Bittersweet HRR

Henley Royal Regatta means different things to different people. For some it is a social event involving nice hats and daytime drinking with people in boats in the background. For others it is an annual opportunity to catch up with old crew mates and support friends and family who are racing.

For us it is the pinnacle of a year’s training and preparation.

Just to qualify to race is a challenge in itself, one that many crews fail to achieve despite hours slogging on ergos and many cold mornings down on the river. This year, the achievements of the Vesta men throughout the year were recognised by the Stewards, who pre-qualified both the Wyfold 4- and the Thames Cup 8+ crews.

The phrase “luck of the draw” has never rung so true as it did in the Henley Town Hall this year. Both the Wyfold coxless four and the Thames Cup eight were drawn against seeded crews. It is a huge knock to a squad’s morale to know that you will not face one of the many crews in the event that you have comfortably beaten all year, or even those with whom you’ve had close races. Instead you must race a crew who has all the statistics on their side. Despite this, both crews continued to train hard down the Henley course in the days preceding the first day of racing, ready to put up one hell of a fight on race day.

At 9am on Wednesday, the eight faced Upper Thames, one of the four seeded crews in the 32 strong Thames Cup. The Vesta boys went off the start with fire in their legs, giving Upper Thames a fright and taking a small lead in the first 20 strokes. Unfortunately as the two crews hit their race pace, the Upper Thames boys moved through and took a comfortable lead. Nonetheless, Vesta fought to the line, with a powerful push in response to the “Remenham Roar.” They came across the line, gracious losers to an elite crew.

A few hours later, the coxless four faced London A in the Wyfolds, again one of the four seeds in the event. They put their foot to the floor and gave everything to try and get themselves a race on Thursday. The London boys took the lead, but like the eight, the Vesta four fought to the line, never ones to back down easily.

Both crews commiserated the results together, a united squad, but also celebrated the successes of the year. Many of the squad will be returning in the autumn, ready to do it all again, hungry for the results they deserve.

– Morgan

Dev Girls take HWR by Storm

As the Int4+ woke up on Friday morning to “Eye of the Tiger” pumping through the speakers Vanessa Ibbett, Sam Bowman, Briony Martin, Niamh Murphy O’Connor and Celeste Boruvka all felt the understandable nerves of a development squad going to their very first Henley experience.

The slightly stressful journey to Henley in rush hour traffic did little to ease the nerves even with Bob Marley’s “Don’t worry about a Thing” blaring. On arrival at Remenham, with only 20 minutes to rig our boat and change, our plan to take our time rigging and getting ready went out the window.

With heart rates running faster than mice, we got out on the water and were hit with gusts of wind and a very fast stream. A failed attempt to enter the umpire zone to have our boat checked and a sticky situation with an Empacher 8 later, we were on our way to the start line. Due to the bad weather only the top 8 boats were to qualify which put even more pressure on us, but a pre race pep talk with James, Bevan and Verity assured us they had every faith we could do it and our row up to the start gave us the chance to shut off and get in the zone.

After a shaky start we fell in to a strong rhythm and dug deep – with no other boats in sight we had no way of telling how well we were doing but we worked together with Celeste expertly taking us down the course to qualify in the top 8!! The news brought tears, hugging and massive smiles all round. Not only had we qualified but our quarter final put us against Thames’ IM2 boat – what a race that would be!

We spent the few hours we had eating, napping and inevitably going to the toilet a million times! – But this was it, we were officially qualifiers in Women’s Henley and there was only Thames in our way to the semis.

Our pep talk with the coaches reminded us that we were in our element – “the conditions are perfect for ‘bigger’ girls” (…lucky we aren’t sensitive!) We were hit with what can only be described as gale force winds and rain as we got on the water and realised this was going to be a tough one. We just had to remember we’d done it once that day, we could do it again.

