Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sarah warns of Killer Shrimp

Talking to DARC profiler, Sarah Wheater, I took the opportunity to find out about the CHECK-CLEAN-DRY campaign.

Andy: Sarah, it sounds like a dry cleaning company, what’s it all about?

Sarah: It’s actually about stopping the spread of alien species

Kind permission of The Environment Agency

Andy: I’m guessing you’re not talking about rowers from down south?

Sarah: You’re right there .. it’s about invasive alien species, not native to Britain .. plants such as floating pennywort and giant hog weed and animals such as the killer shrimp. These and loads of others are already in Britain – the aim of the campaign is to stop or slow down the spread of these non-native species

Andy: Blimey, I know enough people who are worried about capsizing, without the fear of a killer shrimp lurking in hard arch

Sarah: Andy .. this “large shrimp” is only up to 3 centimetres. The point is that it is a voracious predator of other invertebrates.

Andy: What sort of problems do these aliens cause?

Sarah: Well take, floating pennywort .. a green floating plant. It can go from a piece the size of a 20p piece, to a thick mat that can block an entire water course, incredibly quickly

Kind permission of Trevor Renals

.. there was a club on the River Soar, the Devils Elbow Rowing Club that had to move the club because it was so bad, and Leicester Rowing Club also had trouble with it. It’s difficult to eradicate, it takes a lot of volunteers and lots of money.

Andy: How do these things spread, those darned killer shrimps, for example?

Sarah: Any water user could unknowingly help to spread invasive plants and animals from one river or lake to another. Animals, plants, eggs or seeds can hitch a ride on equipment, shoes or clothing, and can survive for a long time. So you can see how rowing is involved with regattas , safety boats and so on moving between our rivers in the North East. Imagine something bad affecting Talkin Tarn.

Andy: So, check, clean, dry?


Sarah: CHECK – is there anything obvious stuck to the boat, or to any equipment. A lifejacket that has been in the water for example, is there any stuff attached to it. Empty any water from boats.

CLEAN – Wash the boat down, just with water and with elbow grease.

DRY – most things will be killed off by exposure to the air, but things can survive in moist damp pockets, so deal with that.

We’ll be setting up a cleaning station at Durham Small Boats Head to show people what to do

Andy: Thank you Sarah. I’m sure rowers will be more vigilant now they appreciate the dangers. What is the situation in the North East?

Sarah: We already have Himalayan Balsam which is thought to contribute to erosion of river banks. And an example not confined to the river itself – Giant Hogweed has been confirmed in Durham. This is a plant whose sap can cause skin blistering and light sensitivity that can last for years – truly nasty stuff.

Kind permission of RPS Group PLC

Locally there is definitely Floating Pennywort in the Tees catchment. This is the furthest North it has spread so far and the aim is to keep it that way.

Another issue in the North East that people might be aware of is that the River Wansbeck is home to native white-clawed crayfish, which are now very rare in Britain due to the invasive American signal crayfish. So if signal crayfish (or the fungal disease they carry) were to make their way into the Wansbeck that could be the end of one of the last English strongholds for our native species. There’s lots of information on that situation here:

The GB Non-Native Species Secretariat has a great website full of information and even a link to a Smartphone app to help you report any invasive non-native species if you see them. Check it out at







DARC Profile – Sarah Wheater

Sarah Wheater is an environmental scientist and novice rower. Originally from South Yorkshire, she moved to Durham in September 2012.

 How did you get into rowing?

Through the sports and social club at work. I had a friend in Warrington who was helping organise a Learn to Row course and they needed an extra body .. so I said I’d make up the numbers. I thought it would be a nice thing to do for 6 weeks. Now rowing and swimming are my two sports.

Proudest rowing moment?

So far, winning the recreational event at Durham Primary Regatta. It was the first time I had won anything … and that includes the egg and spoon race at Junior School.

Most embarrassing rowing moment?

Undoubtedly, when I stepped into the Mersey off the landing stage .. I was up to my neck, having been warned not to do that, 5 minutes earlier. The coach was struggling not to laugh as he hauled me out. A week later he did exactly the same thing – hah!

Top training tip?

Compare yourself with yourself. When you’re 5 foot 2, it’s unrealistic to compare yourself with some huge rower (Sarah, not the old … “A good big ‘un will always beat a good little ‘un)

What’s your Genie wish?

