Archive for August, 2011

Hands off the gunwales!

Last Saturday was fairly sketchy. We had a serious injury as the attached photo demonstrates. Happily, Steve is on the mend but it still hurts.

To see some awesome images of the event go to and then click on the link to Phil Martin’s piccies. And then check out the number of rowers who have their hands on the gunwales!!!!!!!!!!!!

This applies equally to novices as it does to some time-served lags.

Please, please,please, unless you want a fingie like Steve’s, take your hand off the gunwales.

Here endeth the lesson.

Slack Jawed at Widemouth

“Stroke side round.”

It’s the Men’s event, round three. Four boats line abreast heading for the beach. Behind us all, a sneaker set.

“Stroke side round!”

We’re not going to make it. The bow is swinging back to the horizon, the guys straining on their oars but the overhead wave is almost on us, just starting to break. How did it come to this?


Widemouth Bay, just outside Bude, on a Saturday in August. You could be forgiven for expecting a little warmth, a little brightness and little waves. Instead, beanies are the order of the day, I cast envious glances at the warmth offered by the girlie flasher macs sported by Porthtowan and I could do with night-vision goggles rather than my shades.

As for the surf, an unruly 3-4′ swell, driven by strong westerlies is dumping on a steep high tide bank. Great. Starts will be a barrel of laughs. Finishes, well, I try to remember if I took out the insurance policy that was mentioned at the start of the season.

Nick Healey takes out the Rinsers for a warm-up row. Love it: if in doubt, send the women out. He waits and waits and waits some more. Then the girls are away, out through the shore dump, into the lumpiness behind. So, it’s doable, albeit with difficulty.

Pre-race briefing. We’re allowed someone to steady the boat when we launch and a welcoming committee for when we hit the beach. The last thing anyone wants is a roll-over in the shore dump.

Men’s event. Round One. The whistle goes and the Llantwit boys and BB disappear. We hold, wait for a gap and then commit. Everyone gets in, good first stroke, easy, what was the fuss about? It’s a hard slog out to the cans, the choppy surface difficult to row on. Good turn, third place, now for the interesting bit. A wave in would be great, no chance. We miss a small one and another one looms behind. Oars across, slew sideways but back on the sand in one piece. Bent the collar on an oar but nothing broken. Take that.

Ladies, round one. Four crews in the shore break. Black and Blue – great name for the day – and Perran are away on the whistle. The Rinsers struggle, get knocked sideways and are then unceremoniously dumped back on the beach. Hearts in mouths but the boat stays upright. Shaken but not stirred, all back on the beach and all ok. Hardy lasses them ‘towan gals.

Down the beach, Pete Gaisford holds Bournemouth. They’ve made huge strides this season but this is a step up. It’s not about rowing, it’s about character and there’s nothing like a pounding shore break to put it to the test. They commit and get away to a huge cheer from the beach. Respect earned, ladies.

Men, round two. Nightmare in the shore break. Wave over the bow fills the boat. Pump on and we’ve not even started. Oars flying everywhere and we only just scrape off the beach. Miles behind, we need a miracle, and a wave. We get one close in, too steep, can’t hold it. Fighting the sweep oar, trying to stop going sideways, hit the beach and fall over the side. Pride and dignity left in the shore dump. That’s surfboats. No idea what happened elsewhere.

Ladies, round two. I’m nervous and I’m only watching. BB make it look easy. Dan Berriman launches Perran into a close out. Doomed. He keeps the sweep oar horizontal, lies on it. Good first stroke by the ladies and the sweep oar lifts Dan to his feet. Ole. A trick learned in the shore break at Portreath, Dan?

Bournemouth go again. Even Ghastly can’t keep it straight and heads off for Bude. He stays in the boat, however, and his girls have more points in the bag. Fair play.

Men, round three. Whistle goes and Llantwit and BB are gone again. The Welsh boys, in particular, make light of the starts. We get filled but launch anyway. Towards the back of the fleet but close enough to race. Big set over the outside bank. Another wave down the boat, at least we were in it at the time.

Llantwit’s buoy rolls over on them as they turn and they have to go around again. We’re in this. Four boats line abreast heading back to the beach. Pick up a runner, come on boys. And then I see it. Set wave and we’re too close in. Way too close in. What to do? Trail oars and take our chances, or go around. Split second decision.

“Stroke side round! ****ing pull!”

We get one stroke together and make it over, just. Turn the boat around and there is a scene of carnage inside. Betty have rolled, Croyde slew sideways and come in front of us as we row onto a wave. No idea where the Welsh are, they’d been behind us so may have been able to catch the big one. We catch a beauty, park it on the beach, job done.

There’s a flap down the beach, one of the Croyde boys is injured. There’s blood, a lot of blood. Shit. Spike’s there, paramedic head on. The lifeguards come in and Anna steps forward. What it is to have an A&E consultant able to help out.