We nervously attached on to the stake boat with surprising ease (anyone whose seen us at the start of other regattas would know this isn’t our strongest manoeuvre!) After the traditional re-enactment of the “True Blue” touching of shoulders, we were called to attention and were off. As we anticipated, they were faster off the start, but we didn’t let it phase us and got in to our rhythm quickly. The wind was halting us at each stroke, but we kept pushing and working together. At 500m a quick glance across saw our stroke sitting equal with Thames’ bow – we were rowing through them! Celeste’s call for clear water was answered and by 1000m we had a clear lead. The last 500m were arguably the hardest any of us has rowed – it felt like the wind was pushing us back up the course! We maintained our steady rhythm and gained a 5 length lead on Thames and were rewarded with an “easily” verdict when we FINALLY crossed the finish line. As we came in to land, James and Bevan were smiling like proud Dads – we were in the semi finals!

A much needed day off was had on Saturday and on Sunday we were back in Henley and ready to race again. We had achieved more than we ever imagined, but we now wanted to prove we could go all the way. With weather conditions considerably improved, we got on the water and paddled up to the start with Mortlake (our opposition) closely following. We managed yet again to get on to the start relatively pain free and came to attention. They took us off the start as again was anticipated, but we managed to get in to our strong rhythm. Unfortunately every call Celeste made to take them was matched by them and they held us off by a length. We fought hard, but they eventually crossed the line with a 2 length lead. Although it would have been great to make it to the final, we are really proud of what we achieved and had an amazing experience. Roll on next year!

– Vanessa

Vesta Women’s Elite 8+ vs the Americans

Buoyed by the success at Reading, the stage was set for Vesta vs. Bucknell 2 – the sequel.

Conditions were tough but the Elite 8+ was strengthened by the return of the super-sub Ailsa “Tremendous” Tremayne and we were raring to go. Brock Snr had another shot at the illusive rate 50….

The row up to the start was over in a flash, due to the strong wind and even stronger stream. And after the customary banter with the marshal on the bank about the awesomeness of the Vesta Bar, including said marshal telling our opposition we were a bunch of alcoholics (“hic”) we were on to the stake boats.

Bucks was tough, a strong stream was pulling us onto the Island and there was some excellent tapping on from bowside to stay straight. The umpire seemed to be in a hurry and despite my hand still being up we were off.

It soon became clear that Bucknell had spent the last week practicing their starts and took 2 seats early on, moving out to ½ a length by the end of the Island. We recovered from our shaky start and regrouped. The barrier push was taken early in an effort to get back level. The gap closed to 1/4 length, we were moving now. Past the boating area it was great to hear the Vesta roar from our team mates but the American’s were strong and again pulled away another few seats to get about 1 length ahead. By this point I could see we could get it back, there was a big call for the legs but as we learnt at Reading our friends from across the pond had a fast finish. I took the decision to try and outwit them by starting our finish sequence early and we went for the line with great gusto. Sadly, despite pulling back some distance the verdict was a win for Bucknell University by ¾ of a length.

– Ro

If ever a crew needed to peak at the right time…

Prior to the actual race report I just wanted to put this race into context as perhaps on paper the verdicts in the run up to the final don’t best reflect the true efforts of what was actually achieved by the Vesta Intermediate 8+ winners of Henley Womens’ Regatta this year.

As Murray goes into the Wimbledon final this afternoon, with a secure route through and the knowledge he has beaten his opponent in the past, we were unfortunately not so lucky.  The mighty Lea RC had beaten us at every stage this season through Wallingford to Met Regatta and only looked even stronger coming into this event. Lea were the clear favourites to win the Club 8+ and deservedly so.

Race Morning:

If you have competed in a final at any level of competition you will know what it feels like to have the emotions, the fears and the doubts that creep into your head and that Sunday was no exception. We’d had a tough season, dogged by fatigue, illness and performance inconsistencies which at times led me to have doubts as to whether our performance on the day could be solid enough to win the competition.