A magic device for keeping you in time. I’m always trying to stroke the boat from the bow seat.

Have a whinge?

It would be nice if the erg batteries weren’t constantly dying, it’s hard to do 6k with zero feedback.

If I wasn’t rowing I’d be …

Open water swimming

What’s that?

It’s swimming in places like Ellerton Lake near Richmond, or in the Sea. Last year I went on a swimming holiday to the Scilly Islands. We were doing about 3 miles a day, swimming between the islands. We swam with seals, normally you get a wetsuit on but I didn’t want to miss the seals so I swam in my costume. Another time I’ve swum in Loch Earn in Scotland, the water was 8 degrees.

What about Hypothermia?

It would be a risk if you didn’t know what you were doing – your body has to get acclimatised. Obviously, it isn’t something you should try first time alone, and with no advice, but plenty of people swim outdoors, even in the winter. You can do the ICE MILE. That’s a mile in water under 5 degrees, with no wetsuit .. now that is a little crazy!

So … you know what they say, Sarah “Swimming with Seals” Wheater …

 “ a crazy little ‘un will always beat a sensible big ‘un.

As someone interested in environmental issues and as an environmental scientist, Sarah is promoting the CHECK-CLEAN-DRY campaign at DARC – see the news article, Sarah warns of Killer Shrimp, to explain what this is all about.



Mark Bell clears hard arch with a little loose change

It’s another of those volunteer jobs that goes largely unnoticed – river clearing .. John Appleby and Derek Gordon in a safety launch last year, most of the daylight hours, providing safety cover, in freezing conditions, whilst the Council, cleared a massive tree from the river and the landslip in Pelaw Woods.

Elvet bridge blocked by flood debris

 January 2014 – hard arch is blocked, as usual. It’s Durham Small Boats Head on Saturday. “Somebody needs to clear the bridge”.

Another “somebody” sends an email to the Rowing and Coaching sub-committee, “John Appleby will do it. “

John Appleby, in the bar, about to enjoy a pint … “I saw an email, it said, John Appleby will clear the bridge … humphhh .. looks like we’re clearing the bridge, Derek! We’ll have a look, in the launch on Monday, size it up for Tuesday”, “OK, John.”

On the river, it’s mostly loose stuff, I think we could do it now, just get a rope round those large trunks. What we really need is some purchase from the bank.

Mark Bell is passing, he’s been to the bank, a large quantity of £1 coins in his back pocket .. for change at the week-ends’ Head. and he’s enjoying a bag of chips.

 £700 of pulling power

“Get hold of this rope, Mark, and pull … with all that loose change adjacent to your glutes, you should have no problem”.

“Does that mean, I’ll have to put my chips down?”

“Yeeesss ..”

 Now that’s pulling power – Mark Bell and 900 £1 coins.

..  Job done.

WHO CARES says the Secret Sculler

Secret sculler: So what’s this thing about “caring for boats”, Richard – sounds like you’re getting the Social Services involved.

Richard: Well you know what they say, Secret Sculler, a boat is for life, not just for Christmas.

Secret sculler: I thought you’d put a stop to the ‘boat wrecking’

Richard: Things have improved and members should give themselves a pat on the back.  There is still damage happening though, just not on the scale it has previously.  There have been a couple of unfortunate instances recently where a couple of boats have been damaged and it hasn’t been reported and nobody has owned up…disappointing.

Secret sculler: Have you considered having the perpetrators keel-hauled through the shallows, not only would it teach them a lesson, but it would protect the hull at the same time.

Richard: Thanks for the creative thinking, but I just want damage to be reported – accidents do happen – but we need to know about it. I hope someone will come forward and tell me what happened.

Secret sculler: Of course, that’s the least you can expect. There again isn’t a bit of damage inevitable with lots of clubs and boats on a very busy river. And there is money available for new boats. What happened to the 3000 quid we got for that warship “Liquid assets”?

Richard: We spent it on damaged boats!

Secret sculler: So Captain, our assets, were literally, liquidised .. zap .. kapowww!

Richard: I think you’ve been reading too many comics. Look, I like to think of damage to boats in terms of seats lost.  If there is an eight and a quad, damaged and away for repair, that’s 24 seats missing over the course of a weekend.  That’s potentially 24 people who can’t get out on the water at the weekend.  We’re already pressed for equipment and can’t afford to be down on seats.

