As the country remains in the grip of the hot weather, Stratford upon Avon Boat Club’s traditional end of season plans had to change. Ross-on-Wye Regatta was forced to be cancelled due to insufficient water in the Wye so Stratford’s rowers instead headed across to Gloucester to compete over the bank holiday weekend.
An early riser, Julian Foster, a massively experienced sculler from Stratford Masters’ squad was first on the course taking a convincing win in the semi final against the mighty Exeter Rowing Club sculler. A classy row in the final made Foster’s competitor work hard but the Gloucester sculler took the win on home water. Commenting on the race, Foster said, “This is a great marker from which to build my 2023 season campaign, I’ll be back!”
Stratford’s junior squad were in action on the 650m course on the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal in the heart of Gloucester’s industrial docklands. In the WJ14 single sculls, Alexandra Francis put on a typically strong display but fell victim to the luck of the draw and lost out to the event winner from Gloucester Rowing club (a former indoor rowing champion). Seth Vondrak then took to the water to represent Stratford in the OpJ14 single sculls. Sculling hard over the course, Seth chased a young sculler from Exeter to just miss out on proceeding in the competition.
In the Seth Vondrak set about working through the field with comfortable wins against Gloucester and Ross rowing clubs taking her through to the final where she narrowly lost out to another quality sculler from Ross-on-Wye. Moving to double sculls, the duo of Xavier Sissins-Roffey and Theo Richter represented the club in the OpJ14 category. In a straight final the boys took the fight to Gloucester on their home water just losing out by four lengths in the final analysis.
Next to go was the WJ13 double scull combination of Maeve Dunn and Isla Dunn in their debut racing together. Lack of competition meant the girls raced in the open category and demonstrated their power to take the event win against the boys of Hereford Rowing Club. Lack of competition again meant the WJ13 coxed quadruple scull of Bryony Francis, Martha Baines, Millie Smith, Sophie Franklin and Poppy Warren (coxswain) rowed up to WJ14 level and cued up the race of the day. To reach the final, the girls raced a quality crew from Ross Rowing Club and took an early win which meant it was an all Stratford final with competition from Stratford’s Lucy Yang, Lily Warren, Alice Jones, Poppy Baines and Meg Nuttall (coxswain). The race proved more intense than the summer sun with the crews being neck and neck across the length of the course and an eerie silence fell with the finish bell, neither crew knowing who crossed the line first. By the slimmest margin, the crew of Francis, Baines, Smith, Franklin and Warren took the victory with the sport rowing being true victor in an amazing race. Serving up dessert in the smorgasbord junior rowing was the WJ13 single scull competition where Martha Baines, Poppy Warren and Josephine Cooper set to work. It was not to be their day however as strong competition from Thames Scullers and Evesham Rowing Club finished the Stratford girls’ day early after some quality racing from all.
A busy weekend for the J17/18 squad began on Saturday with a single sculls event for Toby Sartain who came up against a formidable opponent from City of Bristol Rowing Club. Unfortunately, the race was lost by a small margin for Sartain, despite the strong technique shown. Next, the WJ18 double sculls events took place where a duo of Ruby Howells and Martha Usselmann fell short against an impressive crew from Wycliffe Junior Rowing Club, located on the same canal as Gloucester. Amélie Sartain and Freya Watts also came up against a crew from Wycliffe, and, helped by an unfortunate mishap off the start line for the opposition, they triumphed by a margin of ‘easily’. They then raced for the prize against the same crew that had beaten out Howells and Usselmann, but they also fell short of the win.
Division One ended with an exciting performance by Lucy Sartain who, entered in the WJ15 single sculls, beat out a Ross Rowing Club sculler and then another from the host club Gloucester Rowing Club before losing out in the final to another Ross sculler by only two lengths. The afternoon saw three entries in the WJ18 single sculls from A. Sartain, Watts, and Elisabeth Edwards. However, none were able to progress beyond the quarter finals after stiff competition from both Wycliffe Junior Rowing Club and Worcester Rowing Club prevented a win.
On Sunday, racing started with a father-son combination of Nick and Toby Sartain who raced in the Open double sculls event. Having never rowed together before, an impressive race was fought before Carmarthen Rowing Club took the win. Following this, the WJ18 girls raced up in the senior category of Women’s double sculls. Ruby Howells and Freya Watts started off with a win over a City of Bristol crew but then faltered against a slick duo from Hereford Rowing Club. Amélie Sartain and Martha Usselmann had a bye to the semi-finals after a crew from Ross scratched their entry, and they were victorious after a close race against City of Bristol, winning by a third of a length. In the final, they met the same Hereford crew that Howells and Watts had lost to in the semi-final and, after a tight battle, they lost out on the win by just one length, the same margin that their teammates had lost to them by.
The weekend ended with an exciting entry from brother and sister T. and A. Sartain in the Mixed double sculls event. A highly anticipated race was unfortunately lost by the Stratford crew against senior rowers from Bristol Ariel Rowing Club but thoroughly enjoyed. Said Abi Terry, J17/J18 Performance Squad Coach, “The weekend was a fantastic opportunity for the Stratford rowers to show their hard work from the 2021-2022 season, and a chance to end the marvellous junior rowing careers of Amélie Sartain and Martha Usselmann on a high as they move up to Senior Category in a few days’ time!”
For media coverage, please see Stratford Herald online https://www.stratford-herald.com/sport/stratfords-end-of-season-plans-change-as-regatta-cancelled-9271441 and page forty five and Stratford Observer online https://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/sport/rowing-stratford-upon-avon-boat-club-produce-strong-showing-in-gloucester
For great pictures of Gloucester regatta, see Stuart Baines’ selection https://1drv.ms/u/s!AiW2DAyn9tg9j50qgkt5dAoWjQCXPA?e=YjhPvX
Some footnotes from Julian Foster on returning to competitive rowing after twenty four years:-
“This was my first regatta for at least twenty four years and I felt more nervous than I was at my first regatta back in the 70’s! I had to give a five second handicap to semi final opponent from Exeter. I was able to reel back his lead after about thirty strokes and then rowed though to about a two length lead which I sustained to the finish.
The modern division format came as a shock to the system as I was looking forward to a nice rest and a cup of tea to recover before the final. No such luck: sent straight back to the start for the final. Other finalist was local Gloucester sculler. No handicap this time so went off start together.
Gloucester sculler established small lead off start be we remained overlapped. I was feeling much more relaxed and was starting to get more control of my sculling – and nerves. I was able to execute a race plan and got even with opponent after around thirty five strokes.
I had established a bow ball lead and was trying to get into a steady rhythm when my current levels of endurance gave out and there was not a lot left in the tank. My opponent was clearly the fitter and stronger sculler on the day and it transpired he won the silver medal at this year’s Nat champs. He went on to win the final fairly easily.
Overall I was very pleased with how my return to racing is going. Basic boat speed and technique was reasonable. I can justify a winter of strength and endurance training and I know what is needed to be on par with the leading scullers in my class.”