Saturday saw the first major event of the rowing head season with the prestigious Fours Head taking place on the Tideway in London. Raced over the reverse Boat Race course, from Chiswick to Putney, the Fours Head saw 450 crews, including rowers from the GB National Squad, taking part in quads, as well as coxed and coxless fours.
Stratford upon Avon Boat Club put out two crews, a coxed four and a coxed junior women’s four. Conditions on the day were a mix, being relatively benign up until past Hammersmith Bridge before the strong southerly wind picked up the waves in the last third of the course.
The Senior men’s crew of Mike Hourigan at stroke, Tom Coles, Finn Sprackling, Patrick Hourigan at bow, along with coxswain Amie Jones were pitched into the Challenge Coxed Four event against eleven others. The crew had determined to start hard and fast and make the most of the better conditions before the wind picked up the waves. Approaching the first major landmark on the course after the start they quickly began to pick off crews from Lea and Quintin rowing clubs and split times showed them the second quickest crew to Barnes crew. Knowing that conditions would make overtaking difficult past Hammersmith, coxswain Amie Jones called on the crew to really push on in the two kilometer stretch between Barnes and Hammersmith. They slalomed past two more crews just before the approach to Hammersmith Bridge and shot the bridge alongside another crew from Lea Rowing Club. They quickly skated past them on the outside of the Hammersmith bend and then tucked in to avoid the worst of the waves around Fulham football ground, and the run in to Putney.
It was a strong, powerful row by a promising Stratford crew. Results came out quickly and showed that not only were Stratford the winners of their event but they had also finished as the twenty fifth quickest coxed four overall out of 137 men’s crews, including the top boats from Oxford, Cambridge and Leander Club.
The Senior Squad now moves on to further head races at Evesham and Wallingford where they will be looking to build on this performance. Oliver Smith, Club Captain, “The performance of both crews shows that clubs like Stratford upon Avon can punch their weight and more at these national level events. We would like to say a big thank-you to all of our club sponsors and supporters who help us to succeed.”
The Junior Squad were represented by the formidable coxed four of Katie Wellstead, Talei Dunn, Molly Gill-Swift and Khloe Curnock piloted down the course with encouragement, commentary and ace steering by Mimi Hill. This was only the second time these 16 year old young ladies have visited and raced on the infamous Tideway course. The crew rowing extremely well together had overtaken crews before reaching Hammersmith; they continued in overtaking mode as they hit the rough water arriving at Putney in a time of twenty three minutes and twenty nine seconds. This put them in fourth place; but after racing 6.5k only one second separated the second, third and fourth placed crews. Said Dr Graham Collier, Junior Coach, “This was another tremendous effort from these young people as they prepare to join the seven hundred crews who will contest Hampton Small Boats Head towards the end of the month.”
Stratford’s Masters’ crew competed in the Sunday Veterans Fours Head, no better for first race for a new quad combination (Richard Nelson, Tim Lunel, Piers Copham and Simon Beard) than the tideway – always a good test! The result of fourth in a strong field of fourteen crews in the Masters E category certainly bodes well for the future as did the time which put them thirty fourth out of the overall 280 entries. Overtaking four crews over the course made for an enjoyable row and an added extra challenge or two for steersman Simon. With pretty ideal conditions for the Tideway it’s difficult to ask for more from a day’s racing!
For media coverage, see Stratford Herald http://www.stratford-herald.com/92531-stratford-rowers-get-head-start-shine-winter-opener.html and Stratford Observer online https://stratfordobserver.co.uk/sport/stratford-boat-club-rowers-battle-it-out-on-the-tideway