After a successful season, moving from ‘Explore’ and the Sunday League into mainstream regattas, Durham Women “Optimists” Gabrielle, Clare, June, Susan and Helen entered the Great Tyne Row (now in its 3rd year) – 25 gruelling kilometres from Newburn to Tynemouth. The race has to be completed in stable craft due to the tidal waters, the seas at Tynemouth and the “red zone” with large tankers likely to set off at any moment,
They had been training hard – 5 trips on the Wear on Saturday mornings to practise the distance, and, they said, to perfect the complex changeover manoeuvres (but more likely, an excuse to eat more ‘scran’)
A week before the race, veteran rowing guru, Clive Hole. offered this advice,
“The current forecast is for bright sky with only a slight chance of rain. However, a fresh following wind is expected, rough water could be found where the river turns North or South . Use it ! -It marks the best current. If it gets too rough, clear out to the coxes left, then get back into it as soon as you dare. … Eat 3 Mars bars 20 minutes before you row.”
June always eager to apply coaching tips replied,
“Love it .. I’m in Mars Bar training as of now!”
Gabrielle, Clare .. and June, tell the story of an exhausting and exhilarating day
We set off with the other quads in the second division and got a speedy start, making and keeping at least a boat length between us and a Norwich crew for the first 5km. After about 26 minutes and 7k we decided to scrap one of the planned changeovers and keep going for it …
Clare takes up the story:-
The best bit for me was coxing on the Tyne for the first time, only having coxed in Durham a handful of times. I am not sure if I imagined it, but it felt like I could tell by the boat’s response, when we were in the best bit of the river to catch the tide, and to pick-up the direction of the wind.
…We rowed under all the wonderful Newcastle bridges only previously seen on foot or car, from up above getting a “duck’s eye view” from below, for the first time. Passing under the Millennium bridge people started shouting “Come on Durham!”. I called up, “Give us a wave” and everyone on the bridge joined in, and started shouting encouragement. We all had massive smiles on our faces”
We were being chased all the way by the gritty ladies from Norwich so had decided only to make one crew change.
Helen and I swapped in mid stream – the “up-and-under” in lightening time, and we were quickly off again, giving it a “power 10”, with some help from my “fresh legs”, as we entered the “red water zone” of commercial boating activity – yikes!
We thought we would be called in to wait for tankers passing when we could have our energy drinks, eat all the chocolate energy cakes, snickers bars, and change positions but it didn’t work out that way.. James Andrews from British Rowing had advised us against “playing chicken” with the tankers and when one started its engines up, as we passed, my only thought was to stay well away!
The only two sips of drinks that we managed to get were by pausing one person at a time, while the others rowed on, and the bottle was passed down the boat. The only food was the Mars energy lumps, thrown from my bag to each crew member. Mind you, feathering wasn’t so easy afterwards as the energy boosting Mars, nut & fruit lumps also oiled the handles of our blades !
We had just about overtaken all of the skiffs and doubles which had set off before us, in both division one and two, by this stage, and were leading the flotilla. The skiffs had such narrow oars one could only admire the determination of the rowers to row 25km ..
.. As we rounded the last bend into the mouth of the Tynemouth Bay the waves were daunting. I swallowed the panic rising in my throat, told myself I had been in many more dangerous situations and just kept rowing with Helen shouting “Big Tap Down” at us, in between howls and squawks, whether from her or us I’m not sure. We were the first crew to hear the final hooter and had the elation of being the first to be hauled ashore.
Getting to the beach through the choppy seas past this point was a bit of a challenge but it was great to be “first boat home” and to be greeted with such warm congratulations by the folks from Tynemouth, who gallantly helped us out of our boat and onto dry land. Many thanks to them for their hospitality – the BBQ was well worth the long wait, hunger clawing at us after all the exercise, then it started pouring with rain while we de-rigged the boats and heaved boats up the hill and back onto the DARC trailers …but we were very thankful it hadn’t drenched us while we were on the water.
June describes her highlights:
Arriving at the Tynemouth ARC I’d placed an order in advance and a burger was in my hand before my feet were on the sand! Now that’s forward planning. (Editor: Does this woman think of nothing but food?)
