Archive for June, 2011
Saturday saw Round II of the UKSRL Summer Series at Saunton Sands. It also saw strong onshores blowing what shape there was out of a wild new swell. BB gave it a crack and rolled. If it was a handful for the current UK and European champs, how would the rest of the fleet fare?
Unsurprisingly, the contest was moved to Instow where there was absolutely no surf but, at least, still a contest.
The turning buoys had to be dropped comparatively close to the beach to avoid obstructing the channel so a decision was made that each race would be two laps with one rower running around their flag at the end of lap one while the rest of the crew turned the boat around. It was a formula that proved to bring the best out of a location that no one wanted.
In the men’s contest the big pre-race shock had been the scratching of the Barrs. Some had tipped them for the title but the no-show probably means they are just now left to compete for the Open and European Champs. Shame.
When the racing began, BB and the Mongrels from Amsterdam soon proved themselves a class apart. If the latter can change their starts from bum-first to jump-in they will be a real handful. The Llantwit boys were their usual competitive selves while there was not much between the Probables and Porkers from Perran. Good also to see Newport Vets giving it a lash.
The Ladies event proved to be a showdown between the two Porthtowan teams with the youngsters of Black and Blue given a hard time by the near-youngsters of the Blue Rinsers. Perran weren’t far behind and if members of their crew can stop falling pregnant they may yet do some damage. A team from Bude also made a show and offered good boat speed. A bit of practice at jumping into a boat at the start will make a big difference for them. Croyde also fielded a team and their effort could not be faulted.
As the tide dropped rocks just the right size to fracture a toe began to appear as did the rusting metal pins of a shipwreck. It may actually have been safer to give Saunton a crack after all.
In the Mens golden nugget, BB took the win from the Mongrels with Llantwit third. In the Womens there was the best race of the afternoon as Kim-Marie and Lou Gapp drove themselves over about 2 miles of mud-flats in the foot race to the flags. Great commitment from both ladies and a dead heat to spice things up for the rest of the season.
There was a great night afterwards first in Braunton and then The Thatch in Croyde. It was Mladen’s last event and BB had thoughtfully put together a little something for him to remember us by – a picture of him face-planting into his seat. Enjoy Canada, Mladen. We’ll see you drekkly.
Sunday morning, of course, dawned off-shore and a solid 4-5′. BB had a boat but no sweep. Yours truly rose nobly from his death-bed to give it a lash. As we wired up the pump I wasn’t sure whether I was more concerned by the sets breaking near Lundy or the prospect of an uninvited return of Mr Rattler. As we bounced over the third set wave and my feet left the quarterdeck I discovered my hangover was gone. The boys pulled into a great wave on the way back and suddenly all remembered why we do this sport.
The Mongrels gave it a crack next and didn’t back down. As they crested one large swell I couldn’t help noting that they were racking up air miles even before they’d got to the airport.
Watergate next. Waves like Sunday’s please.
Reached the Normandy beaches where the tide of WWII was turned. Drove past Sword, Juno and Gold beaches where British and Canadian troops came ashore. Then went on to Omaha and Utah beaches where the Americans landed.
Surreal to see first hand what I’ve only ever read about or watched on TV or in the cinema (Omaha is where Tom Hanks comes ashore in Saving Private Ryan.
Some of the statistics are mind-boggling.
135,000 men and 2,000 vehicles came ashore between 06:30 and 07:30 on 6 June 1944. In one hour!
Of the 135,000, 177 were free-French commandos.
Engineers built a harbour through which the rest of the Armies came in 8 days.
The American cemetery overlooking Omaha holds the remains of 9,000 fallen. Average age 19.
The cemetery is extremely well cared for and there is a sense of peace and respect that pervades the place. We were there when the flag was taken down as The Last Post was played. I won’t forget.
Home now. I’ll try to post up some images from the trip. Work on Monday is going to require an adjustment.
The day started with a 4:30 alarm. Just after 5:00 we caught the train for the short journey to Mestre. Once back at Pete’s van we loaded our gear and drove to the RC. The boat hadn’t sunk after being left moored up overnight. We filled it up with drinks, snacks and bananas and made sure St Pirans flag was still visible.
