I was waiting to get some photos to put up with this post, but I finally decided that some things you simply Need To Know, immidiately, and so you will have to visualize this for yourself.
Henley Women's Regatta this weekend was a cracking success, the best I've ever had.*
Sal and I arrived on Friday afternoon, set up camp, rigged the boat, and hit the water. It was good to do a practice run, become familiar with the course and the circulation pattern (it was my steering that killed us at Reading, if you recall) and calm the nerves. The night was grey, humid, and drizzling. Everyone was walking around ashen-faced and focused on their own little world. Dozens of people scooted about like doozers, busily, but not energetically, minding their own business, not talking to anyone.
It was quiet, almost eerie. From the bank I heard the soft, rythmic swish-chunk of crews going down the river, a few seagulls, and metal clanking against metal as people unwrapped riggers and dropped them on the grass. There wasn't even the shrill shout of an amplified dwarf (sorry, "coxwain") to break the tension. Most of the crews practicing were coxless crews (who were, naturally, more nervous about the steering and circulation).
Pirate arrived in The Big Car, despite the weather. I mean, what better place to show off a classic Aston than Henley-on-Toffs?
Saturday we awoke at stupid o'clock, it being the soltice and the sun having come up at 3 am or something rediculous, the busy old fool. Pirate insisted no sex before competition. Grrr. So i scarfed some Nutrigrain bars (blueberry, in case you're interested), woke Sal up, and proceeded to pace nervously. We had time to kill.
We went through the registration and final equipment check, and then set off. Pirate and Sal's hubby -- let's call him 'SalMan' -- dutifully took our wellies at the pontoon and promised to bring them back to us after the race.
After a light warm up in a light drizzle we heard our number and got attached to the stake boat.
"Are you ready? Attention... GO!"
And go we did. Our start was a bit untidy, but strong. We were against Tyne United Rowing Club, a new organization and complete unknown. We had no idea what to expect from them. By the time we reached the end of Temple Island we were already leaving them comfortably behind. After a couple hundred meters, when it bacame apparent they didn't stand a prayer of catching us, Sal called half pressure and we took the rate down to 27 to conserve energy for the next round. We kept TURC a comfortable 2 lengths off our stern, which would give us plenty of time to respond if they made a push, and basically paddled down the course.
It wasn't a satisfying victory of a race well-fought, but it gave us the confidence boost we needed. It was, after all, the first thing of any kind we've won all season. Not bad to get your first victory in a Henley heat, eh?
After some malt loaf and Lucozade and a short rest it was back in for the second round, in which karma bit us in the butts.
We got Durham.
Those fucking lilac lycras. They instill terror into the hearts of all who see them. (Except Leander, with their baby-ass pink lycras. They do not fear the lilac.)
And basically Durham did to us what we did to Tyne United. Except instead of sitting pretty and conserving energy, Durham thrashed themselves all the way to the line. So did we, to be fair, but their auto-thrashing was much more effective than ours, and when they crossed the finish line they were so far ahead of us we didn't even hear the horn go off. *weeps*
They did go on to win gold in the final, though, so fair enough. We clearly got beat by the best. The coach from Exeter with the tiny tent said that they were GB under-23's, which makes them insufferable little upstarts as well as very good scullers.
Despite all that we didn't feel bad at all. Actually, we rowed a good race. It was genuinely our best performace ever. Once it became obvious (after about 4 strokes) that they were gone and we were never going to catch them, the pressure was off and we just set out to race the clock and do our best as we went past the crowds. Our start was messy, to be sure. The water was really bouncy and choppy from all the motorboat action, but after we got through that we settled into a strong rhythm at 30 spm, kept the ratio good and the lenght long and never deviated for the rest of the course. We were genuinely please with how we rowed. Durham were just better. (Jesus suffering fuck were they fast.)
The advantage to being knocked out Saturday afternoon and not advancing to Sunday is that you can start drinking a day earlier.
I'm starting to sober up now. I went on a bit of a 3-day bender, and polished off, well, it doesn't really bear listing, does it? But there was mead in there somewhere. By god was there mead. Mmm. *licks lips*
Now I'm back at work, life has resumed to normal (whatever the fuck that means), and for once, I have really happy memory of Henley. Nice to end on a high note.
Sal and I will keep going through the summer, but with a bit less intensity. We'll traing a couple times a week, go to some smally little local regattas and come home with lots of pots and medals. We're big fish, now. We gonna clean up some small ponds.
* Unlike 4 years ago where I was sabotaged by my coach and caught a fatal crab on the 4th stroke, or 2 years ago when all the women on the team quit and I was forced to do a 4+ with some enthusiastic and well-meaning novices who just weren't up to the senior level of competition.