Starting their full head season for the first time, three J14 squads made their debut at Wallingford Long Distance Sculls, rowing the short course. Thanks to some brilliant intersquad camaraderie, three J15 athletes stepped up as coxswains, enabling all twelve J14 athletes to compete on the day. Martha Baines coxed the girls’ quad (Linforth, Ntoukaki, Sime, Appleton) and came fourth against well drilled crews from Headington School, beating one of the Headington quads on the way from Oxford Brookes to Oxford University boat houses. Maeve Dunn coxed the boys’ quad of Rowan/Shaw/Appleton/Jones and Sophie Franklin coxed Happel/Richter/ Greenwood/Rutter, with the latter taking the win for Stratford in a time of eight minutes and twenty eight seconds. J14 Coach Hugo Happel said: “A really good day for J14’s, showing good technique on this fabulous stretch of water. Great experience gained combined with plenty of laughs. Well done to all athletes!”
The J15 squad’s new rowing season also began last weekend with the opening event at Wallingford. A bumper entry saw Stratford’s juniors travel to Wallingford for the 2023 edition of Wallingford Long Distance Sculls. First out for the J15 squad was the women’s coxed quadruple scull of Sophie Franklin, Maeve Dunn, Martha Baines, Millie Smith and Martha Cooke (coxswain). The crew stormed over the 4000m course to come within touching distance of Henley Rowing Club’s two crews finishing third by just 2.1 seconds over the nineteen minute race. Next to go, in the 1800m short course event, were the J15 double scull crews of Bryony Francis/Poppy Warren and Tessa Parkin/Josephine Cooper. The two crews duelled over the full course to achieve second and third ranking for the Club with the Francis/Warren combination taking the second place spot after battling their way through the traffic. Last to go for the J15 squad were the single scullers, Martha Cooke and Isla Dunn. Always a gladiatorial competition, Dunn and Cooke fought it out on the Thames to record creditable fourth and sixth places.
One of the most anticipated events in the rowing calendar for Stratford junior squads is the Wallingford Long Distance Sculls, a challenging and prestigious race that draws many competitors from various clubs and schools in the region. The event takes place annually in Wallingford, a historic town in Oxfordshire and the head race has a rich tradition that goes back to 1974. The original course was a gruelling 6,000 metres upstream from Moulsford Boathouse to Wallingford Marina but it has since been shortened to 4,000 metres starting from Cholsey Ferry.
The race consists of two long divisions and one shorter one with different categories of boats and rowers. The Wallingford Long Distance Sculls is a test of endurance, skill and teamwork and showcases some of the best talent in the sport.
The Junior 16 Women’s coxless quad consisting of Tessa Parkin, Sophie Evans, Alice Jones and Poppy Baines were the first down the course. They faced tough competition from local rivals such as Wallingford, Henley and Headington but they rowed with determination and skill. They finished in fifth place which is a commendable result considering that Tessa Parkin, a junior 15 athlete, stepped in at the last minute due to illness: Tessa went on to compete in her own event after a short break.
Another impressive result came from the double sculls pair of Theo Richter and James Albrighton who finished fifth overall. They competed against strong crews from St Pauls School, Leander, Wallingford and Lea and showed great speed and technique.
Finally, Alexandra Francis represented the J16’s in the single sculls event, which had thirty four entries. She had to endure a long wait on the water due to some issues on the course but she did not let that affect her performance: she rowed with power and stamina and finished sixth overall.
The first J17 crew to take to the water were Lucy Sartain, Jess Long, Scarlett Richardson and Aimee Appleton in their coxless quad. They sculled with great skill and were faster than the crew in front over the second half of the race finishing fourth which was an excellent result at such a high profile event.
Charles Happel entered the Open Junior 18 single scull event pitting his skills against forty four other scullers from some of the top rowing clubs in the country. Setting off hard on the first half of the course he was in nineteenth place at the halfway point. Charles put in a very strong final kilometre to finish in a highly creditable sixteenth place.
Molly Vondrak, Ez Elfwood, Eloise Cooper and Nancy Davis all entered the Junior 17 single sculls event finishing seventh, twenty sixth, twenty seventh and thirtieth respectively. Molly’s performance was particularly impressive.
Uche Nwachukwa entered in the Women’s single scull event, a tall order for a junior athlete, finishing twenty fourth out of thirty competitors. She then sculled in a double with Maddie Hall in the afternoon division coming tenth out of sixteen competitors. Also racing in the same event Jess Long and Lucy Sartain came thirteenth, Harriet Froom and Megan Rowan came eleventh and Scarlett Richardson and Aimee Appleton finished strongly in eight place.
Given the favourable conditions, Suzie Radley and Amanda Bowden representing Stratford’s Masters’ Women were excited to be racing again in the first head race of the season. Following a convincing start rate set by stroke, Suzie, accompanied by fantastic steering through the bends overtaking several crews in the process, the race was going very well! The boat speed placing the crew second behind a younger age category. However, sadly there then followed a steering error costing the crew thirty seconds which knocked the double out of the competition on this occasion. Commenting, Suzie Radley said, “This race was to be a warm up for the Pairs’ Head of the River in London next weekend. The race has provided much needed feedback, with some key points to work on to improve the competitive edge. This has certainly sparked a fire for next weekend!”
Also sculling at Wallingford were Paul Collins and Mike Adkins who were the only entry in Masters’ H double category and they had a good row. Steered by Paul, they managed to restrict their bank contact on the way to the start! For a first event together, they were well satisfied with the result managing to hold off a good Guildford double.
Also sculling on Saturday, this time at the Runcorn Autumn Head, was Stratford’s adaptive squad. The Runcorn Head of the River attracts clubs from the North West and Midlands to compete on the river Weaver. Andy Morris represented Stratford’s Adaptive Squad in a division which included Runcorn’s Sean Bailey who had recorded a personal best of 18:20 for the course.
This was Andy’s first race without floats and in a boat borrowed from Runcorn. The conditions were fine for the race over a 3650m course which was a series of bends with 200m straights in between. Commenting, Andy said, “I was pleased with my row and the course tested my steering skills. This was my first head in a single without floats and it went well”. Andy’s winning time was eighteen minutes and thirteen seconds.
For media coverage, see Stratford Observer online https://stratfordobserver.co.uk/sport/rowing-stratford-boat-club-make-strong-start-to-new-season-at-wallingford-and-runcorn and back sports page https://stratfordobserver.co.uk/editions/view/?/Stratford/2023/10/06&pages=32: see also Stratford Herald page forty five
For great pictures of Wallingford, see Kathy Baines’ excellent selection https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21AKg7Ldg9UzZfSuU&id=8E50DAC120123B06%21101272&cid=8E50DAC120123B06