After a breakfast of porridge or cold Heinz beans and pork sausages from a tin we hit the water just after 07:00.
We rowed 3-4 km across the lagoon and waited for a few minutes before entering the canals into Venice. A few canoes apart there was very little traffic on the water. We ducked into the first waterway and it was soon clear that “absolutely no motorboats” translates in Italian to “absolutely no motorboats apart from mine, my brother’s my cousin’s, his sister’s and maybe a fewa friendsa.”
In truth, it was a joy to row down Grand Canal with hardly any company. It is an amazing place. We reached St Marks Square at about 8:15 and so had 45 mins to soak up the atmosphere before the start. I can’t tell you what Messrs Gaisford and Ballinger did with the bailer – let’s just say they were obviously nervous.
There were 1650 boats taking part from more countries than I can name. It soon became clogged and even floating with oars across you couldn’t help bumping into other boats. There were several local boats where the rowers stand with an oar in front of them and push it. These could have one, two, four or any number upto twenty rowers and went at a surprisingly fast lick. I’ll post some photos when we get back.
We’d been bobbing about for a while when we noticed that boats on the inside of the canal were cranking forward.
“It doesn’t start until nine,does it?”
“I thought they fired a cannon.”
At that point a projectile exploded overhead. I wouldn’t say it was loud but Cris remarked he’d seen air strikes called in for less.
Now, the Vogalonga in NOT a race. That is a myth. As the shrapnel landed around us everyone gunned it. We were no different. The start is chaos. There isn’t enough room when you’re floating. At maximum warp there really isn’t enough room. Everyone shrugs and sighs, throws their hands in the air if you’re Italian, but it’s understood that its just part of the deal. Well, nearly everyone. If you’re the German who ate all the pies reading this, you got what you deserved.
Nick did a fantastic job weaving us through the madness but just as I thought things were settling down the canal narrowed. Seriously narrowed. Queue more carnage, oar clashes and collisions. At one point I saw a canoeist capsized and clinging to his hull as over 1000 boats bore down on him. He looked scared. He had reason to.
A sense of order slowly evolved. It was great rowing in 25C alongside boats I’d never seen before from a host of different countries.
Apart from when the course turned at right angles or a boat- usually a canoe which proved themselves somewhat tiresome- stopped for no good reason in the middle of the canal the rowing was largely untroubled.
In just under three hours we made it back to Venice. Everyone had turned out and strangers clapped us down the final stretches. Some recognised the flag which was a great boost. It is bizarre to have people taking photos of you when, blistered, sun burnt and sweating profusely you pass under a bridge.
As the available space became less so again we had to ship oars occasionally and sometimes stop altogether in the hope a 20′ dragon boat didn’t pile into the back of us. We found clear water into St Marks Square and rowed across the finish at a good pace. We were all pretty stoked and loved the experience.
There was, however, absolutely no planning nor assistance to help knackered rowers get back to their starting position. We had a mare doing so but got home in the end, 43 kms after we’d started.
We craned the boat out, stuck it on the trailer, showered and then had a great night out with our Milanese hosts and some rowers from Finland. Anyone for a 60km row in the Arctic circle?
Back to Milan now where a BBQ is being put on for us, then a major drive to Normandy.
What a day.
Started off with a visit to St Marks Square. Packed with tourists and easy to see why. Went round the Basilica and just checked out the architecture. Walking back when heavens opened. Thunder and lightening, full storm. Drenched.
Back to the hotel to dry off then caught train out to RC. A short row with our hosts turned into 5k across the lagoon, into one of the minor canals and then, major shock, into the Grand Canal. Competing with gondolas, ferries, dragon boats, canoes, absolute bloody mayhem. Admiral Beringer did a fantastic job steering through the carnage and his fluent Cornish even shut up the noisiest Italian. Then 5k back.
Tomorrow the alarm is set for 4.30am. Rumour has it there are 1700 boats entered. The excitement is building!
“Where did you put the card?”
“I haven’t got it.”
“I gave it to you.”
“No, you didn’t.”
