that enjoyed some hearty singing, belting out tunes with such enthusiasm that the rate soared. We stopped at a lock for lunch, or three sets of lunch, if one Tesco’s meal deal wasn’t enough. Needless to say, by Day 3 conversation was running dry as exhaustion got the better of us, so each lock brought new wonders, and a coxes’ news update, for the seriously bored.
That afternoon we actually went through one of our favourite locks-the combination of size, facilities and décor all being important factors. Still, we had a great view of Windsor Castle from the river. Expectations were vastly surpassed when we got to Burway Boathouse-there were mats, tea, and a television! Plus the president had the pleasure of an extra 10km sculling outing with some older Burway rowers. That evening we scoffed enormous plates of pasta and curled up in front of the rubgy. The Burway Boat Club Captain also gave handy tips about navigating the tideway, which both our coxes had yet to try in their rowing careers.
Day 4: Greeted by the famous Jonny Woodward we crammed our stuff into his car, and embarked on our last day of the challenge. Some landmarks broke up the journey, including Hampton Court Palace, where the girls had raced at Thames Ditton Regatta. We also tried to spot the old Jesus College Barge, which was apparently moored at Kingston, after being rescued from the bottom of the river. Passing through Teddington Lock was a big moment as we finally got to the tideway. For a lot of rowers it was a first, and the fact the tide was with us was welcome news. Mark Edwards, who made our Jesus Dragon, allowed us to stop off at Richmond Bridge Boathouses for lunch. Filled up with cake (thanks Jonny), and slight nerves about landing at TRC, we braced ourselves for the last windy stretch. But not before paying a ludicrous lock charge! The Boat Race stretch was a great last row-we all had a technical focus for the final push-and enjoyed the wide swooping meander entering London. We enjoyed rating the excellent bridges and laughing at some particularly clumsy school boy scullers. After a slightly stressed landing we got out with shock that we’d actually made it. None of us had really contemplated how much effort 185km of rowing was, and we were all pretty proud of the achievement. We de-rigged at TRC, and loaded up the trailer back for Oxford, ready for real beds and warm baths. It was a tough experience, but one that won’t be forgotten!
Overall, we raised £833.50 including gift aid for the boat club, which gives us a significant chunk of our £1,000 fundraising target for the year. Many thanks to all who donated, as well as the boathouses who accommodated us so hospitably, and our support vehicle drivers.