Aside from the physical training an athlete endures, I truly believe this sport is by far one of the toughest and I sincerely take my hat off to all the athletes at Vesta and anyone at any level who commits themselves physically and mentally to an entire season of ergs, high mileage on the water and the torture of selection. I often get asked by my NRF (non rowing friends) WHY?? and sometimes question this myself, but ask any athlete, coxswain or coach and the answer will still be the same, “to win.”

 After beating City of Cambridge and Thames RC against the horrendous conditions in the quarters and semi finals  we knew the final meant we had to end ourselves, making sure we all physically knew what “rowing on the edge” felt like. Mentally it was a difference story…

No matter how prepared you are there could be one thing, just one small thing beyond your control that can change your outlook, mindset, alter your performance and ultimately change the outcome of your season entirely. This “one thing” for me came in the form of a conversation with an upriver coach that morning, he was frank but truthful; “I just don’t know, I’m going to be honest with you,  you really are going to need the race of your life to beat them.”

My doubts turned to determination to MTFU and give me belief that our training programme had given us every tool we needed to win.

The Final:

An absolute blinding start jumped us a quarter of a length ahead by the island, the key focus being to sustain the lead and do enough at the beginning of the race to dispose of our opposition from the outset. Lea were not going away. Undeterred by our quick lead they ploughed on to draw level. Vesta support in place at the Barn Bar, we sharpened up to get a canvas ahead to lead us into the enclosures.

Lea had dashed Thames RC’s hopes of a win in the Semi-final which meant that the mighty “Remenham Roar” was there in full force, just for us.

Level at the enclosures and spurred on by the most amazing wall of inter-club support, Lea managed to pull level and lead by quarter of a length.

I still get shivers as I recall the closing stages of the race. Everyone just about knows that one of the hardest parts of the Henley Womens’ Regatta course is coming out of the enclosures and into “no man’s land.” The support dies down and you’re on your own, just two logs; dead level and an extra battle of the mind to fight to make your log the fastest.

Still level, I will never forget this moment as I looked into the bows of our opposition, their huge enclosure push and semi-final dog fight with Thames had taken its toll. Fatally they had begun to forget about their legs and started to pull. I then knew then that we could win this.

200 metres to go it was do or lose: the call at UTR:  “girls, their heads are down, ours are NOT” “sit up and push, you can do this, NOW” our log moved through to take the canvas a last kick of adrenalin to push through, crossing the line victorious at 1/4 of a length.

– Rachael

Elite 4- Lobby for GB U33 Squad

It was with some trepidation that the E4- of Lara Brock, Nell Pascall, Aga Siemiginowska and Kat Hedges arrived in Henley on Sunday morning for their race against ARSA Skadi. Internet trawling and the usual cyber stalking had yielded little in the way of information about the opposition due to it being in a foreign language.

Luckily the weather had improved significantly from the misery-wind that was Saturday’s weather, and some sunshine was even spotted. The crew even went as far as agreeing to race in skins, with the exception of bow, because it’s always colder in the bows

A chance casual bit of eavesdropping by the boating area saw the opposition’s coach pointing out to the steers where the finish was. We were in luck! They had no idea.

The pre-race chat given by Matt to the crew gave Brock elder free rein to go “radio rental” off the start, and Lara’s eyes lit up – finally, she could attempt the elusive rate 50! The final 3 loo stops completed, the crew set off to the boating pontoons and up to the start. Being fairly early in the morning, the row to the start was uneventful and no buoys were disturbed in the process. The warm up area above the island had been significantly shortened, leaving only 200m or so as warm up before a spin was required. After about 4 laps, the crew got bored of spinning after motion sickness set in and sat at the start to wait for the race.

As we sat close to the start watching other crews warm up it became increasingly obvious that we were in a holding pen with 98% U23, World Class Starts and Trialists. We were the 2% average Joes. The down side of racing elite <sigh>. Bow suggested again that British Rowing be petitioned to set up an Under 33’s Squad before she got too old for that too.

