After months of planning by the Upton RC recreational rowing committee, on Thursday afternoon boat trailers from all over the country began arriving at Worcester Race Course for the 21st British Rowing Tour. Solent galleys, a wherry, touring boats of various designs, and fine boats were unloaded and re-rigged ready for the following morning. Meanwhile crews were being welcomed to their base at the Puckrup Hall Hotel by Upton “Tour Makers” in their distinctive lavender polo shirts. During the evening buffet Andrew and I were surprised to learn that we would be rowing in the morning to substitute for an injured rower and so would become honorary Weybridge Ladies for a day.

On Friday morning two large coach loads of rowers were bussed to Worcester. With many extra hands for the heavy boats, 21 boats were launched from Worcester Rowing Club’s landing under the interested gaze the media. They were particularly impressed by the wide age range (up to octogenarians) and the large number of women participating. Participating rower Ruth Marr, a rowing tour organiser from Winnipeg, Canada, was also a centre of media attention. Maurice joined a ladies crew from Henley RC in Peter Barker, and with some trepidation Sheila and Judi joined the crew of one of the Solent galleys.

Under brooding skies I set off in the last boat with three Weybridge Ladies and Ruth. While waiting to enter Diglis Lock they were excited to see our first non-cygnine wildlife, a young cormorant, soon followed by a kingfisher. After locking down we set off on the day’s main stretch to Upton into a gusty headwind. As the Severn meandered southwards the conditions alternated between rippled and choppy waters but our scratch crew coped well in our fine quad. A quick burst of light rain added to the sense of endeavour. The rain didn’t return and we set a steady pace with short bursts of firm pressure to keep warm and almost caught the group of slower boats ahead who had locked down well before us.

At Upton Marina everyone moored or hauled their boats out to be welcomed by the Mayor of Upton, Cllr Pete Webb, and Upton RC Captain, Steve Cox. They then enjoyed a buffet lunch at the Wheelhouse. The Solent galley crews were relieved to find that beer was available after the lack of riverside pubs since Worcester. It wasn’t long before the crews were keen to get back on the water, including Sheila and Judi who had decided that fixed seat rowing was easier than they had expected, though hard on the arms, and Solent galleys were great boats. After lunch I handed my seat over to Andrew and re-joined the Tour Makers.

BR Tour Lower Lode

After about an hour of rowing, the tourers reached Mythe Bridge where they were treated to tea and a mountain of cakes by AB Severn RC. Another short row took them to Upper Lode lock where they were able to lock down in three groups. A wider more exposed stretch of choppy water greeted them as they approached the end of the leg at Lower Lode, Tewkesbury. The boats were hauled out for the night at Cheltenham College BC and the coaches returned them to Puckrup for dinner with the mayor of Tewkesbury, Mike Dean, and his wife.

On a cloudy but dry Saturday morning the tourers returned to Lower Lode. The wide concrete ramp at Cheltenham College BC made launching straightforward and a steady stream of boats headed off around the bend to Deerhurst, Apperley and Wainlode.

The Tour Makers headed to the East Channel outside Gloucester Lock to rig ropes for holding boats in the strong tidal stream expected around high tide. After a long delay from the MV Edward Elgar monopolising the East Channel and causing northbound narrow boats and cruisers to queue for Gloucester Lock, the tour was finally given clearance to row down to the lock. As they arrived and grabbed onto the throw ropes, there were some concerned conversations. “Was that a plastic bag we just passed or a body floating in the river?” “I thought it was a body.” The message was passed to the leading MISAR safety launch and they took off to investigate. They soon returned with a confused soul who had decided it was a good idea to go for a swim in the river. MISAR handed her over to the police and the care of the ambulance service.

BR Tour Glos DocksThe second batch of boats was shepherded through the lock and into Gloucester Docks where there was a scramble for the last remaining moorings and a rush for the toilets after the long delay. At the lunch provided by the Waterways Museum, the mayor of Gloucester, Deb Llewellyn, welcomed the tour to her city alongside her rower daughter and the captain of Gloucester RC, Jon Garner.

The tourers made a whistle-stop sightseeing tour of Gloucester Docks before returning to their boats. After little more than a mile of rowing the tourers reached Hempstead Meadows, where ground has just been broken on the site of Gloucester RC’s new clubhouse, and hauled their boats out for the night.

