Fifteen rowers from the Friday Morning Squad recently spent two days rowing down the Thames from the Oxford University women’s boathouse at Wallingford to Henley (40km, 8 locks), where we spent the night, then on to Eton (another 32km, 6 locks), while one of our three boats carried on down to Wraysbury, another 15km. The trip was organised through Paddleducks (paddleducksrowing.co.uk), who provided three touring quads, accommodation, transfer of bags and packed breakfasts (instant porridge and packets of croissants). And they drove us all back to the start in their minibus.
Our first day was fine, sunny and breezy, perfect for allowing us to find a good rhythm and rate which we could sustain all day, as we were in the boats from 8.30am until 4.30pm. Eleanor encouraged us to keep up a steady 24.
Apart from the teeming wildlife on the water, we were pretty amazed at the huge waterfront properties we were passing, dying to know who owned and lived in them (if anybody! We saw very few occupants). We were happy to reach Henley, though, so we could stand up. We stayed the night at the Catherine Wheel, a Wetherspoon’s pub, on the high street; usually noisy at night, but we slept too well to notice.
On the second morning, after finally rousing the late sleepers, we started in thick fog, out of which kept emerging eights and fours from Upper Thames and Leander at high speed, so we wisely kept into the bank and out of their way. The weather quickly turned into heavy downpours, so we not only got pretty wet but the sandwiches and doughnuts in our ‘grazing’ packed lunches quickly dissolved in the footwells of the boats, despite bailing with a sponge in every lock. Leaving one lock, looking like drowned rats, the lock-keeper shouted down, ‘God bless you all!’ We must have looked rough. But the rain stopped by lunchtime, and at Wraysbury we had the luxury of hot showers and tea at the Skiff and Punting clubhouse.
All in all, a great weekend; enabling us to hone our technique (sort of!) and to enjoy some good social time, even though it was pretty tiring. Only one person got a tad disoriented (must have been the soggy doughnuts), thinking that we were going to go up the next lock! Our next away outing is likely to be the Rennes Regatta next May.
Article by: Dr Alan Peacock