Finally, it was time to get onto the start line. After the stress of the previous day and not being ready off the start in the E8, bow was determined that a perfect start position would be achieved. With the shelter of the island, attachment and lining up was spot on and we were ready to lay the smack down.

True to form, Brock went mental off the start, and the crew held the start together well heading off the island. Stroke 6-7 of the Vesta crew’s start saw the Skadi boat’s stern disappear from view as they surged on ahead. Never ones to give up, Brock, Pascall, Siemiginowska and Hedges ploughed on in the Skadi boat’s wake. The worries of steering disappeared when it became obvious that the Skadi crew were not so much along side, as way ahead, and so the Vesta boat opted for the middle course.

The prescribed pushes were executed and extra calls were put in for pushes for the Senior 8 (after the cruel events of Saturday) and bizarrely, for some “teeth” to be shown. The rate crept up 2 pips as we edged into the finish sequence, Remenham not appearing soon enough. Skadi had crossed the line some 5 lengths ahead of the Vesta crew.

After the race was over, it was discovered that the Skadi boat also contained U23 / trialist types as well, and they went on to give Sport Imperial / Leander a good final race. A valiant attempt by the Vesta crew in a very tough field of competition.

– Kat

Club 4+ at HWR

It was a valiant effort from the senior squad’s IM3 coxed IV, comprising Alana Holloway, Athene McGregor-MacDonald, Jenny Cann, Laura Goulding (s) and coxed by Jamie Wooller, a crew which had spent a total of 1.5 weeks together prior to HWR. Thanks go out to the brave Laura Goulding for stepping in and stroking the boat despite chest infections and asthma diagnosis galore! It was in a bracing wind and “dangerously” strong stream that we sat nervously as the rain tumbled down at the start line of qualifiers on the Friday. An announcement the previous day that it would no longer be the top 16/24 crews qualifying but the top 8/24 only had done little to calm us! It was an aggressive and heartfelt effort from everyone involved and beating several other non-qualifying crews did lessen the pain of not making it through to the knock-out stages. If nothing else, our appetites are now whetted for Henley medals in 2013! See you next year!

– Jenny

HWR Senior 8+

Comprising Helen Ellison (s), Natalie Prew, Kat Astley, Gemma Etherington, Stine Keys, Vicky Brock, Emma Dyson, Kitty Lowings and Julia Hedley as cox, the senior eight went out strong in their first race against Holy Cross USA, winning with an easily verdict despite winding down from the enclosures and crossing the line at rate 23. The conditions were far more suited to a Tideway crew than a lightweight American crew with a strong headwind and even stronger stream to row into, but Holy Cross were very sporting and congratulated us on a great race and wished us the best for future rounds.

Sadly, whilst racing Newcastle University in the quarter final an equipment failure on the third stroke of the race had devastating consequences for the senior crew, who were one of the favourites to win the event. This equipment failure combined with strong gusts of wind and very difficult racing conditions forced the crew to stop before the end of the island. The umpire rejected a request of a re-row; the 100m rule no longer applies under FISA or ARA regulations, and this was a hard blow to take given we had been half a length up with just seven oars going. The crew would like to pass our sincere congratulations to Newcastle University who went onto win the event, however no doubt they remain curious as to what the outcome would have been of what was destined to be a thrilling race, had the circumstances been different.

