As you will have all undoubtedly heard, the Head of the River Race was again cancelled this year – but not until all 390 crews had made it to their marshaling positions and around 100 had tried to complete the race. In the event only 75 completed, with a handful of sinkings, crashes and 20 odd crews stopped mid-race.
Unsurprisingly, no pennants were awarded this year. Vesta’s 1st VIII raced and managed to return to Vesta still afloat. Finishing in 42nd position was a respectable result considering the conditions. Vesta’s 2nd VIII were less fortunate, with the race abandoned as their division were preparing to set off.
Sam Lindsay was sitting in the stroke seat of the 2nd VIII, his 7th failed attempt to row the Eights Head. Is he the unluckiest man in rowing?
Please enjoy reading his story (cry for help?) below…
“For most typical club and student rowers, the Head of the River held on the Tideway each March is the pinnacle of the winter rowing season. It is the biggest head race of the year, guaranteeing competition across every level of ability, from all over the UK and even some from abroad. It is their personal Boat Race, raced over a historic course, against the clock, and against all of their fiercest rivals.
In the 7 and a half years since I started rowing at Imperial, I’ve had my fair share of great rowing experiences, with IC and in the last 18 months with Vesta: winning a load of BUSA/BUCS medals for Imperial, racing against Oxford blues at an invitational regatta in Poland, a couple of glorious Henley Wednesdays (and back in the bar on Thursday evening). But my curse, my motivation to keep rowing for another season, and also my hint that maybe the sport just doesn’t want me, is that I have never raced the Eights Head!
2007 – After an incredibly successful novice winter season, trading 1st and 2nd place finishes throughout head season with Oxford Brookes, my crew boated for the head, ready for a fight, looking for a top 100 finish and a Novice pennant. What we got in the end, in our Empacher 8 borrowed from the women’s squad, was a hull full of water, almost sinking in awful conditions which saw the race abandoned after the 1st division had raced. We bailed out enough water to get our boat home from Chiswick, but lost our Novice status 6 weeks later and our chance for the pennant was gone.
2008 – Now living at the IC boathouse, and well into the senior squad ranks, I was in the 2nd student 8 when I got food poisoning a few days before the race, was quarantined in my room, and in the end my crew didn’t even get to race. They watched the race from our balcony and I spent the night in my room, at least with some company from my girlfriend at the time, who had been coxing the novices. I went on that season to struggle with a heavy exam schedule and a seemingly unsympathetic coach. I petulantly told Steve Trapmore I quit, 5 mins before he was about to announce that I was in the bow seat of the IC ‘A’ for the Temple Challenge Cup at Henley Royal. About a month later, my friend in the B crew roped me into coming back and helping them to qualify. We didn’t. I got a 2:2 that year….
2009 – I decided not to row in the final year of my MSci, and did much better academically, although I did miss rowing, and again ended up being invited to help an underdog B crew attempt to qualify for Henley that summer. We didn’t.
2010 – This time rowing as an alumnus, without the stress of university work, and only working about 25 hours a week at a gym, I was in the best shape of my life, and rowing well. Alas, having a better ergo than anyone in the 2nd 8 (and a few of the 1st 8) wasn’t enough for Mr Trapmore, and I was left languishing at 6 in the 3rd 8. I’d have been OK with it if he’d at least got all the entries in! Alas, my crew, and the Novice 2nd 8 weren’t given the opportunity to race this year. At least I got to finally race at Henley Royal that year, stroking a Sport Imperial 4- through qualifiers and through to Thursday.
2011 – Having started a PhD at University of Hertfordshire, the commute to Putney, and finding the time to row was going to become difficult. I continued to train and race at IC until Fours Head, then raced a couple of times for Hertfordshire before going on the IC training camp that easter. I raced 4 times for UH, and in 2 of those races 1/4 of the crew was female (a 4x and an 8+). I finished one of those races rowing inside arm only, with the 7 man, giving a gun show to onlookers on the bridge overhead. No Eights Head for us that year…
2012 – Into the heart of a PhD, with all the work and extensive travel involved, I didn’t touch a rowing boat for a whole season! I tried rugby, attempting to relive my childhood, but this time with the 6′ 5″ frame to back it up. I injured both shoulders and played 4 matches all season. Maybe rowing wouldn’t be so bad…
2013 – Having been invited along by Ben Anstiss, my former crew-mate at IC and now terrorizing Vesta, I made a gradual return to rowing at a new club, more understanding of my limited availability and fitness. By mid-winter, I had a little bit of fitness back, and managed to earn a seat in the 1st 8 (a new experience in itself), and had a great head race season, capped off with a victory at Kingston Head, a week before the big one on the Tideway! Excited to be in a genuinely speedy crew, the last thing I wanted was 4-man JB to be hospitalized by an infection and would unable to race. Downhearted by the inevitable crew change, and a loss of pace in the boat, I was buoyed by the thought of at least competing in my first HoRR! A few days later, the inclement weather conditions resulted in the race being cancelled anyway. ‘ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!’
2014 – This season, I have been coming to the close of my PhD, and couldn’t decide whether to quit entirely, or to keep going and inevitably lose fitness and/or form, while also jeopardizing my studies. I went for the latter, after being reassured by Nick that I was still a valuable member of the squad. Despite some diabolical seat racing, I was thrown a lifeline, clinging onto a seat in the 1st 8 (I rowed at stroke, 5, 3 and 2 in Richard Burnett between January and March) until the last minute, losing a fight over the 2 seat to Alex Foreman. Charged with stroking the 2nd 8, I had the chance to prove my worth all over again, and spent my few weeks in Killerwal trying to help us exceed the sum of our parts. We really did make great strides with the Eights Head approaching (along with my thesis deadline), and I thought at least if it is my last race, it’ll be the big one! We made it to the start, the sun was shining, and we cheered the 1st 8 as they turned and took the rate up through Chiswick Bridge. Kit off, game face on, let’s get ready to turn into the middle…. “STAY WHERE YOU ARE, THE RACE HAS BEEN ABANDONED”, a marshall interrupted. Not again!!!
I’ve raced the Scullers Head, Pairs Head, Fours Head, Henley Royal, and had a fairly full and enjoyable rowing career (and that’s the important bit, right?). But I have still never raced the Eights Head, after 7 and a half years, and 6 winter seasons of rowing. On the one hand, this makes me more determined that I have to carry on for another season, and take care of unfinished business. But after reading this, what crew would want me?! Maybe I should try rugby again….”
…we still love you Sam! 🙂