.. And Clare’s brilliant navigation put us in a good position from the start. Our focus then transferred to keeping ahead of the closest competition – the yellow flashing blades of the Norwich women. Clive’s advice on long distance rowing and reading the river really helped – you’ll find the fastest water where the surface is rough, stay with the choppy water as long as you dare – seemed to work! On route the support from Claire C, Dorothy and co. from the Millennium bridge was much appreciated and spurred us on.
And the waves as we turned to the run in to the beach BBQ landing, exciting! Worth the long row and makes me want to try skiff rowing.
Tips for next year’s crews include – learn the lyrics – we sang as we rowed by St Peter’s Basin and through the shipping lanes. No one knew the words, we attempted a local folk song medley including the Blaydon Races and Cushy Butterfield, then attacked the 70’s with a bit of Bay City Rollers Shang a Lang!
Back to the club house to be treated to a pint of very nice draft ale (Mordue I believe) and to discover that we had won the W4x+ category and been the fastest overall women’s boat and it was just such a good feeling – wish we could do it all again next year, and have a go at the course record, but I think others deserve a turn, the stable boats being in such short supply, it really was a fabulous experience and comes highly recommended.
Yippeeee, big hugs, 2 penants and a bottle of champagne to bring back to DARC with aching legs, blistered hands and sore butts all round…
Many many thanks to all those who supported us, sorted the logistics of boats and trailers, starting and leaving at different places, gave lifts here there and everywhere and childminding all thrown in !! What a wonderful exhausting day…
The Norwich crew have posted a video that shows their “yellow flashing blades” chasing Durham through the heart of Newcastle under the iconic bridges.
The men crew “Darc Dinosaurs” also had a very good row in an Explore 4 – see their story below
and “Three Men in a Boat” were valiant, completing the race in the “Dun Cow” !
Colin Lawson describes how a dog beat “Three Men in a Boat” to the finish ..
Being recreational rowers who had only come together weeks earlier our ambition was always just to get to the finish in one piece. Like the Dynasaurs our experience of tidal rivers was limited to briefly splashing about in the Sunday League. With the club’s stable quad and four already claimed the remaining option was the trusty Dun Cow, stable but a double, something else of which we had virtually no experience. It sounded like hard work but was a challenge worth taking on. Opinion was divided as to whether it was meant as a participation event or as a serious race. Entering as the ‘Three men in a boat’ cast the crew (Dennis D’Ugo, Colin Lawson and Peter Robson) firmly into the former camp. In keeping with the novel the next challenge was to find a suitable canine companion to accompany us on the voyage. Indeed at times more attention was focussed on the dog than on our training schedule.
With dog located and having overcome a catalogue of potential disasters involving crew, boat and logistics the day of the event dawned and saw us in no mood for complacency. Arriving at the start line felt like an achievement in itself so we weren’t going to jeopardise our chances by attempting anything overambitious. As long as we could finish before everyone else had gone home we would be satisfied. We duly lined up in the second starting group alongside the skiffs. With our limited coxing and navigational expertise the first challenge of the day was to avoid disqualification by not venturing into the red zone or passing through the wrong arch of the bridge.
Getting underway our vantage point afforded a superb view of proceedings as other crews steadily overtook us, the DARC ladies leading the way with Helen yelling at us to keep away from the sandbanks, closely followed by the Norwich ladies who showed considerable interest in the dog attached to our bow.
A major concern was our ability to put into action the plan to rotate crew positions to share the coxing, which in accordance with the rules had to be accomplished without landing. Being less than nimble meant the changeovers were not of the lightning variety and we had to seek refuge in close proximity to a safety boat to carry out the manoeuvre, swapping first cox and stroke then bow and stroke. Thankfully this was achieved admirably, the only danger being that of the safety boat driver falling overboard with laughter at our contortions!
Along with ‘Are we there yet?’ the other burning question after the Quayside bridges was ‘Where are we now?’ as we tried to identify landmarks, so it was comforting when Pete spotted a ventilation duct for the Tyne Tunnel, then the church spire at Jarrow came into view. By this time the size of the waves had increased markedly along with the size of vessels along either side. As we passed the Amsterdam ferry and eased off to let the Shields ferry cross we knew we were nearly at the finish and the fact that the boat ahead was still in sight spurred us on. Having mislaid the words to ‘Messing about on the River’, we settled for celebrating with a medley of popular sea shanties.
