Saturday saw the opening head race of the new season on the Thames in Oxfordshire. Wallingford Long Distance Sculls, held over 4.25km, attracts top level scullers from around the region with Stratford fielding crews across the age range. Stratford’s J14 squad raced in the short course event for their head racing debut: it was to be an all Stratford affair with no other J14 coxed quadruple sculls entered. Undeterred, the Stratford girls took the competition by the horns with the crew of Martha Cooke, Maeve Dunn, Poppy Warren, Bryony Francis and Isla Dunn (coxswain) leading the way down the course being chased by Millie Smith, Tessa Parkin, Josephine Cooper, Martha Baines and Sophie Franklin (coxswain). In the final analysis, it was Sophie’s crew who took the win with just ten seconds separating the two crews over the eight minute course.
The J15’s raced in their first long distance event: the boys crew of James Albrighton, Xavier Sissins-Rofey, Seth Vondrak, Ollie Rowlands, and Lucy Yang (coxswain) were one of the first crews down the course and finished second in their age group losing out to a local crew. Following the boys in hot pursuit were Sophie Evans, Alexandra Francis, Lily Warren, Alice Jones and Poppy Baines (coxswain). The girls were challenged from the start due to the loss of their rudder: undeterred, Baines ensured her crew navigated the course without further incident finishing fourth in their age group.
The J16 squad started the day with the women’s coxless quad of Esme Elfwood, Eloise Cooper, Nancy Davis and Harriet Froom. New to coxless racing at J16, they steered a good course, rowing a tidy race to finish fourth from a field of eight. Next down the course in the Open Double category were Jamie Wilcock and Will Dalrymple-Baker putting up a strong performance to finish a very respectful third.
In the afternoon division, the women’s doubles started with Lucy Sartain and Aimee Appleton who, following an incident with a rogue boat that caused them to stop, powered on to finish fourth. They were closely followed by Jessica Long and Megan Rowan who showed great form to finish seventh. Rounding off the day were Scarlett Richardson and Molly Vondrak in the highly competitive singles event, both displaying great technical ability and strength with Richardson finishing eighth and Vondrak securing the win by a good margin with an under twenty minute time.
The J17 and J18 squad began the day with the two Open J18 doubles of Tomi Wilcock and Charles Happel and Will Beattie and Toby Sartain. Wilcock and Happel set off first, delivering a convincing performance to finish in first place. Beattie and Sartain followed them down the course, rowing well and coming home happy in third place with what they described as the best they could have achieved. Next came Freya Watts in the Open Women’s single event who sculled confidently to finish in sixth place in a competitive field. Just behind her came Harriet Noyes, Amalia Richardson and Grace Beason, all in the WJ17 singles event, who finished in second, fifth and twenty second places respectively, rounding out a strong showing for the squad in the singles
In the afternoon division, Beattie, Wilcock, Happel and Sartain raced in the Open J18 quads event. They set off well, catching the boat ahead, however trouble struck before halfway as an equipment failure caused them to have to stop, losing a lot of time before they could get moving again demoting them to seventh position from what could have been a much better result. The last race for the squad was the Open Women’s quad of Watts, Beason, Noyes and Richardson. They too set off assuredly, rowing neatly and consistently in another competitive event. They came across the line in an excellent sixth after a long day of intense racing.
Whilst the junior squad were recovering from their successes at Wallingford, Sunday saw Stratford upon Avon Boat Club Masters head off to London for the national Pairs Head of the River race. Held over the famous Tideway varsity boat race course on the Thames over 4.5km, for two crew boats in pairs [one oar each rowers], and doubles [two oars], the event attracted over 330 competitors from across the country. Stratford Boat Club were represented by Ed Lewry and Nick Sartain racing in Open Club Doubles and Heather Hayton and Tom Doherty racing in Mixed Masters’ Doubles.
First Stratford crew off on the day was Heather Hayton and Tom Doherty, the thirtieth boat to start. With conditions considerably more benign than on the previous day, the crew were able to settle into their race plan and chase down the much fancied Walton mixed crew starting in front of them.
Pulling away from some of their immediate competitors starting behind, they managed to open a gap and settled down to chase Walton, managing to maintain their starting distance to them for the first half of the course. The second half of the race saw them working to push away from a number of crews starting just behind including previous winners Upton and Mosley.
At the end of the race the crew failed to catch Walton rowing strongly over the second half of the course who finished a magnificent eighty sixth overall with the third fastest woman in the whole event in their boat. Although they failed to catch Walton, the crew held off and pushed away from the crews behind to finish in a time of 15mins 21 sec, one hundred and fifty third overall and second in their event.
The best was yet to come however with Ed Lewry and Nick Sartain: starting in one hundred and thirty third position in the middle of a strong pack of crews including the GB/Leander crew of Dawson/Rossiter, the crew settled into an early rhythm and were able to use their power and fitness to row through a number of crews down the course. A very strong finish as they approached Hammersmith Bridge saw them close on several other crews finishing in a magnificent time of 14 mins and 11 secs for a fantastic overall finish position of thirty second and third in their event.
Said Heather Hayton afterwards, “We were very pleased with our race keeping the boat speed at 1.44/500m splits for the whole course and left nothing in the tank at the end, finishing only five seconds behind our quad crewmates and event winners Upton and four seconds behind big rivals Molesey: however, the biggest cheer of the day must go to Ed and Nick for their magnificent achievement which made for a great days racing.”
For media coverage, please see Stratford Herald page fifty eight and Stratford Observer online https://www.stratfordobserver.co.uk/sport/rowing-stratford-start-new-season-in-style