Dressing and bandages applied and he’s off to hospital. Steve, I hope you’re ok and heal up quick. You can use your other hand to drink with in Bournemouth.

We’ve lost our safety cover and the light is going. Enough fun for one day. Retreat to the pub and tell lies to each other about how big it had been and how far off our seats we’d come. Gotta love surfboats.

See y’all at Bournemouth. Don’t forget the fancy dress.

PS If anyone has photos from Widemouth, please email them to me.

Porthowan Rule the Waves…Still

Last Saturday was the big one: the UK Open Surfboat Champs at Saunton in north Devon.

The numbers were down on recent years with a dozen men’s crews entered and seven teams in the women’s event. There were a couple of eye-catching entries from Leander (Pink Pythons) and Henley (5-0) but what was noticeable was the lack of entries from the surf clubs in the south west beyond the usual suspects.

In keeping with tradition the eve of the competition saw the last dregs of the week’s swell peter out into next to nothing. A half foot swell was not what the teams wanted. To liven things up, those who arrived on Friday evening were treated to a monsoon. Parts of Braunton flooded, the road to the campsite was underwater and Pete Gaisford left the door of the tent the French were to borrow open; well, les grenouilles do like a bit of the wet stuff.

It didn’t do them any harm for in the first heat of Round One les Bleus stormed to a comprehensive win. They have become regular, and welcome, participants at the Open and were plainly intent on improving on last year’s fourth place finish.

Blue Bali also opened with a win, the rower production line at Porthtowan manufacturing Tim Bracey and Jules Chenoweth to step into the wetsuit boots of Mladen and Tom Hanna with no obvious loss in boat speed. Bude looked quick as did St Agnes (where have you been all season?) but the flatties struggled with jumping into a stationary boat and struggled to make an immediate impression, something they would put right in later rounds.

The opening heat of the women’s event was as dramatic as any of the season to date. Perran Phoenix clashed blades with Black & Blue, Bournemouth and, I think, Bude Bombshells. What no one had anticipated was just how evenly matched the crews would be with all four crews catching the same runner back to the beach. The points were determined by the run to the flag but it was clear there would be no easy heats.

Eight crews contested the men’s semis in two heats of four. In the first heat, the bad luck that has plagued Llantwit at the Open continued when Gethan somehow fouled his oar in a rope at the turning cans. They deserved better and had looked quick all day. In the second semi Perran’s Torpedoes, a crew who only came together this year, bowed out with heads held high.

In the women’s event the first semi saw the Bombshells eliminated. Arguably, they were the fastest crew on the water but they lacked the polish of the established crews at the starts and, more particularly, the finish and it cost them dear. Similarly, in the second semi, Bournemouth were slow into their rowing and couldn’t recover. That is as it should be at national standards. Make a mistake and you should expect to pay the price.

Fair to say, however, that both Bude and Bournemouth showed real boat speed in flat conditions and obvious improvement. Work on the surf skills and the established crews will have to look to their laurels.

In the men’s final BB nailed their start and opened up a lead of 1-2 lengths. It proved decisive. The French and Bude squabbled over second with the north coast boys finishing stronger to take silver and Tom of Finland ((France) the bronze. The Barr’s bow man, Evan Bickmore, was so chuffed he proposed to his lovely girlfriend Lorraine the same evening. Congrats to you both. The mind boggles at what could have happened if the Barrs had reeled in BB.

The Steels suffered unfairly when a lunatic bather thought it would be a good idea to swim onto the course. Some sweeps, who will remain nameless, would have been sorely tempted to leave her to take her chances. Steve Instance, RNLI employee, did the right thing by stopping his crew but as with the Welsh in the semi, the Aggie boys deserved better. Have another crack at Bude.

In the women’s final it boiled down to the two crews from ‘towan against the two crews from Perran. It wasn’t just club against club, it was club member against club member. Black and Blue won it with the Rinsers second while Phoenix beat Gold on the touch and only after a steward’s enquiry.

What the racing showed was that the standard of competition has gone up several levels in the past year. The gaps between the crews shrink all the time which makes for fantastic racing.

The disappointment, for me, is that there are no new crews willing to give it a go. In Cornwall alone, there are established and successful SLSCs at Hayle, Crantock, Portreath and St Ives. There are literally hundreds of gig rowers including the world champions in Falmouth and Par. If we want to grow our sport we need to take the gospel to these places and make some converts. Otherwise, we risk what we have going nowhere. And that would be a shame.

Enough of the maudlin. Once the racing was done, the crews descended on The White Lion for the prize giving and a couple of quiet drinks. Everyone was knackered though which obviously explained why so many turned in early at the campsite for a full night’s undisturbed rest and no more sport. Yeah.

See you at Bude.

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