– Julia

Elite LW 4- at HWR

Photo courtesy of Richard Byran

The “Mighty Lighties”, a crew formed during training camp in Seville, were eagerly awaiting HWR following a dismal lack of opportunities to race earlier in the season. The crew of Alex (b), Sybille, Martha and Holly had previously raced only at Met and Reading regattas; coming second to a heavy-weight crew in Senior 4s at Met (Sunday), and denied an opportunity to race the final at Reading by an unfortunate steering wire failure on the water (although having raced and beaten Oxford University Lightweights in the semi-final to get there was encouraging). The Mighty Lighties were therefore hungry to race, as well as being generally hungry, and saw off Oxford again in the semi-final (verdict: easily), leaving us then to face Mortlake in the final. With the scoresheet vs. Mortlake standing at 2:1 following Met, both crews went out fighting. Despite a tricky start on the Berks bank, the stream drawing the bows into the middle of the course in the seemingly interminable period between “attention” and “go”, steer Alex kept her cool and past the island both crews were level. A close-fought race followed, aided by the tremendous Vesta roar along the enclosure (thank you all – it is much appreciated), but as the stream moved in favour of Bucks around Old Blades, Mortlake pushed ahead to win by a margin of 1.75 lengths.

The crew was last seen in Byron SW15, diving face-first into a pile of deep-fried carbohydrates.

Thank you coach Jeremy for your dedication to our cause!

– Martha

Love and hate Henley rowing

It’s hard to imagine how difficult running and racing in Henley Women’s Regatta (and Marlow Regatta) has been today. The wind has been appalling and has brought out the best and worst in our sport. Credit must go the organisers for keeping the events going and to crews and coaches for making the best of it. A special mention to Sinéad who was named ‘Volunteer of the day’ at HWR for her efforts keeping crews straight on the pontoon amongst other duties. On the downside, today also accentuated the cruel inequity of rowing racing as crews struggled to race fairly when the wind, water and strong river current all conspired against them. Attaching to the stake-boats, getting a clean, fair start, starting and keeping a straight line away from the fearsome booms, and racing upstream into a mighty headwind all become wicked challenges in this weather.

This morning Bucknell University USA beat Vesta in the Elite 8 category by 3/4 length in a time of 5:57. (Bear in mind that’s over a minute slower than a usual elite eights race, which illustrates the conditions. NB the slowest time of the day was 10:12 in J1x. For once it’s pleasing HWR is only 1500m rather than the full Henley course!)

Vesta Senior 8 won their first race against Holy Cross USA easily in a time of 7:02. Unfortunately they lost their next  race against Newcastle University easily in time of 7:17 after the Vesta crew experienced equipment failure by the end of the island. The umpire did not restart and it is certainly a bitter outcome given that the girls had a really good chance of winning a medal. The Elite 2- also lost their race against Molesey by 4 lengths in a time of 7:59. Sincere commiserations to the Vesta crews and coaches who worked so hard and lost today. Bring on HRR!

Vesta Club 8

Vesta Club 8

Vesta Club 8 had better fortune beating Thames easily in 6:59 and so we look forward to them racing tomorrow at 12:50 against Cambridge City. Well done ladies.

Also racing tomorrow are: the Elite 4- at 10:05 against ARSR Skardi; the Lwt 4- at 11:00 versus Oxford University Women’s Lightweights; and the Club 4+ racing at 14:00 approx (the HWR website is missing the exact time and opponents for our development women’s semi-final).

Let’s pray tomorrow brings fairer conditions (in both senses of the word).

Wind and wins so far at Henley Women’s

Henley Women's Regatta in the sunshine

Surprising sunshine at HWR

The weather this weekend seems to be the dominant force at Henley Women’s Regatta. High winds and predicted heavy rain have prompted the organisers to rearrange some racing. Notably the number of crews to qualify through time trials was cut and some junior racing has been moved to Sunday time trials. Fortunately the sun has stayed more or less out today!

Vesta’s Dev Squad coxed four crew has not been hindered, thankfully. They defeated Thames convincingly this afternoon and move through to the semi-finals on Sunday. The verdict was Easily in a time of 7:50. Well done crew and coaches!

The timetable for Saturday’s racing has been reworked – I’m slightly confused by the document on the website, but I think it’s telling me this:

10:48 – Elite 8 v Bucknell Uni USA

13:42 – Club 8 v TBC

14:12 – Senior 8 v Holy Cross USA

15:46 – Elite 2- v Molesey

You can follow on Twitter and on Facebook for real time results and commentary.