On returning to Puckrup, the tourers swapped their Lycra and sun hats for blazers and dresses ready for drinks before the gala dinner in the ballroom. After dinner a series of speakers talked about touring past and present and speculated about the future.

Sunday morning started with broken cloud and blue skies but instead of clouding over like most days for the last month it cleared to a glorious warm sunny day. The touring rowers were bussed to Hempstead Meadows to start the final leg down the Gloucester and Sharpness Canal. There they were joined by day rowers from Bewdley, Ross and their hosts Gloucester.

Earlier in the week the Tour Makers had been to the tour finish at Purton to trim back the brambles from the canal edge and extend the small landing stage with a floating pontoon. On Sunday a large working party returned to Purton to direct trailer parking and to pitch two borrowed scout tents to shelter (or as it turned out to shade) the lunch. The non-rowing tourers arrived having walked the towpath from Slimbridge and lunch arrived on schedule so everything was set for the arrival of the rowers.

The shore party stood by Purton Bridge staring up the reach eager for the first sight of oars. After a few false alarms from narrow boats the first rower appeared around the last corner, a single sculler from Gloucester RC who had been determined to keep a Bewdley women’s eight behind him all the way. It wasn’t long before more boats arrived. They had helpfully become strung out due to stops along the way, meaning that there was very little queuing for the short landing stage. All the larger boats were hauled out bow first, due to an awkward 90 degree turn into the car park, and carried to the trailer field opposite. Many locals and day trippers looked on in fascination as the assortment of 28 boats were recovered from the water.

The tourers de-rigged and loaded their boats before tucking into a classy picnic lunch served from an old fashioned canvas and wood tent that seemed to be in character for such an event. Circles of rowers sat cross-legged in the sunshine reflecting on the tour. The consensus appeared to be that this was the biggest and best organised tour yet. There were many happy waves from departing crews. The Tour Makers struck the tents and tidied the field before enjoying a well-earned cup of tea from Purton Church. They returned home weary but glowing with the satisfaction of a job well done.

Duncan Jardine

The tour was featured in the Worcester Evening News – a link to their article can be found here.

Seven club members got off to a wretched start thanks to heavy traffic on both M5 and M6 and it was nearly 7.00 pm before we arrived at our hotel in Greasby.  Treasurer of Liverpool Victoria RC had kindly asked us to a meal on Friday night. Outside their house Pauline stumbled on uneven pavement and fractured her femur close to the hip. Full ceramic hip replacement operation on Monday morning with Terry on bedside duty. Amazingly they were both back home on Wednesday.

Saturday morning was “free time”. Found we were on a convenient bus route so being such a vibrant young club bus passes to the fore. Joined the tourists and crossed the ”Ferry to the Mersey” though none of us could remember the words. Walked round the rejuvenated docks and admired the Liver Birds before taking the bus back through the tunnel and enjoy a chat with the very friendly locals.

LV Visit June 2014Off to Grosvenor RC in the afternoon using park and ride in Chester. 1800s black and white Boat House on banks of Welsh Dee. As we were down two rowers, LV produced three sit-ins to make up an 8 with our club contact Heather Parry coxing. Rowing upstream was like rowing on the Thames at Marlow with very expensive real estate lining the banks.

LV Visit June 2014After rehydration at a nearby pub it was back to the Hotel for a shower and a meal next door with LV members .

On Sunday morning we were off to Liverpool Victoria RC in dockland at Wallasey. We were all envious of their boathouse on two floors with gym, showers and bar, all above a spacious boat store stuffed with boats.

LV Visit June 2014The club is restricted to rowing on about a mile of dock with moored freighters and warships alongside. Our 8, again crewed by pressed volunteers from LV, was coxed by Greer who with her renowned vocal cords declined the use of a cox box. Peter at stroke has been suffering with ear drum problems ever since! Structured row with a very vibrant Club.  With one less car we were very grateful to Sheila for whisking us home in her well packed Jag.

LV Visit June 2014 A big thanks to LVRC and GRC for making us so welcome and arranging a very enjoyable weekend.

Ian Mackie

On Wednesday night Matt and Maurice in their 2x became beached on the only bit of debris in the river. The huge tree-trunk was drifting downstream, barely visible and at 90 degrees to their direction of travel. The bow section of their boat went over the trunk and lodged.

They were discovered by an Upton 4+ on a club row, drifting sedately down the river with the tree trunk, unable to re-float. After great efforts the 4+ cox Ian Mackie was able to push the bow clear and both crews went on their way – the 2x being undamaged. The picture shows Maurice helping Ian move the tree just prior to release.