Repairs aren’t free either, paying for a boat to be repaired takes money away from new equipment funds.  There has been a lot of very good fundraising recently and it seems a shame to use it only for fixing the equipment we already have.

Secret sculler: Alright Richard, you’ve made your point, but what can you do about it?

Richard: Here’s what we’re going to do, I’d like to appoint squad/section leaders.  One of the reasons for this is to have more people responsible and accountable for boat and equipment care.  I’d like them to ensure people are following these simple guidelines.

  •  Book the boat on the portal.
  •  Sign the boat out when you use it.
  •  Check the inside and outside of boats for damage before and after an outing
  •  Adjust feet and stretchers before going on the water.  This one is really just to make sure there isn’t an M25 style traffic jam up the steps at peak times.
  • Make sure wellies aren’t taken in the boat.  These really dirty the runners etc.
  • Wash the boat before putting it away.  Don’t use a horrible old gritty sponge off the floor for this.

These are simple guidelines which should be easy to implement.  They should be easy for the whole club to follow too…hopefully!

I’d also like to ensure that damage is reported.  Reporting it is simple enough, just email Bill Grant the boat warden and copy me into it.  Bill won’t bite your head off (unless he’s having a bad day!) but it needs to be reported as soon as is happens so it can be sorted.  Of course if the damage is caused by misuse or negligence…well…you might have a bad day when you report it to Bill.

1A final measure is that I’d like to put up a blackboard which can be updated with current dangers on the water.  Things like shallows, trees, blocked arches, shopping trolleys, can be highlighted here so that people are aware of what dangers are lurking out there.

Secret sculler: And will that solve it?

Richard: Not on it’s own. Every member needs to take responsibility it’ s also about judgement by coaches and members, if the water is too high or looks wild then don’t go out.  If it’s blowing a gale and you’re not comfortable in the wind don’t go out.  If in doubt ask somebody.

Secret Sculler: And now I hear there’s been another incident with damage to “Lasting impact”, you know what I say ..

Richard: Alright, Secret Sculler, I’ll get there before you with the cheap jokes, yes someone did indeed make a ‘lasting impact’ with a rigger bite, and it was unreported. Maybe, our next boat will be called, “Perfect responsibility”. Seriously, we’re determined to get on top of this, with a major campaign to improve the way we all look after our boats, so that we can spend the hard-earned profits from commercial activity and fundraising on new boats and equipment rather than on repairing our fleet. Watch this space.





Rec rowers raise two-and-a-half grand

It’s like one of those maths problems. How many cups of coffee does it take at 50p a cup (less cost of the makings, not forgetting the biscuits) to raise £2500 in a year.

Answer … A lot.

The rec rowers have just handed over this money,  as their contribution to club funds,  from both the coffee profits and several mini events. For anyone who  turns up at the club at 11 on monday and thursday mornings you’re bound to encounter a large collection of rec rowers, chatting over coffee in the bar, after their outings. Rec rowers have been a part of the club for several years now, but for those of us who are only down in the evenings and at week-ends, it’s easy to lose sight of their contribution to the club, and to know little about thre range of rowing and other jobs they get involved with.

Out of sight, out of mind.

What percentage of the kitchen volunteers, for example, who run the many functions at the club are rec rowers? There is an answer to this one … of course, the profit from these many functions is THE major fundraiser for thr club in order to buy new boats and equipment, and for other investment in the club.

Is it

  1. 20%
  2. 50%
  3. 75%

The answer is around 75% .

Sadly, Jan Metcalfe, is no longer around to persuade and cajole volunteers for the kitchen and for functions, but the rec rowers have stepped into the breach (with others, Marian for example). The danger of course is that this small group of volunteers end up shouldering too large a workload.

So what is the total monetary contribution, over the last year,, to club funds, that is directly attributable to the Recreational rowing section??

And should the money available for boats and equipment be allocted according to the level of contribution, and fundraising by each section?

Or should all the money go into a central pot, and then decisions be made, according to the needs and priorities across the whole club?

What do you think?

DARC Profile – Recreational rower – John Riach

John Riach rowed many years ago, at the Royal Grammar in Newcastle, and took part in the first Durham Head in 1959 in a ‘maiden’ crew (for all you millenials, that’s the old term for ‘novice’). A civil engineer, John worked all over the country until his retirement a few years ago.

