Wallingford Head 2013
Men's Report: Ben Wedd
Wallingford. For most of us, our first encounter with head racing. A long term of preparation had not been without its ups and downs – from injury to illness, with a healthy dash of unavailability, finding a crew to take on the 4.25km course had proven to be little short of a nightmare. When all had seemed lost, and we were ready to change our entry to a IV at the last minute, a raft of subs appeared out of the blue and yellow, and we had a crew. One such sub happened to be ex-M1 coach Karl Offord, who manages to make me feel like a tiny child whenever I stand anywhere near him, whose presence we were extremely grateful of. Not only is he a beast in the 5 seat, he also proved to be a fantastic morale boost and was busily giving us pointers right up to the finish line.
The pre-race experience at Wally was unlike other external regattas I’ve ever been to. The sheer number of boats rigging, boating, and landing together was immense. We were prepped and ready well ahead of time, but inevitably that meant that our division was delayed by nearly an hour after a Brookes IV capsized on the start line doing a roll-up. Amateurs. That gave us time to eat more snacks and talk to Green Templeton next to us though, so it wasn’t all bad.
Eventually, we boated. It was the fastest boating I’ve ever been a part of, and the marshals were mildly terrifying, but it was done. Rowing up to the start, we’d been told to wear lots of layers to keep warm. I had misinterpreted this somewhat and, with about 7 layers on, by the 1000m mark I felt like a Christmas Turkey slowly roasting in an oven. At some point somebody ahead got in the way and we had to stop, so we had chance to de-kit. At this point I took off too many layers and ended up shivering in the start queue, so that turned out to be an error. The endless cycle of “Seven, back down” then “Now stern pair together” and “Easy there” did little to keep me warm, but it did prevent us becoming pinned into the bank by 120 other boats.
Then, we were off. Hampton School had been pushing us before the race even started, so when they passed us early on it was not surprising. This upset our rhythm a bit and it took us a while to settle, but once we were on it things improved. We made it around the S bend, which turned out to be much less scary than Mimi had imagined, and all was going okay – until two boats decided to try an overtake simultaneously on a corner. The crew on our outside misjudged it horribly and ploughed into us, with their three man repeatedly trying to smash Jono in the face with his blade whilst we were locked together. Carnage ensued for a brief few moments, but we emerged from the corner mostly unscathed, aside from the time we had lost in the tangle. After a bit of floundering we found our rhythm again, and pushed for the line. This was undoubtedly the best bit of our race, and we held off the tide of J16s behind us, finishing tidily.
We landed (Jono may have fallen through a hole in the raft at this stage and gotten his foot wet) and de-rigged, before thanking our wonderful cox, Mimi Beckett, our fantastic coach, Yulia Stange, and our last-minute subs, Karl, VK and Josh Cowls. Then, we feasted on some well-earned cookies. It had been a bit of a rocky ride, and our time wasn’t all that fantastic, but at the end of the day why do we row? We row to learn and have fun (and get buff), and I think we managed those things. It was a great experience, I think we’re all glad we did it, and what better way to sow the seeds of an awesome Torpids? Better bring your A game, Exeter. We’re coming.
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