So as preluded by my previous blog post, yesterday was our day of racing for University Fours. And spoilers for the rest of the post, but we won. That said, we quite easily might not have done.
The conditions were insane. It was massively windy, and the waves on the river down the reach were literally (and I mean literally) a foot high or more in amplitude. If they'd been much higher, they'd have been coming over the side and into the boat. For somewhere like the tideway it would be fairly mild, but for the Cam it felt like this:
Our first race was against Clare W2, and was the first race of the day. We were on the towpath side, with the wind blowing down the reach (a headwind as we were racing) and across towards the towpath, so I made sure I was pretty central in the river as we came around Ditton corner. This meant as we faffed around lining up at the start getting blown all over the fucking place, we'd drift roughly into the right place. What I didn't really account for was us being told to move up to the start when they weren't actually ready for us, meaning we spent five or ten minutes just sitting there at the mercy of the current and the wind.
It's pretty fucking difficult to keep a boat stationary relative to the bank in a flowing river, but it's even more difficult when you've got gusts of winds pushing you around all over the place. By the time we started we'd been blown right near the bank on the towpath, and weren't completely straight. As if that wasn't bad enough the first stroke, both bowsiders totally missed the water, meaning by the time we shaped up for the second draw stroke, we were pretty much at 45° to where we wanted to be pointing. By the third stroke we'd piled ourselves straight into the bank.
Thankfully we didn't hit the bank head-on that much. I'd called strokeside to go light, and I had the rudder on (as useless as it is for that sort of speed), and we actually ended up pulling in parallel to the bank. It was some pretty slick albeit massively unintentional and undesired parking - it's rare I ever pull up to the hard at the boathouse that well.
As Ian (our boatmaster for non-DCBC people) laid into the umpire for being so shoddy with the start, my crew just sort of sat there dumbfounded. There was just a state of shock of "There's bank next to us, why is there bank next to us?" and dumbfoundedness as bowside tried to come to terms with the fact there was no water for them to put their blades into.
It probably helped from my point of view that I was facing forward and could see how far Clare had gone. Or, more accurately, just how far they hadn't gone. As we were heading straight into the bank I was swearing profusely inside my head, and was pretty sure we were going to have lost before we'd even really started. But once we'd crashed and I actually looked out at Clare, I could see they'd hardly moved away. They were maybe two or three lengths away from us. I rallied us, we pushed off, quickly set ourselves and did a racing start, and we were away.
From there we just reeled them in. By the time we got to the railway bridge we were already in front, and from there we pushed off them and just kept going. In hindsight, we probably didn't lose more than maybe ten or fifteen seconds during the crash, despite the fact that at the time everything seemed to happen in slow-motion and it felt like we took forever to crash, push off, and get moving again. Our time for that race was 30 seconds slower than the second and third race, but we had such a decent margin near the end that I called the rate down to save energy for later, so not all of that 30 seconds is the crash itself.
I'm not really sure if the win is comparable in epicness to last year's first round of Uni Fours, when my rudder fell off with M2 during the first hundred metres and we had to go through the course without it, steering with my arm in the water, and still won. Either way it was still a pretty epic first race.
The second race we were against LMBC W2, who were pretty damn quick. If we'd crashed at the start there, there was no way we'd have really caught up. In the first ten strokes or so they moved up about 1/4 of a length, and at that point I was a little worried that they'd just stretch away from us and we'd lose. With the wind, we rhythmed early, and once we'd done that and lengthened the stroke out we started pulling ourselves back level, and took the lead. We got clear, but they definitely kept us honest over the length of the course, and we never got far enough ahead for me to be comfortable taking the rate down. If they'd been on the other side of the draw I reckon they'd have made the final, because they were pretty rapid.
The final was against Trinity Hall W2, and by then the wind had died down a little and the water was much calmer. We started off pretty close together, and there might have been a few blade clashes in the first couple of strokes, but we moved up and our final race was really strong. Again, Tit Hall were fast enough to keep us worried (or to keep me worried at least), and though we pulled out a reasonably clear lead, I was still really nervous through the last few hundred metres or so that if something went wrong we wouldn't have enough of a margin to cover it. The last quarter of the race just seemed to take fucking ages. All we needed to do was cross the line without incident and we'd have it, but it seemed to take so damn long for us to get there.
It was absolutely fantastic to win, and hopefully we'll get medals for it (I know the first division do, but I'm not sure about the second divisions). Many thanks to Kat for bank partying us, and absolutely huge thanks to Guy Williams, Ben, Deepti, MEM, Viv, Claire and anyone else who coached us this term, because we really wouldn't have improved so much without your help and advice. I'd also like to thank Sam Thorne for the constant nagging and comments during the WI outings I coxed, because I really think I improved this term because of it. And obviously personal thanks to Zara, Niki, Christabel and Luiza for actually pulling us over the finish line :P
Looking back, I was really pleased with how I coxed yesterday too. Last year I took a fair bit from Uni Fours because I coped with the whole rudder-losing incident, but I was probably pretty shoddy aside from that (to be fair, it was only my second term coxing). I was also a bit hapless earlier this term for Autumn Head, though again we won that. Yesterday though I felt like I really handled things well, kept calm, and did a decent job. There's almost certainly still plenty I can learn and improve on, but without going on too much of an ego trip I was pretty pleased with my coxing yesterday.
I probably won't actually have that much to do for the rest of the term, given we'll be going back into eights again, and neither the men's nor women's senior squad seem to have enough depth to put out a second VIII for Fairbairn's. I could cox novices, but really I don't think it would be worth my time. I don't from an arrogant 'too-good-for-novices' perspective, but I don't think I'll really learn much and improve my coxing from doing those outings, and with my course being a bit hectic right now I'd probably prefer having the time off instead.
I might do a few coaching sessions when I think I've got the time (so definitely not this week) and I'll definitely aiming to be back for Lents. Plus there's the training camp, which I am hugely looking forward too.