Having made some changes to our gearing and practised our racing starts (following a pathetic attempt at the National Masters in May), Jules and I felt confident enough to consider entering the Henley Masters Regatta as a Mixed Masters D Double.
There were 8 entries in total including the bronze and silver medalists from the Nationals and an unknown American crew. That meant Quarter Finals on Friday followed by Semi’s and the Final on Saturday.
We drew Walton, the silver medalists, in our first round. Consequently our tactic was to go out hard from the start and keep going! We duly did so, taking Walton by surprise off the start – I think they were expecting us to be slow in our heavy wooden boat – and won the race by 3 lengths.
Back on Saturday morning to face Bewl Bridge, bronze medalists from the Nationals. Having beaten Walton so easily confidence was high! It was very hot and we had a long wait at the start. It was also bouncy from passing motor launches and we had drawn the middle of the river. Three strokes in Jules missed the water on bow side due to a large wave, the boat tipped to stroke side and I crabbed my next stroke. We came to a halt and Bewl Bridge took full advantage pulling at least a length ahead. We got going again and by The Barn we had come through them taking a length, thinking “job done”! However, they did not give up and came back at us in the second half stroke by stroke. It was a nail-biting finish with neither crew knowing who had won, but the result was Upton by a canvas.
There was then a long 5 hour wait to the final. It was very hot and we spent much of the time seeking shade and drinking water. Due to the heat and nervous tension, we decided not to do our usual warm up routine in the boat but then had to wait on the start for at least 15 minutes for an Umpires launch. On the first stroke I felt a muscle pull in my lower back down my left side. I tried to ignore it but my next few strokes were painful and difficult. I lightened off and focused on my technique. It was even bumpier than earlier and the last thing I wanted was to crab and stop the boat as I knew we would not come back from that again. We had about a length on our opponents, a composite crew from Tideways Scullers School. I did as much as I could, and no more, to keep that distance. Jules, meanwhile, was pulling his heart out unable to understand why we were not demolishing the other crew (on paper we had 12 seconds advantage over them comparing our semi-final times). We maintained our lead comfortably and crossed the line ahead – verdict a win to Upton by one length!
Jules rowed us to the landing stage by Upper Thames RC where we received our medals, sportingly applauded by our opponents. I crawled from the boat, drank lots of tea and took a moment to reflect on a dream result – my first major win ever and also a first win for Jules in a double at Henley on his 4th attempt!
We would like to thank everyone at Upton for supporting us. It is great to be part of a club set-up again and it definitely inspired us at Henley as we did not want to let the club down.