Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Great Race

Rowing (TCA maritime log book) 1. To propel with oars, as a boat or vessel, along the surface of water; as, to row a boat.

Take the above then add a modicum of balance, timing, rhythm, concentration, strength, stamina and skill. Put all the above into a bubbling hot casserole and if you get the seasoning right on the day you get a Pinsent and Redgrave Stew! There are many definitions of this sport but to take 8 uncoordinated novices and transform them into a respectable crew within 4 weeks was a tall order for any coach, even if they were a nautically minded individual.

Hamilton City Council (HCC) required a minimum of eight people from their one thousand plus workforce to enter into the Annual Great Race. The Gallagher Great Race is Hamilton'’s very own version of the Oxford v Cambridge Boat Race and, boasting the mighty Waikato River which runs through the city, is ideally placed to host such an event. The race itself is 4.8km in length and takes place between the local University of Waikato Senior Men'’s 8 crew and an international University Crew (usually Cambridge, Oxford or Washington) who are invited over to NZ to compete.

Prior to the ‘main event’ however is the 'warm-up' corporate rowing event which Paul and Stef, along with 6 other rowers were now entrants. The corporate race is 'only' held over a much reduced distance of 250m; "not much!" I hear you cry but believe me, on race day, and pulling a barge upstream, it is no mean feat. Stef was selected for the crucial 'bow' or 'number one' seat while Paul rowed at 'number three', bow side. Both being 'Bowman’s' the coach's decision came as no surprise to the intrepid duo. Four weeks of intensive training ensued - twice during the week and the dreaded Sunday session - following which the coach had at least managed to get the crew to '‘propel'’ the boat with oars. Stef and Paul, along with the rest of the crew had also become familiar with some of the rowing jargon: '‘touching'’; '‘backing'’; and Paul's personal favourite '‘easy oar' which (translated for the non-rowing fraternity) means 'stop rowing'.

In order to appreciate the scale of this achiement, one must step back in time to the very first training session: It was the first time all eight had been together, a real hotch-potch of individuals ranging in height, weight and (dare I say it) motivation. A far cry from the rather uniform 6' 7" frame mighty Cambridge rowing eight. What was meant to be an easy first 30 minute lesson on the fast flowing river but turned into a battle of survival as the uncordinated eight drifted the best part of 2.5km down-stream. It took blood, sweat and tears and the best part of 2 hours, Yes 2 hours (!) to row back to the club house in the dark. Paul wished he had not joked about this being a good night-time event. The cox was not impressed.

The Crew forget who sits where in the boat before the off!

Anyway, 4 weeks after the 'induction night of terror' saw the dawn of the big day. The tension in the air was tangible; the orgainisers had seen fit to move the heats for the corporate racing forward to 7:30am! The Billy-Bob high carb diet of pasta the night before was topped up with a can of Watties (NZ baked beans) with baby sausages at 6am Saturday morning. Stef stuck to the safer option of honey on toast.

The fine tuning before race, Paul and Stef touching on bow side

With eight corporate teams in total the heats were split into two random leagues, the rules being to stay afloat, stay in lane, row a distance of 250m and have a minimum of two girlies in the boat at anyone time. Oh, and to observe at all times good rowing eticate e.g. No unwanted touching in between strokes. It soon became clear that, as our HCC crew only had 5 men compared to every other team's 6 alpha males, we had this obvious strength [Don't you mean weight? Ed.] disadvantage but it did not deter us ("excuses coming already", I hear you cry). First up was a rather testorone-bound engineering team by the name of MWH. After a poor rolling start by our nervous crew the opposition team soon went one boats length ahead, then two lengths. We kept them at two and well.. erm.. lost.

Next challenge was a rather dishevelled team of misfits by the name of Campac who rowed in white. Now then, this was a more even race and, with every muscle and every sinew being strained, our crew managed to control their slide and keep some rhythm. It was neck and neck for 200metres with the panting in the air visible across the misty flat river. Sadly the strength that the crew had nurtured over their training sessions just days before had deserted them and Robert (sat at 'number four') was struggling with the flu and sneezing into Paul's ear every other stroke. We lost that heat too, but only by half a boats length this time.

Half a boats length down, 50 metrs from the line.

Sadly the trend continued and things got worse when big Sean our 'number six' had to go off to collect his kids just before the last two races. A rather exhausted and now clearly struggling side was down to four men and four women. Needless to say the race against the private consultants 'OPUS eight' was a white wash, the HCC crew just surfing in their wake. "Never mind", Paul thought, at least they might take pity and invite us all to their corporate beer tent aftwards.

HCC salvaged a fantastic last race effort for the wooden spoon final, leading - yes, leading - from the start and keeping at least half a boat's length lead on stonger opposition crew right up to the 220m mark. Everone in the boat was using their full leg rowing action and feathering their oars in unison. A fantastic effort it had to be said, which even got the women grunting Monica Seles style for the final 50m stretch. At this point Paul wished he had gone for honey on toast, as all earlier tension just washed through his steely frame as he gave it his all. Sadly the day was not ours and we lost that race too.

It was neck at neck just past the Waipa Delta paddle steamer

Even the best crew's can have a bad day as the Olympic Cambridge eight found out when they lost their 4.8km race against Waikato University later that day; we were in good company. They went a boat's lengths behind from the off and then chose the wrong side of the river to compete, never really catching up the NZ crew for the remainder of the race.

The HCC Crew, left to right: Cindy, Becky, Keren (Coach), Debra, Paul, Stef, Sean, Jeremy, Robert and Big Dale. (Cox Kelly absent)

Good fun all-in-all, topped off by several post race fizzy lagers and BBQ put on by Hamilton rowing Club. We were then asked if we wished to join the full-time novice rowing club with practices 4 times a week at 5:30am and once on Sunday! I leave it to the reader's imagination to guess what Paul'’s reply was as he headed off in the direction of the hot dog stand.

(Posted by: Paul)

Labels: , , ,


At 9:49 am, September 06, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Top Blogging Billy-Bob! Has all this exercise produced had any discernable appearance of 'abs'?


At 10:03 am, September 06, 2006, Anonymous Mrs BB said...

You must be kidding! We both feel a lot fitter tho!

At 10:58 am, September 06, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Charming! but sadly true. I think it will take more than 4-5 weeks of rowing to uncover my many years of pie and pastry abuse :o(


At 11:36 am, September 06, 2006, Blogger simon said...

..and I think there is lycra ;o)

At 1:41 pm, September 06, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good on ya guys! What an effort. I blame it on Big Dale weighing the boat down! Don't tell him i said that.


At 8:34 am, September 07, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Is Big Dale a ringer? It looks like you nicked him fro a 'proper' crew!


At 11:43 pm, September 07, 2006, Blogger Ju's little sister said...

I'd heard on the grapevine this race was coming up. Thought you were a bit of a pro in the row-boat Billybob???

At 6:37 am, September 10, 2006, Blogger TCA 2006 said...

Ringer! fat chance..he was the muscle of the boat though... as well as me of course.

Yes indeed... the old college rowing days flooded back, the memories that is sadly not the rhythm or timing.



Post a Comment

<< Home