By Carl Esdaile
Gruelling training, illness, injury, and the bite of a cold winter culminated on an arguably average and cloudy March Sunday morning, when the 2018 Novice Men’s squad tackled the championship course in the Head of the River Race. After the WeHoRR, our sisters in the Novice Women’s squad advised us it would be anything but easy… little did we know.
Fuelled by chilli, all of the carbs, and a delightful apple crumble at the Coach’s the evening before, the squad arrived to a hive of activity; oblivious to everything except individual preparation. Bidding our Intermediate brothers in Blackstaffe good luck, Vesta E walked ‘Derek the Indestructible’ out of the shed to a heart-warming round of applause from the Club.
Slotting into our position as crew 231, we set in for a long wait. Never fear… encyclopaedic knowledge regarding the differences between ‘purple’ and ‘palatinate’ or between ‘pink’ and ‘cerise’ poured out of the cox box, keeping us sharp. The bags (plural) of jelly babies kept us alert.
Shedding to our club and luminous squad colours, other crews shied back (more over concern for their vision than fear) as we built up speed and flew past the start.
Beyond this point, the all-encompassing vortex descended. How many bridges did we go under? Probably two… Was it raining? Who cares!
Writing this two days after the event, only two things can be clearly recalled. First is we responded very very well to the call “Bend and SNAP!” at the black buoy; a reference to the movie Legally Blonde and a squad member’s very elegant squatting technique. Secondly, the roar as we passed Vesta… by far and away the loudest and most rousing support on the river that day.
One additional thing we do know for absolute certain is that we gave it our all… the faces in the photographs emerging are not pretty.
Back in the bar, battered hands soothed by a chilled beer, the preliminary results suggested we did very respectably. At 22:51.4, we were the fastest Tideway Club Beginner entrant, and fourth in the Club Beginner Pennant. An excellent achievement, and worth the ropey head in work on the Monday morning.
In a plot twist over the ensuing days, it emerged questionable administration by other clubs meant Vesta E were actually the fastest of six actual Club Beginner entries, and overall Club Beginner Pennant winner by 0.4 seconds! We’re hugely proud of ourselves and our cox Wendy; we just powered the boat, she raced it. Indeed, we owe a huge debt to all of our coaches and coxes… it is they who forged us anew through the winter.
Here’s to building on the weekend, moving forward, and beers in the summer sun… for the boys, for Vesta and (most importantly) for Wendy!
Novice Men post-race