Andy: John, I’ve had problems with my name, a few years ago the commentator at Tees was describing “Haggard” coming down the course. How do you pronounce yours?

John:It’s Riacchhh .. it’s Scottish

How did you get into rowing?

I was on a course for people with bad backs. At the end of the course, Bill Pollard (previous Explore Rowing co-ordinator) came along – rowing was one of the options for carrying on exercise .. and the place was free!

How bad was your back?

17 years ago, the doctor said, you’ve got around another 4 years on painkillers, and then you’ll need a major back operation. Since I started rowing, my back’s been better than at any time in the last 15 years, and I havn’t needed an operation. So, I’d say to anyone in a similar position – don’t be put off

Proudest rowing moment?

The Great Tyne Row. (25k Newburn to Tynemouth).  I was delighted to be able to complete it at over 75 (that’s age, not rating) together with some youngsters, average age 69½.

Most embarrassing rowing experience?

Sitting in the middle of the Wear, as the 125 (wooden 4) gradually sank having had its’ bottom ripped out by a shopping trolley – we were close to the old railway bridge. We had to get to the very steep bank, scramble up, and then work out how to recover the boat.

(Editors note. Despite this unlucky experience, John says that the Rec. rowers are not the Wreck rowers of some parts of the club…. ouch)

Top training tip?

Have some goal to work towards. Last year it was the Great Tyne Row. This year it’s Durham Head, and then the Sunday League.

If I wasn’t rowing I’d be …

a lot less healthy than I am now

It’s still the Panto season – what’s your Genie wish?

That the Genie always appears at the end of the outing and washes down the boat for us. (Yes John, and Bill Grant would probably say that some members do genuinely believe in the existence of this same Genie)

John, can you explain for the rest of the club what Recreational Rowing is about?

I think the term “Recreational” is wrong – it implies non-competitive. We’ve been going several years now and things are changing. At first there was little involvement in regattas, but now we’re diversifying .. some people want to develop their skills .. some are happy to stay where they are. And we’re getting involved in many other activities for the club.

We know you socialise and raise some money from drinking a lot of coffee, but what else do you do?

Yes, we just handed over £2500 to the club from the coffee profits and from several mini events. We put up sheds, paint fences, refurbish oars, often clean the steps after floods. Perhaps, most important at least 75% of the kitchen volunteers for functions are rec rowers (editor’s note: this IS the major fundraiser for the club). We’re planning a project to rub down and re-varnish the wooden boats. And 6 or 7 rec. rowers regularly work on each Explore – Learn to Row course as helpers.

Of course we have a lot more time than other younger members, but there’s a lot of skills and expertise available to the club. People who have run international companies and so on.

That is fantastic. You clearly do a lot for the Club, what can the Club do for you?

We don’t want to whinge ..

Go on have a whinge .. most of us do

OK .. that we only get the old wooden boats and don’t have access to some fine boats.

What would you like?

We’d welcome more coaching and more equipment. That’s not to criticise the coaching we have which is great. But the priority tends to be on beginners with the other left to their own devices. We’d like to see various levels, in rec rowing, each with their own coach. We’ve been talking to Jacki (coaching co-ordinator) about a possible ‘off peak’ development squad. And rec rowers going into the mainstream of regattas.

Hang on .. you’re talking about fine boats and regattas. Many people would say if you want to do that you should become full members?

But we are using a facility that’s standing empty and equipment that wouldn’t be used otherwise (in off peak hours).

As regards the use of some fine boats, exactly the same criteria and test of competence and standards should be used for us, as for full members before using certain boats. At the moment there are some inconsistencies – for example someone joins a development squad and straightaway has access to a fine boat , whilst perhaps having less experience and skills than some rec rowers.

And of course, if we came down on Saturdays and Sunday mornings the club would be more overcrowded.

But don’t get me wrong we’re very pleased to have joined the club, and we hope to add a lot of value to the club.

John, there’s no doubt about that. It’s good to understand more about rec rowing and I hope other members will have picked up a few things, about what you do, and some of your views.

Thank you

By the way, will you be rowing as ‘maidens’ at Durham Small Boats Head. I’ll watch out for that.