The agreement had been to meet at Pete’s van at 08:00. Twenty five yards later, at the barrier to exit the hotel car park, we run into our first problem. As the argument rages in the front, Postie and I exchange a glance. The other three have already endured 1,000 miles of this. It’s going to be a long day.
Some time later we pull into Milan RC. It has a very ordinary frontage. Where we row on the open sea they have a narrow canal. At that point our advantage ceases. The boat house has more shells than I can count, a state of the art gym next to it, a cafe and across the courtyard an eight lane fifty metre Olympic swimming pool with tennis courts and a basket ball court. Nice.
We’ve been persuaded to piggy back Milan’s boat on top of ours as they have no trailer. Our boat is seven metres long, theirs ten. The join is two pieces of polystyrene, half a dozen straps and prayer.
If any members of the Milanese highway patrol read this blog, the vehicle that weaved it’s way down the motorway towards Venice with a third of a ton of boats held together by string belonged to members of Porthtowan SLSC. Scandalous behaviour.
We made it to the RC. Venice was suddenly on the horizon and looking pretty good. Tonight we sleep there. Tomorrow we shake the boat down. Sunday is the main event.
Been travelling for two days now and woken both mornings with a hangover. I blame the company I keep.
Postie and I made it to London without drama. He slept most of the way so that helped. Things started to go wrong when we caught the train the next morning for Gatwick. Two trains cancelled, two delayed. I knew we were in for a bad morning. The station manager came on the intercom. Someone had been hit by a train at Mortlake. Maybe my morning wasn’t so bad.
In the end we made it to Gatwick in time for a breakfast of champions: the fry-up. The flight for Milan left on time and two hour’s later (plus one for the time-line) we touched down. A short taxi later ride through some of the less salubrious parts of Milan and we had found the hotel.
The pensioners and Pete Gaisford had gone to the Rowing Club (RC). We checked in under his name and started a bar tab. You see what I mean about the company I keep.
After a shower and an overdue change of clothes our Italian hosts came to collect us and take us out for dinner: pizza. Slipped down a treat with a couple of bottles of red. Some friendships were started, others renewed.
Tomorrow, we start for Venice.
GROMOT (Grumpy Old Men On Tour) 2011 departs these fair shores today: destination Venice and the Vogalonga.
The Grumps, Nick “400 metres to the turn” Beringer, Cris “Logo” Ballinger, Pete “Not the George Bass” Gaisford, Pete “fcuk the pause” and Andy “don’t tell them your name, Pike,” Cox have been training hard throughout spring. Indeed, it is surely only a matter of time before someone says this is the finest group of athletes ever assembled from Baldhu, Mount Hawke and various care home scattered throughout Perranporth.
In fairness the boys have trained hard. The Vogalonga is not a race but a “celebration” of rowing but it’s still 30K in a surfboat with five (grumpy) blokes and a large hamper. The hamper may be a bit lighter after the turn for home.
The event started as a protest at how engine-powered craft were stirring up the unique eco-system that makes Venice special. Last year 1500 boats took part. Understand that 120 gigs make it to the start line for the world champs in Scilly and that gives you some idea of the context. There may be some clashes of blades off the start line but with Admiral Beringer at the helm I fancy our chances.
An advance party of Nick, Cris and Ghastly left yesterday towing the boat. Today, Pikey is responsible for getting Postle to Gatwick – well, he’s used to dealing with under 5s.
The plan is to meet in Milan tomorrow with those last there picking up the bar tab. A day’s sight-seeing in Milan (or Cris emtpying boutiques – does anyone know the Italian for “Does my bum look big in this?”) then a drive down to Venice. Race day is Sunday and then after a monster drive back across half of Europe we hope to spend a day paying respects to those who fell on the beaches of Normandy. Back home Thursday. If we get to lunch today without some cock-up I will be surprised.
If I can get comms established there will be daily blogs detailing where we’re to, if we need bail money, the ususal.
So for a week all will be quiet in Perran. The share price of Rattler will plummet, the fair maids of Ventongimps will sleep undisturbed (alas, they have for many a year) and the lifeguards will have no one to shake their heads at as yet another sweep-less boat wipes out the emmetts in the bathing area.
Cheers n gone