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.

One Response to “Slack Jawed at Widemouth”

  1. August 17th, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Phil says:

    Awesome write up as usual Andy! Apparently the Blue Rinsers have gained a new name – the crash test dummies! Apt!

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