I always look forward to Shrewsbury Regatta, as the river bank becomes alive with athletic looking people clad in all sorts of lycra outfits, oozing youth, vitality and well being. I feel very much part of such a crowd. My one failing is that I have never actually had the opportunity to carry an oar, which seems to be de rigueur at such events, and so at times one can feel a little akin to someone in a wetsuit on a nudist beach.
This year I sadly had to miss the event to visit my ailing father in Worthing Hospital, where he had checked in for a few days leaving mum to run the family estate on her own. Instead of listening to shouts of encouragement from demon-eyed coaches on ancient, uncontrollable, buckling, battle-scarred bikes, I had to contend with Victor in the bed opposite from my well behaved patriarch. He was convinced that there was a plot to murder him hatched by the charming nurses, who certainly looked more up for murder after one particularly lengthy loud-mouthed and abusive rant. Having fled the hospital, I found myself watching the waves break on the Sussex shoreline. Meanwhile in Shrewsbury, the crew that was making perhaps the most noticeable waves on the Severn were the under-15Bs.
It will not come as a complete surprise to the rowing aficionados among you that an under-15 crew should get a mention in this most hallowed of slots. Both the A and B crews came third at the Schools’ Head of the River last term, and at the ‘magnificent motivational Manser moment’ before both crews embarked on a rigorous training session, squad coach Paul Manser spoke of the quest for gold at the National Schools’ Regatta on the first weekend of half term. All around me there was vigorous nodding of heads and steely looks from young athletes with their eyes firmly fixed on glory! Coach and squad seemed united in their ambition and Paul told me that it was not hard to motivate this fine bunch of marauding river-raiders. “It is not hard to motivate this fine bunch of marauding river raiders,” he said.
Paul has been involved with rowing at Shrewsbury since he was small – so all of his life! There is nothing he does not know about this stretch of the river, apart from a few trivial things like how many shopping trolleys there are at the bottom of the river under the bridge and whether the river froze over in the Winter of Discontent. Paul is ably abetted by Dr Mark Elliot, who told me he gained his love of rowing at Peterhouse, Cambridge. He then started to enjoy coaching rowing when teaching at Tonbridge and Halle Berry (does he mean Haileybury - Ed?), before he managed to get a job at a proper school. Mark wanted me to mention that one of the most impressive feats of the crew’s performance of the weekend is that they defeated men’s crews – and they were not XL Club cricketer-style athletes!
The performances of the under 15B VIII at the Shrewsbury Regatta went as follows. Rowing as an VIII, they defeated the Shrewsbury School 3rd VIII in one event and narrowly lost to them in another. This is unusually good! Then when they were split into two coxed fours, one crew won their Novice event on the Saturday, meaning that they had to go into a higher level event on the Sunday. On the Sunday they narrowly lost to the under-16A Shrewsbury crew in the final of their event. The other four were narrowly defeated in the final of their Novice event on the Saturday and then were again impressive on the Sunday.
The eight are Jacob Rand (R), Alex King (M), Max Yale (S), Rory McKirdy (PH) Cox Dan Powell (Ch), Jake Elliott (Rb), Ben Jones (Rb), Donald Hickey (Ch) and Caspian Cowan Taylor (Ch). Ralph Assheton (SH) was also a cox for one of the fours.
Max Yale gave me his account of the weekend. “This weekend was one of devil’s luck.” (Has he been watching Jamaica Inn?) “To begin with, nearly every race we had in the J15B four (of Jacob Rand, Alex King, Rory McKirdy, Max Yale and Dan Powell) was on the inside lane, the one closer to the bank and out of the wind and stream.” (I have it on good authority that as the river levels were rising this was a considerable help but, hey, you earn your luck!) “While the races were staggered to account for this, a sprinting crew had a distinct psychological advantage in the final straight. Our boat took full advantage.
“On the Saturday our first race was delayed by a mix-up of crews, with the wrong Grosvenor crew in our opposing boat. Once this was resolved, we met a pretty unprepossessing crew of youngish men, who we promptly beat by three lengths. The second was a tad more gripping, after a member of our crew caught a crab in the start of the race, putting us back by two lengths. We inched back until pulling level at the Toll Bridge and pulling ahead. The third race we beat the Abingdon RC crew by ten lengths to win the title of Novice Club 4s. This victory put us in the situation of being effectively barred from Novice competition.
“The next day the crew got ready for an IM3 4s competition with some trepidation, as it was a considerable step up from Novices. The first race was uneventful; however, the second was more interesting. After falling behind in the first half of the race, we picked up the rate on the final stretch to pull level with the men’s crew from Stourport. After crossing the finish all but even, it was anybody’s guess to whom the spoils went, but we won by the teeth of skin – or two feet, to be exact. The close call was enough to make us question our eligibility in the more senior competition.
“Yet another nail-biter against another more able Abingdon RC crew gave us confidence going into the final. What we did not expect was to be faced with racing our very own J16 As 4, who happen to be representing GB against France this exeat. Little did we know that the mammoth mismatch would play into our hands. We had little, if any, pressure to perform against the superior crew so were relaxed going into the final. The same race that we had experienced before played out, albeit with us much further behind than beforehand. In the final straight we again mustered what little strength we had left and pulled back to within half a length of our older counterparts before crossing the finish behind. Despite the loss, the journey from Novice to contending with a GB J16 4 was certainly a memorable series of events that I will treasure for the rest of my life.”
A mention of the coxes Ralph Assheton and Dan Powell must be made. Both coaches were impressed with how they steered a fantastic line, keeping the crew out of the stream and maximising their lane advantage. Coxing is in Dan Powell’s blood, as his mum was a cox at Durham University and at the Thames Rowing Club in Putney. Dan told me that his motivational phrase “Unleash the Beast” seemed to have the desired effect on his crew, whereas Ralph preferred “Go Mental”. Dan was keen to mention that he had found a sporting niche for himself at Shrewsbury having not been a great fan of sport at Rowkby. “Come to Shrewsbury and sit in a boat,” was his advice to non-sportsmen and women at prep schools up and down the land!
I sense that all the work that the lads have put in during the cold and the damp of January and February is paying dividends. Certainly the crews were shooting the bridges fast but with full concentration. Apparently they are rated very highly and I certainly agree! Indeed regular readers of this column and members of the girls rowing squad, Poppy Crowe, Issie Tennyson Collins, Issie Codrun and Izzie Diment had all noticed the power of the younger lads and were keen to be quoted as being inspired by their performances. “Izzy wizzy let’s get busy!” they said and Poppy Crowe agreed, stating “Let’s go and sweep up some pots!”
I think I am right in suggesting that there were some 70 ‘pots’ won over the weekend by Shrewsbury rowers – the girls making quite an impact, as Lettie Tay won five of them: two with Cesca Molyneux in a pair and three in single scull competitions. Cesca also won a singles sculling event by some way. Claudia Kimpton-Smith was also successful, although she lost to her friend and rival in the final of one competition, but only because she knew her opponent was going through a hard time! All the girls told me that they were inspired by their friends in the Rounders team (see last week’s Team of the Week piece).
It seems the Rowing Club have much to cheer after this weekend. It is just Oar Inspiring - so get out in a boat!