The Veteran Fours Head took place on the Tideway on the River Thames in London on Sunday. The event raced over the 6.8km championship course from Mortlake to Putney, hosted no less than two hundred and thirty three crews from all over the UK competing in the premier long-distance race for four person crews and presented a spectacular sight with boats nose to tail along the river Thames waiting for the off.
With crews ranging from elite Olympians to octogenarians, the event gave the chance for everyone to show what they could do on what was a cold but sunny day and for the Thames, benign water conditions.
Stratford upon Avon Boat Club were dually represented by Heather Hayton and Thomas Doherty racing with their friends and long-time rowing partners from Upton Rowing Club Tabatha and Julian Scrivener in their masters mixed quad. This successful crew, current National Champions in their age group, had some serious unfinished business having lost the same competition last year by a mere one tenth of a second to their arch rivals Molesey Rowing Club.
With Molesey again in the competition, the stage was set for a big rematch. Molesey, with some outstanding rowers in the crew, were never going to surrender their title lightly and the stage was set for a gruelling race between two evenly matched crews with every stroke needing to count and no room for error. Starting two boats ahead of Molesey, the Stratford/Upton crew knew what they had to do if they were to overturn last year’s result and from the off, as the crew passed the start line, the boat kicked into gear. Commenting, Julian Scrivener, bow and steersman said, “As soon as we passed the start, I felt the boat surge and I knew we were all on it from the first stroke”. With Tabatha Scrivener at stroke laying down an excellent rhythm, the crew powered down the course settling into a strong rhythm at thirty three strokes per minute. Said Heather Hayton, experienced Stratford rower, “It was essential we had a good first kilometre as we knew Molesey would be fast out of the blocks and needed to hold them off.”
A powerful but efficient and relaxed rhythm was essential to maintain the Stratford/Upton boat speed and by Barnes Bridge, the crew had settled into their race plan. With the other competitors in the specific age category event falling by the wayside, it wasn’t long before Molesey overtook crews to position themselves directly behind the Stratford/Upton boat and the race was set for the next four kilometres of the course. Said Tom Doherty, the second Stratford crew member, ”We knew it was game on now and we came under sustained pressure from Molesey who knew they were in a race and were determined to catch us. The slightest mistake, even for one stroke, would have cost us the race: the pressure was immense!”
On a large river with a strong stream, conditions were fast, and this made it essential for the crew to steer a good course with so much time being lost for being out of position, Julian Scrivener had a huge job to keep the boat correctly positioned in the stream to maximise race conditions. Approaching Hammersmith bridge with approximately five kilometres gone and everybody feeling the pain and pressure, there was no observable difference in position between Molesey who still chased Stratford/Upton. Everybody in the crew knew no matter how tired and painful it was they could not let up even for a couple of strokes and coming under Hammersmith Bridge, it was time for another big push.
With the stroke rate maintained at thirty three strokes per minute, the boat was moving fast and the Stratford/Upton crew knew they had to seek out the smallest of gains over the remaining 1.8 kilometres. At this point in the race, several slower crews were encountered which can have a detrimental effect on boat speed as they are overtaken but this year there were no hold up as Stratford/Upton steered a great racing line past Fulham Football Club into the final stages at Putney.
Greeted by the amazing spectacle of crowds of rowers outside the Putney boat houses, it was now or never as the whole crew put in a final push to cross the line. With no energy for any display of relief or emotion, the crew had the satisfaction of knowing they had a great race and could not have gone any faster. Said former GB international rower Julian Scrivener, “That was one of the best quad races I’ve ever been in!” It was not obvious with Molesey crossing the line not far behind Stratford/Upton who had won with both crews exhausted and pensive and knowing they would now have to await the official results later in the day. Finally, the results when they came, they were all Stratford/Upton could have wished for in overturning last year’s result with a magnificent win over Molesey in a time of 21 minutes and 6.8 seconds to Mosley’s 21 minutes and 12.8 seconds! With the final comment, Heather Hayton said, “A year of hurt and hard training has paid off! I could not be more proud of my crew mates and in particular Julian who brought all his Tideway experience to bear in steering a magnificent course. We are shattered but happy!”
For media coverage, please see Stratford Herald pages fifty six and page fifty one and Stratford Observer https://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/sport/rowing-stratford-masters-conquer-the-tideway and back sports page https://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/editions/view/?/Stratford/2022/11/25&pages=024