Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lake Geneva again: the 10th anniversary edition

Ten years ago, I was a cox who could scull. Competently, but not fast enough to win any races. And after 20 year in the sport, I still had what British Rowing designates Novice status. Officially, I was the lowest of the low as an oarswoman.

But then I discovered marathon rowing.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

12 reasons why the Great River Race really is great

In a fine example of that "six degrees of separation" thing, I got an email last Thursday evening from, let's call her A, who is a member of my skiff club. It was passed to her by a member of another rowing club she belongs to, now known as B. B had received it from C, who had taken a pretty scattergun approach after receiving a plea from D who had belatedly been told that the crew which someone else (not worthy of a letter) was going to provide for Saturday's Great River Race in London was not going to happen, and he needed five shipmates pronto. Owing to the C's broadcast, D had actually filled his empty seats by the time I replied, but by then D's wife (E) needed another rower for her crew as someone was ill.

And so it was that around 36 hours after I first got that email (and the lack of preparation was a guilty pleasure), I met what I was expecting to be a bunch of complete strangers under the clock in Waterloo Station on Saturday morning, only to discover that one of them was F, who I've known for nearly 20 years. Although, let's be honest, using rowing to prove the six degrees theory is no more scientific than using kittens to prove that wool tangles.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

On and on and on: How we set a new 24 hour distance rowing Guinness World Record

I have no idea whether Sir Edmund Hillary thought "I HAVE to do that," when he first realised that Mount Everest had yet to be climbed, or even what went through astronaut Tim Peake's mind when he saw an ad for "International Space Station Crew Member" in "Out of This World Jobs Weekly" (yes, I'm making that up, but you get the idea). But I do remember gasping in delight when, over a year ago, whilst browsing the Guinness World Records site, I spotted that there was an existing record for the greatest distance rowed in 24 hours by a women's team. And, more to the point, at 229km it was eminently breakable.

It just HAD to be done.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

If Disney did rivers: skiffing the Severn and Avon:

If Disney were setting out to create the perfect river, they would surely use the Severn and its dainty sister the Avon, as a model.

On a two-day skiff tour there, we found exquisitely pretty river banks lined with cow parsley and some kind of yellow flower (I’m a rower not a botanist, OK), quintessentially English church towers and fields of unicorns. Frankly, it’s amazing we weren’t surrounded by rainbow bubbles… oh, wait, we were…

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

When women first rowed at the Olympics

"What year was that?", you may ask. Was it back in 1948 when women first competed in canoe racing over 500m? No. Maybe in the 1960s then – after all, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963? Wrong again.

Astoundingly, it was only in 1976, at the same time as the incredible gymnast Nadia Comaneci was achieving levels of perfection that had hitherto been thought impossible (and awakening my interest in the Olympics on a black and white TV), that women rowers took part in the Olympics for the first time. And they didn't even get to race the full distance.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rowing without walls (but with tea and baby robins)

Read these words: "Rowing club". What did you just think of? A building? Maybe with a bar? Lots of boats on racks (probably all racing boats, if you're British, though a mix of touring and racing boats if you're Dutch or from elsewhere in Europe)? Regular outing times?

Usually, you' d be right about all of those. But yesterday I was a guest at Langstone Cutters Rowing Club, which flourishes without having a boathouse at all (although they do have what could reasonably described as a strong relationship with the pub next door) and simply keep their boats on trolleys in a narrow strip of land, nestling among trees. What's more, geography dictates that they can only get afloat two hours either side of high tide, so the concept of "rowing is at 8am on Saturdays" isn't on. It was the best fun, and I rowed in not one but TWO types of boat I'd never been in before (or heard of, in one case).

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Getting to the Heart of the Hart van Holland

"Do the Hart van Holland," my Dutch marathon rowing buddies told me. "It's in the Green Heart area and it's really pretty," they said. I looked it up. 90km: lovely! Long enough to make it worth the flight over there. I sought some crewmates, and finished up with a four-boat team of 18 which made up 10% of the total entry. Great!

Which made the fact that two of our crews, including nine, were stopped before the final timed section all the harder. Some of it was our fault. Most of it wasn't. Still, in the 70km we did complete we found out how you can get 40 boats in a lock, how to get through a passageway that's so narrow you can't get your blades out on either side, and what happens when you don't stick to the "swap the cox every 30 minutes" plan. We also saw some windmills.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Ergo Marathon: An expedition to nowhere

Years ago, I coxed a crew which was interviewed for a student magazine, and we all had to put down our hobbies and ambitions. One bloke, with a wit unusual amongst occupants of the three seat, cited his hobby as "exploring the frontiers of pain", and his ambition, "to have a map next time".

Well, adventuring in the wilderness is all the rage these days, so if you're considering erging a marathon (and I've put the idea in your head now, so you can't not do it, [evil chuckle]), here's something like a map.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Harder or easier? Racing then and now

Alpha Ladies Amateur Rowing Club WEHORR 1954
The strapline for this blog is "going beyond regattas and head races", so what is a post about racing doing here? Well, it's got in on a wild card because it takes a peek at the quite incredible "expedition" that rowing, and in particular women's rowing, has been on since the 1950s when entries in the Women's Eights Head of the River Race were frequently in single figures.

