Women’s Head of the River Race 2015 (WEHoRR)

The RAF Rowing Club was formed in 1947 and over the years has produced Olympic representatives and Henley winners. Rowing is as much based on crew teamwork as it is on fitness and the majority of RAF rowers are introduced to the sport after they join the Service. The RAF Rowing Club is keen to recruit rowers at all levels to boost its squad for the coming year.

Saturday 14th March saw some 300 crews take to the Thames for the 75th Women’s Eights Head of the River Race. Among them were 8 members of the RAF Women’s Rowing Squad, ready to compete in their first race of 2015. The 6.8km course on the Tideway is the same stretch of river that will host the Oxford and Cambridge crews for the Boat Race on 11th April, this year seeing the Women’s race contested for the first time on the same day as the Men’s.

5am on a Saturday morning and I’m getting up to head to my first experience of competitive rowing; not where I expected to be when I first sat – rather unsteadily – in a boat for the first time last May. As the crew and boat arrive at Cygnet rowing club, in the shadow of Barnes Bridge, preparations for the race begin. Step one: Rig the boat – having been trailered down from RAFWSC Danesfield the rowers, coach, cox and helpers set to work assembling the boat ready for the race. The crew for WEHoRR was very much one of assorted experience levels, from seasoned rowers with years of racing behind them to novices facing their first season in the sport but the training done as a squad through the winter months saw an efficient team effort in pre-race preparations.

The crew comprised of rowers across varied ranks and trades with Natasha Perks’ (Oxford University) in the coxwain’s seat. Flt Lt Sally Tippett sat in the stroke seat of the boat, controlling the pace with a calm confidence coming from her previous rowing experience and kept the crew moving as one through the choppier moments on the tideway.

With our race number collected and boating time allocated we had a bit of time before getting on the water; time to talk tactics – “Row Hard!” – a concise pep talk from coach Dave White. As our boating time approached we joined the queue and began the stop-start shuffle to the waters’ edge. At the front of the queue, with military precision, minimal faff and some fantastic welly collecting from our team of helpers, we executed one of the quickest boatings the marshals had seen that morning – with 300 boats to get organised, every little helps. From one queue to another as the boats are manoeuvred into the correct order down each side of the river, ready to be set off from the start point of the course at Chiswick Bridge. Run as a time trial, the boats are set off one at a time and final results are compiled when all boats have finished, we were setting off 115th so had the chance to watch quite a few crews go by before our moment to race arrived.

From a rolling start, we clicked in to race mode and wound up the stroke rate to get the boat moving through the water and on the call of the cox settled into our rate for the bulk of the race. Focused and on the move we were spurred on from Barnes bridge by shouts of encouragement. Natasha kept us working with reminders of our training and we soon started to gain on the boat ahead of us. Stroke by stroke we closed the gap which gave everyone motivation to squeeze out that extra bit of effort to pull away and put some clear water between us and them. This course was definitely more of a marathon than a sprint and we had Hammersmith Bridge to aim for as our halfway marker. As we passed under the crowdfilled bridge it was time to put our training to work and push through to the finish; keeping focus on technique and timing as a crew we tried to up the pace of the boat. Winding up the stroke rate to the finish took every bit of energy we had left and as we crossed the finish line the sigh of relief was more of a gasp as everyone tried to get their breath  back enough to congratulate each other on a good race. All that was left then was to spin the boat and row back up to our start point – at a leisurely pace this time, now there was a chance to have a look at the course surroundings and recover from our efforts. Once back at Cygnet RC we got off the water and packed the boat back on the trailer before gathering together for a chat about the race. Congratulations and feedback from coach and crew summarised that it felt like a good row and we dealt well with the choppy waters. Provisional results put us just outside the top-half finish we’d hoped for but about 50 places improvement on the previous years’ result showed that the training we’d done was paying off but there’s certainly more work to be done.

The RAF Women’s Squad has approached this year’s season with enthusiasm and commitment driven strongly by their captain Flt Lt Kath Linton. Kath has motivated and organised rowers of all experience levels to form the current squad and enlisted the help of rowing coach Dave White and PTIs – Sgt Stephen Glodkowski, Cpl Danny Barnes and Cpl Adam Redstone – to work on and off the water. RAF Water Sports Centre Danesfield has hosted the majority of the training sessions but with some high river-levels over the winter, training moved indoors to the gym at RAF High Wycombe. The indoor work combined a structured weights programme with some set pieces on the rowing machines for technique as well as getting some good cardio work going. Tough sessions but all working towards the same goal, coming out in the summer with a stronger, more dynamic and faster rowing squad on the water.

As the start of the racing season approached, the coaching team looked to step up training with a five day camp at Eton Dorney (nothing like training at an Olympic venue to inspire you). The 2k straight lake provides perfect conditions to work on technique, teamwork and race practice. With various work commitments, Dave worked with the personnel available each day, organising them into crews. Whilst trying to get the eight out for as many sessions as possible with the upcoming WEHoRR, the training camp also gave the squad the chance to get out in doubles, fours and singles,  utilising and improving the skills required for the different boats ready for the summer regattas.

There’s still a lot of hard work ahead this season but RAF Women’s Rowing is going from strength to strength.

If any RAF Personnel are interested in joining the club, please visit the website at www.raf.mod.uk/rowing, the RAFRC Moss portal or your PEd Flt for advice and area representatives. Alternatively, email the club at: rowing@rafsport.org RAF Water Sports Centre Danesfield – Open Days 9th May & 25th July 2015 – band, BBQ and taster sessions!

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