Rowing under the Sun – Novice Men Training Camp 2018

Rowing under the Sun – Novice Men Training Camp 2018

By Chris Ruddick

After the long winter months, and with the regatta season in touching distance, the day had finally come for the Novice squads to embark on the journey from a rather overcast Putney to Totnes for their training camp. Some had been before and knew what to expect, whilst the majority of the squad were new to the rowing tourist fraternity. As the advance party of 16 squad members, along with coaches Wendy and Nick, cox Cat, and the Novice squad’s number one fan Elliot, arrived in Totnes, the skies cleared and the sun started to shine. Was this a sign of the week to come? We certainly hoped it was!   

The Novice lads had arrived at camp two days early to take part in the local head race on the Saturday. Unlike the previous races the squad had entered, the Head of the Dart, at 15km, was more than twice the distance of ‘The Head’; a gruelling prospect. Over breakfast, the talk was of would we make the finish line? However, thanks to Dodds Gin, who kindly sponsored our entry into the race, the prospect of the very large gin and tonic at the finish line was enough to spur everyone on. We had two eights entered, with the Dev VIII rowing in Vesta’s own Blackstaffe, while the Nov VIII,  having left Derek ‘the indestructible’ in Putney, were rowing in a boat loaned to us by our hosts, Dart Totnes Amateur Rowing Club. In what can only be likened to an F1 pit-stop, both crews boated at speed, successfully avoiding the chain ferry. Our first taste of the week to come, and the clear blue waters of the River Dart, started with warm up laps of the harbour. As we circled among the moored fishing boats, any nerves were wiped away by the scenic surroundings of Dartmouth; we realised we were a long way from Putney and the Tideway.

Vesta Novice Head of the Dart Crews 2018

According to the race draw, the Nov boat was to be starting 4th and the Dev boat 5th. As the time to race approached, an attempt was made to line up in race order. However, in the expanse of Dartmouth Harbour, this proved rather difficult, and the two Vesta boats ended up leading the charge across the start line. The Novices valiantly held off the Dev boys for the early stages but, as was expected, they soon passed in a great overtaking manoeuvre by their cox Cat. As we passed Agatha Christie’s House at Greenway, the River Dart opened up into a vast 1km wide stretch of water full of moored boats and several dead-end inlets. With no marshals in sight, the question was which way was the exit? Being one of the first boats through, the novice boat’s cox Wendy used all of her local knowledge from previous years, and headed on a course through the line of moored boats: thankfully this was the correct route, and after what seemed like an eternity she eventually spotted the boat which marked the exit. At this point we had been racing constantly for over half an hour, and the training we had done on the Tideway was coming into its own. Then, all of a sudden, Wendy screamed “Duncannon, I know where I am now!” over the cox box. At this point we were more than two thirds of the way in and the river started to narrow and become extremely bendy. As we progressed round the sharp bends, the Novice boat successfully held off another boat, and their presence behind us proved to be the inspiration to dig deep for the sprint to the finish. As the Dart Totnes clubhouse came into site and we passed the finish line, the sense of elation could be felt throughout the boat. Not only had we just rowed 15km but, we all agreed, it was our best row as a crew to date. In true Vesta fashion, as soon as the race was finished we headed for the Club’s bar to find a well needed drink and await the results. After a tense hour the results were announced. The Dev boat had finished 5thoverall with a time of 48:38, less than a minute off the winning crew, and the Novice boat was not far behind with a time of 53:24. Two very respectable results, and a good foundation for the rest of the week.

Following the hard work of Saturday, and a typical Vesta post-race celebration back at Pitt Farm, Sunday brought a well-earned (and for some – Will – well needed) rest day, with most of the squad enjoying a trip to Salcombe, while some stayed back at the farm to relax in the swimming pool. The Vesta laundry was also in full swing. Sunday also saw a changing of the guard, with some members of the squad heading back to Putney because of work commitments, and other members of the squad arriving for the main training camp. In order to fuel the week ahead, Wendy and Nick spent their Sunday preparing roast beef and all the trimmings for 20 people. Nick’s post-it note plan was a piece of art, and proved essential to a very successful, and on-time, meal.

Monday was soon upon us, and training camp started in earnest with the tried and tested pattern of 06:40 breakfast at the farm, leaving for Totnes at 07:00, with the first water session starting promptly at 07:30. First sessions were always a long steady state row. Little did we know that the 15km of the Head of the Dart was merely a warm up for the standard first session row of 16km! First session was always followed by a most welcome second breakfast at the club, consisting of toast, baked beans and scrambled eggs, washed down with large a cup of tea. Following this, a shorter water session would be held, concentrating more on technique. During these sessions we would also practise race starts and suspension drills. The time of low tide meant that lunch was always back at Pitt Farm, after which a few hours relaxation could be found. Some slept, some took time to further top up the sun tan, some played tennis, and others visited the myriad of farm animals around Pitt Farm. One member of the squad well and truly showed his city roots when he had to be informed that you couldn’t milk an alpaca! Our day’s work was not over, however, and we would return to Totnes around 16:00 for the third and final water session of the day. This third session concentrated mainly on high rate pieces, giving us vital preparation for the shorter regatta races ahead of us. We would then return to Pitt Farm for dinner, which was ably prepared by members of the squad.

While the daily pattern remained the same, the type of boats we used regularly changed. At the start of the week we mainly used an 8 and coxed 4, with the remainder of the squad starting to get experience in singles, doubles and pairs. Most days, the single scullers would produce a swimmer of the day, a badge of honour proudly worn, as a swim in the cooling clear waters of the River Dart was most refreshing. As the week progressed, the weather seemed to get better and better, with the sun beaming down on Totnes for almost all of the week. All but one session went ahead as planned, with the high winds on the Tuesday preventing the middle session of the day. Due to a change in boat storage at Dart Totnes we would become proficient in rigging and de-rigging boats to a level where an 8 could be derigged in 10 minutes. Despite the hassle, Wendy assured us that this was vital practise for the summer regatta season. As the week progressed we would move to using smaller boats, with us concentrating on a coxed four, coxless four, double, pair, and singles. Enough progress had been made by Thursday for the 2nd session to become a knock-out race session, with some people racing in a boat which they had only had 2 sessions in. Some interesting crew combinations brought close racing, and proved that competitive spirit was rife within the novice squad.

Before we knew it, it was Friday. The final day provided the best rowing of the week, with everyone agreeing that improvements were clearly visible. A last minute race piece against the novice girls drew the rowing to a close. After derigging and trailer loading, we returned to Pitt Farm for a celebration barbeque and awards for the week. Some categories were close fought, with examples of pushing off with the wrong blades on the wrong side of boats, multiple examples of people taking a swim, and some people with visible signs on their hands that they had been rowing for constantly for almost 5 days straight.

The coaches agreed unanimously on the main winners of the week. The Spartan Award went to Will, who rowed on throughout the week despite having developed a large blister in an unmentionable place during the Head of the Dart. Oarsman of the Week went to Colin, who remained calm and happily took people out in boats for the first time, helping them to relax and gain confidence. Matt was awarded Most Improved oarsman of the week. And finally, Steven won Tourist of the Week for contributing the most throughout the week to any task that was required.  

Special mention must also go to Chris C, who through the use of his GoPro captured some fantastic moments of the week. Together with footage from Paul’s drone, this has been edited into a great video, which can be seen here:

Novice camp 2018 was a truly memorable week for all, and truly was a week of Rowing under the Sun!  


The week’s survivors !

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