Since then, boats, blades, kit, training, standards and the size of events have been transformed. But have the young racers of today really "never had it so good"? Or does the very popularity of women's rowing nowadays, which makes it harder to win, mean that "the good old days" were actually better?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The hardest rowing challenge he could think of

When it comes to challenges of any kind, the enormity of the challenge is depends on the individual as well as what it actually involves. If you're rowing an ocean, the challenge is pretty much built in: there's no such thing as "taster" ocean. That said, the Pacific Ocean is a heck of a lot bigger than the others: I mean, you can position a globe so that it's all you can see. But when my friend John Beeden, who already had an extremely fast (53 days) solo crossing of the Atlantic under his belt, was planning his Pacific crossing, he deliberately sought a route that was proper hard.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Grasshopper Book of Expedition Rowing


For those of us who grew up in English-speaking homes in the 1960s and 70s, long before the days of Wikipedia, our early education was shaped by Ladybird Books.

Extraordinarily, despite covering an extremely broad range of topics from Your Body, to Baby Jesus, via Ballet and The Beach (to name but four that I remember owning), there was never a Ladybird Book of Expedition Rowing.

There still isn't, but this is what one might have looked like. Particularly if their illustration department had been on strike.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Seven Wonders of the (Dutch rowing) World

The Netherlands is a short flight from the southern UK and their weather is similar to ours, but their rowing clubs are practically on a different planet.

Last weekend, I went on an informal 29km rowing tour there with Dutch friends, followed by a conference on touring rowing (organised by Toer!) the next day in Amsterdam, and was bowled over by what I found.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Gig rowing for river rowers/skiffers

Today I was lucky enough to be taken out for a "taster session" in a Cornish Pilot Gig (in Hampshire, but you can eat Cornish Pasties there, so why not?).

On hearing that I was a river rower/skiffer, the coach immediately told me that "This is completely different", and it turned out that he was right, in several ways. Here's what I learned...

Thursday, 8 October 2015

What people REALLY want to know about long-distance rowing (sadly)

You plan, you train, you organise, and then you struggle, you overcome and you achieve! And what is it that other people want to know about your gruelling but wonderful feat of oar-powered endurance? The blisters? Sometimes. The scenery? Maybe. The weather? Yes, fair point.

But with depressing frequency, what they ALMOST ALWAYS want to know about are... the toilet arrangements. So I shouldn't have been surprised when the web analytics for this blog revealed that someone had reached it by searching on the phrase "when long distance rowers use the bathroom". I kid you not. However, since at least someone wants to know, and in the interests of encouraging expedition rowing by sharing my experiences, here is the "bog blog"...

Monday, 13 July 2015

Rowing with seals: a Scottish alternative to swimming with dolphins

Back around 1968, when leisure activities in some circles was focused on peace and love, a visionary, benevolent and – crucially – wealthy member of the Royal West of Scotland Amateur Boat Club (an excellent, if not entirely accurately named organisation, but more of that later), commissioned a rowing boat for the club, on condition that it was used annually, for "a long row".

Not having specified exactly how "long" a row this had to be, the club played "safe", and decided that, to be certain they were meeting their moral obligations, "long" should be defined as at least 50 (statute) miles. In other words, trips firmly in "expedition rowing" territory, or perhaps waters: my favourite thing! But in wellies...

Saturday, 13 June 2015

English rows or English rose? The Magna Carta 800th Anniversary River Pageant

When it comes to expedition rows, I'm generally drawn towards the more challenging end of the spectrum. But despite involving more time spent picnicking than actually rowing, and the main preparations being  focused on what to wear, this two-day paddle along the Thames from Cookham to Runnymead was a truly splendid extravaganza of rowing in all its forms.

"What sort of boat is that?", was a FAQ along the way (both asked of us and by us); equipment was compared (I experienced boat-hook envy); and we made some lovely new friends too.

Incidentally, where was Magna Carta signed?

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Ringvaart Regatta 2015: Time for a little lie-down

What with sofas for marshals; floating bananas; llamas; a 25km row to the start; mid-race chips; a stork on a stick; loads of students who could hardly row; but then loads more students who excelled at bilingual organisation, the 100km Ringvaart Regatta is probably the wackiest rowing event I've ever taken part in.

Though I have to say it was an unusual choice for a first sculling race for the only other British entry in the event, "Jim the Sculler".

Friday, 13 March 2015

Rowers' Paradise

When an Olympic rowing medallist describes somewhere as "Everything you could imagine paradise to be, and we rowed there", it's going to pique anyone's interest, never mind the passionate expedition rower's.

Unfortunately, this wasn't the sales pitch, it was the after-the-event summary of a trip I DIDN'T go on, but golly, I would have loved it... Crystal-clear water and World firsts, not to mention the impromptu lobster dinner. Wow!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Ring-a-Ring-a-Rowers

Several people have asked me recently what expedition rowers do in the Winter. Despite partly subscribing to the maxim "There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing", there's no getting away from the fact that rivers flood, locks are closed for repairs and the days are much shorter. So, whilst I do go out on the water (including with lights at night), and also spend some time on the erg, an important wintertime activity is planning next year's expedition rows. The first of these will be the 100km OC&C Ringvaart in Holland, which is previewed here using the medium of Lego.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Tour du Leman 2014: How we went Dutch... and won!

The start: I just love a good melée.
© Maxcomm Communication
One of the questions I find I'm most often asked after completing a major expedition row is "Would you do it again?" Which, on closer analysis, is faintly irritating. I mean: if the answer's "No", does that mean my achievement this time is somehow reduced? However, in the case of this 160km race round Lake Geneva, the answer keeps being "Yes", and so it was that in early July I turned my attention for the sixth time to the challenge of finding suitable crewmates.