by Oli Chapman
For this year’s Scullers’ Head the weather conditions could only improve on the North Sea storm like waves which had led to the race being cancelled last year. This year was anything but. Not only was it dry, but also there were blue skies, it wasn’t too cold and the tideway was in the rarely seen state of flat water. Perfect conditions for small boats generally, let alone racing!
This would be a race of many firsts for me; my first of the season, first since winning my novice regatta and my first head race in a single. In short, I didn’t know what to expect and all I knew was that 6.8km may feel like a long way in a 4+ as Neil Fraser wrote in his 4s Head race report, but it was sure going to feel a lot longer a in a 1x…
(Editor’s opinion: The head course does not feel longer in a 1x than a 4+. A 4+ is the heaviest and slowest and generally absolute worst boat in which to race the head course and only complete masochists attempt this.)
Boating was a fairly uneventful affair, though a flotilla of several hundred singles all working their way up to marshalling was a pretty cool sight and before long I found myself at the marshalling area with a long wait inching slowly to Chiswick Bridge from the crossing point.
The race started well, with a quick overtake before Barnes Bridge providing an unexpected and most welcome ego boost and I was quickly chasing down the next sculler. The seasoned members of the vet’s squad had given me a simple race plan to follow which they told me has been passed down from generations of Vesta rowers. It was the simple instruction to; “Go hard to Barnes Bridge, and then keep going hard until Putney”. Inspiring stuff.
From the crossing point to Hammersmith everything felt calm, the rate controlled yet quick and I felt like I was eating up the meters despite a little head wind along the island (which apparently was worse earlier on in the day – or so Gianni was telling everyone).
It was at Hammersmith Bridge where the going began to get tough and there was the sinking realisation that this was only half way and everything was now starting to hurt. The pace dropped a little and the scullers behind me who I had been pushing off were now gaining on me. With a lot of clear water ahead of me, my race had suddenly changed to being on the defensive and the goal being now to holding them off with little under 3km to go.
The cheers from the Vesta balcony weren’t enough to unfortunately prevent being over taken in the last few meters of the race but I was soon over the finish line and looking forward to a well-earned drink!