Nervously negotiating the waves of Tynemouth harbour we became aware of someone waving frantically from the cliff top. It turned out to be Dennis’s wife, under the impression that he was still coxing, who demanded to know why he hadn’t waved back, only to have the difficulty of waving whilst manipulating oars in both hands explained. The number of DARC members on the beach awaiting our arrival was a joy to behold.
In the end it wasn’t as difficult as we had imagined but it was immensely satisfying to fulfil our ambition. With rations untouched we arrived in plenty of time for the barbeque – and Montmorency made it to Tynemouth without getting his paws wet! Thanks to all and especially to Caroline for coaching and generally keeping us on board, and to Dave for taking on the last gasp dash with the trailer across Tyneside and back again in time to rejoin the Dynasaurs for the start.
Undoubtedly there will be renewed interest for next year’s event, pencilled in for September 20th 2014.
John Riach reports on a “great day out” for the far-from-extinct Darc Dynasaurs
Why are they called the Darc Dynasaurs?
Well, dinosaurs are prehistoric creatures whom most people believe to be extinct, so this seemed appropriate for the 4 rowers from Durham Amateur Rowing Club who, with a combined age of 277 years, were several decades older than your average rower. Nobody knows why it was spelt wrongly. Perhaps it is an archaic form of the word.
Earlier this year they came together as a crew to compete in the Northern Sunday League. This is a series of small regattas where recreational rowers from local clubs come together to compete in “Splash and Dash” races over a 300 metre course. The Dynasaurs were winning some races in these events and at the time of writing are in fourth place in the league.
These successes very quickly went to their heads and they thought it was time for new challenges. They could not be bothered with (and could not understand) all the rules of a normal British Rowing regatta. Terms like “Masters G to I” and “Novices Open 4X+” were alien to them. The most obvious event for them to enter was the 25.5 kilometre long Great Tyne Row. This sounded like a fun day out and had the added attraction that those who wanted to could wear fancy dress.
The fact that a normal outing for them on the River Wear was usually about 6 kilometres was not seen as an obstacle. After a few longer outings they knew this was the event for them. Among some more senior members of the club there were a few raised eye-brows and shaking of heads. However their persistence paid off and it was agreed that they should enter. Nicola Field was appointed as their personal coach. Her main task was to eradicate the many idiosyncrasies embedded in their style of rowing. She was so successful as a coach that on one occasion she even managed to get three of the crew to practice on the ergos! They spent most of their training sessions trying to keep the rate down as they were convinced this was the only way to survive such a long course.
To justify undertaking such a risky venture they decided to seek sponsorship for their efforts, with all donations being split between two charities, Help for Heroes and St. Cuthberts Hospice. Also a bottle of champagne was donated to the person who made the closest guess to their finishing time.
At last the great day, Saturday the 17th August, arrived. Not even the fact that they were in Boat Number 13 could dampen their enthusiasm. They got off to a good start from Newburn but their luck did not last for long. After less than 2 kilometres they were wallowing mid stream with a large semi submerged tree branch caught in their rudder. Even this did not deter them as their intrepid cox bravely ventured out onto the stern canvas to disentangle it. Soon they reached Newcastle Quayside where they received encouragement from a noisy group of DARC supporters yelling at them from the Millennium Bridge. From there it was a steady non-stop 15 kilometre row to North Shields during which they managed to make up some of the lost time to finish twelfth out of the 22 entrants in a time of 2 hours 7 minutes and 23 seconds. They then had to row through some rough water at the mouth of the Tyne to beach their boat at Tynemouth Rowing Club where there was a very welcome barbeque to feed them and an even more welcoming bar to rehydrate them.
The whole crew were unanimous in declaring it to have been a great day out. However when asked if they would be entering again next year they all agreed that perhaps it would be preferable if their boat was put to a better use by allowing some of the younger members of the club the chance to enter.
The crew consisted of Dave Sturrock (63) at stroke, Colin Jubb (67), John Riach(75) and Gerry King(72). The cox was Brian Freeman(57). They raised a large total for the two charities – details later.