John Dean

Crocodile

At least two records were broken at the British Masters Championships at Nottingham on Sunday 18 May.  With around 750 crews taking part, the organisers believe that this was the biggest one-day regatta ever held in this country.  And seven of these crews came from Upton, which must surely be a record for our club as well.

The steady increase in the popularity of this event in recent years has been matched by a rise in the quality of the crews taking part, and medals are harder than ever to come by.  Veteran rowing in Britain has become highly competitive, and all of our crews found the pace pretty hot.  But even though we didn’t bring home any prizes, it was a very enjoyable day out for all the Upton rowers who took part, and an excellent way to kick off the season before we turn to local regattas.

All of our women’s crews ended up having to row in Championship (i.e. elite) events, in which the pace was even hotter.  First up were Debbie and Sally in Mas A coxless pairs; since Mas A starts at the tender age of 27, this is really an elite event and the crews at the front soon opened up a big gap.  The main consolation is that next year our crew will be in Mas B!

Debbie & Sally

Debbie & Sally

The women’s quad of Liz, Linda, Jo and Maggie came next.  Having only six sculling points between them they had entered the IM3 event, but a rule change made by the organisers this year made them ineligible;  this was because Maggie held four of these six points and was thereby not entitled to race in IM3 in this regatta.  So up to the Championship Mas E/F event they had to go, where their opposition included the gold medallists from last year, from Tyne United.  And to add insult to injury, Tyne United were to be given a 10 second start by virtue of being Mas F compared to our crew’s Mas E!  After an interminable delay at the start caused by a very strong cross-headwind, the race got under way.  The Upton crew rowed extremely well but couldn’t quite match the pace of the winners – with 200 metres to go they were holding on to third place, but lost it by under a second to Mortlake Anglian and they finished only 7 seconds behind Tyne United, who had defended their 10 second start by just enough to take the gold medal again.

Maggie, Jo, Linda and Liz

Maggie, Jo, Linda and Liz

Our quad then split up and rowed in two other events – Mas E double sculls and Mas E coxless pairs, and again these were both Championship events;  this time Jo and Linda had legitimately entered the IM3 event, only to find that the organisers then elected to combine the two events so that they had to race against the top crews anyway.  They didn’t help their cause by a disastrous start in which they stopped for several seconds under the mistaken belief that the starter had called them back, by which time all the other crews were heading over the horizon.  After they finally got going they managed to row very well, but found themselves chasing a lost cause.  Liz and Maggie also had a good row, but were outgunned by two much bigger crews.

Jo & Linda

Jo & Linda

Maggie & Liz

Maggie & Liz

Julian and Tabitha made their debut in Upton colours in Mixed Mas D double sculls – another Championship event.  This again proved to have attracted a highly competitive field in which they finished fifth, although only a length or so away from the bronze medal.

Julian & Tabitha

Julian & Tabitha

Our remaining two crews had Andrew and Jeremy in a MasE IM3 double scull and Maurice, Duncan, Dan and Matt in a MasC Novice quad, and both performed creditably.  In the double sculls event, Derby showed a turn of speed that belied their status and left the remaining three crews well behind.  In the end, Andrew and Jeremy had to settle for fourth place, but they were in close contention with these other two crews throughout the race.  This was their first competitive appearance in a double, and they should be able to achieve better results in the future.  The quad  managed to come second in a three-boat race, ahead of Newark but behind Norwich, who took first place.  Since they had had their first outing together for several weeks only the night before the race (after suffering from various work-related absences in the last month), this was quite encouraging, and with more time together this crew should have much more potential.

Andrew and Jeremy

Andrew and Jeremy

Matt, Dan, Duncan & Maurice

Matt, Dan, Duncan & Maurice

We clearly have some way to go to match the standard of the top crews at this event.  However, it’s still a great event to go to and be part of, and we can only benefit from the competitive experience of testing ourselves against the best Masters crews from all over the country.  Let’s see if we can break our new seven-crew entry record again when we go next year!

Ron Paterson

L2R sessions are now being run by Lynne Stirling on Wednesdays at 18:30, with additional outings on both Monday and Tuesday evenings (also at 18:30). Lynne would appreciate any help from club members who could be available at these times and sit in with beginners to make up crews. Please get in touch with Lynne (or just turn up) if you can help.