Winter racing beset by bad weather

Spring can’t arrive quickly enough for rowers for whom the winter season has been beset by cancellations and curtailments through challenging weather and water conditions. A succession of storms has left rivers in a constant state of flood and fast flowing water unsuitable for rowing, particularly the Thames, Severn and Trent with their large catchment areas. At other times strong winds have been problematic.

Durham Small Boats Head on February 3rd succeeded in avoiding the worst of the weather but since then there has been little racing for Durham ARC crews.

The South Yorkshire Head at Doncaster on February 10th had no entry from DARC but was cancelled because of the high river level.

Tyne Head was able to go ahead on February 17th and included 4 entries involving DARC, good wins being achieved by the two composites of the Durham/Hexham/Tyne MasE 8+ and the DARC/Durham School J15 4x+, while the Women’s 4x- and WMasB 4x- took 3rd and 5th places in their events.

Next came the Head of the Trent in Nottingham on February 25th in which the club had an Open 8+ entry from the Senior Men, a coxless quad from the Senior Women and a Masters E 8+ composite with Hexham, but it was called off 4 days before because of an excess of water in the river.

The Yorkshire Head on March 2nd survived the conditions and was able to go ahead with an elevated water level but without an entry from DARC.

Next was Derwentwater Head on March 9th which attracted much interest, with 20 of the100 entries coming from DARC and looking forward to a race over 2500 metres on the new eastern course, had the competition not been cancelled the day before due to the forecast of high wind speeds on Saturday, though not before several competitors had made the journey to Keswick.

Despite entries filling earlier than ever before no crews from the Club had entered the Women’s Eights Head of the River Race in London on the same day, which prevented them being affected by the desire to reduce numbers on safety grounds due to the fast flowing Thames. Boats and rowers from 16 Durham College eights were however already on their way south before 12 of them discovered they had been omitted from the revised draw. The Port of London Authority operates a green/yellow/red flag system depending on the flow rate, to determine whether rowing is deemed safe. A red flag (meaning no race) in the days leading up to the competition left organisers predicting a change to yellow before race day, which proved to be correct but meant the only safe way for the race to go ahead was to cut numbers by 50%. The decision was therefore taken to omit J15s and those with low numbers of Personal Ranking Index (PRI) points from the draw.

With a yellow flag still being flown ahead of the Schools Head on Wednesday, March 20th, again with no club entry, a similar stance has been taken with the race committee posting a revised draw on Sunday in which all J15 rowers have been left out, and novice crews with low PRI points have been encouraged to withdraw. This has prompted the fairness of the British Rowing PRI system being brought into question. Crews who don’t regularly race in competitions on the Tideway have little chance of amassing sufficiently large points totals to avoid elimination in cases where there is a requirement for lower pointed crews to drop out.

The head racing season finishes this weekend with conditions still uncertain and a yellow flag possibly necessitating reductions to the number racing. The Senior Men have an eight entered in the Head of the River Race on Saturday and will be hoping for good news from the organisers who have indicated that any decision about reducing numbers will be left until closer to race day. The draw also includes 18 entries from Durham College eights.

After achieving a good 2nd place at the North of England Head in Chester last Sunday the Durham/Hexham/Tyne ARC composite MasE 8+ is in the draw for the Masters Head of the River on the Tideway this Sunday.

The Junior Sculling Head includes 546 J14 to J18 entries racing in coxed and coxless quads and octuples at Dorney Lake on Friday, and we await the draw for Ponteland Junior Head which takes place on the Tyne on Saturday.

With the river level in Durham only fleetingly dropping below the level of the landing stage since October we look forward to the Boat Race on March 30th which heralds the start of the summer regatta season.