The old ones are still the best

Bow: Benedict ‘Comrade’ Gliniecki (SE 2009)
2: Sebastian ‘Spoons’ Palmer (SE 2007)
3: Richard ‘Chorizo’ Cartwright (SE 2009)
4: Christian ‘Shorts’ Vaquero-Stainer (SE 2009)
5:  David ‘Flag Dave’ Lambert (SE 2009)
6: James ‘Textbook Boatie’ Robinson (SE 2008)
7: James ‘Silver Fox’ Hugall (SE 2008)
Stroke: Joshua ‘Museum Piece’ Pugh-Ginn (SE 2007)
Cox: Emily ‘Steering for the Bump’ Hopkinson (SE 2008)

Selwyn College Boat Club has, over the course of its 130 year history, produced many fine rowers who have gone on to great things in the sport. It has also produced the nine individuals who gathered from the farthest flung corners of the South-East to race in the alumni division of City Sprints.

It was a fine sunny afternoon when we gathered at the familiar edifice that is the Combined Boathouse. A motley collection of recent graduates and recent retirees from the rowing scene, we certainly had pedigree: 28 sets of Lents and Mays colours between us, and almost as many sets of spoons too. What could a crew of such calibre not achieve with a whole afternoon of training under their belt?

While the rest of us waited for Richard ‘Chorizo’ Cartwright (SE 2010) to finish his daily 2k, we spoke to Captain Matthias about which boat we should use. Offers to M1 of sparring (either with boats or fists) to decide which of us should get Eivind were sadly declined, and we made do with Laurie. We placed the sleek hull in the insalubrious waters of the Cam and then were faced with deciding the crew order. Miraculously, we discovered our crew consisted of four bowsiders, four strokesiders and a cox: from there it was simple. Emily ‘Steering for Bump’ Hopkinson (SE 2008) at the helm was reunited with her stern pair from M2 Mays 2009, Joshua ‘Museum Piece’ Pugh Ginn (SE 2007) and James ‘Silver Fox’ Hugall (SE 2008). Our intrepid and erstwhile captain, James ‘Textbook Boatie’ Robinson (SE 2008) took the six-seat, while David ‘Flag Dave’ Lambert, Christian ‘Shorts’ Vaquero-Stainer (both SE 2009) and Richard ‘Climbing?’ Cartwright comprised the rest of the powerhouse middle four. Bow pair saw Sebastian ‘Spoons’ Palmer (SE 2007) and Benedict ‘Comrade’ Gliniecki (SE 2009) return to their familiar seats.

James 'Silver Fox' Hugall
James ‘Silver Fox’ Hugall

A quick weigh-in session followed, which proved our decision not to enter the lightweight category the correct one. Thence, to the river, where a long intensive training session had been planned and cleared with CUCBC, ahead of our race at 6pm. In the event, after rowing to the P&E, stern pair voted against the rate pyramid and 6 x 1k pieces in favour of just practising a few starts. This we proceeded to do, with not entirely unpleasant results. True, seven sounded faintly asthmatic and our Captain kept shouting to relax the draw strokes (prompting Emily to demonstrate the coxing prowess that got her so far with CUL: “Do it more less rushed”), but we all agreed the rowing wasn’t as bad as we expected: we could wind to 47 quite happily and seemed to settle well on about 35.

We decided that actually doing 400m at race pace was probably a good idea (seven was dismayed to discover that our previous starts hadn’t got us that far). On spinning at the top of the Reach though, we discovered three Clare VIIIs in our way and, learning that they were about to piece, we decided to join in for a ‘bump or bridge’ piece, confidently anticipating the former. Our start gained us some ground on the hindmost Clare VIII, but we failed to capitalise from there and it was with some relief that we reached the bridge before anyone collapsed or pulled something.

We returned to the boathouse for refreshments and to collect the race numbers, confidently asserting that we had just held Clare M1 in a piece, until the Clare VIIIs rowed past and we saw the weedy oarsmen in the wooden VIII that we had raced behind. Chris was the first to realise what had happened: Clare had obviously swapped their crews around entirely at the P&E to save their embarrassment. While this prompted further discussion, including on the aerodynamics of afros, the two Jameses returned, one with the race numbers and doughnuts for later, the other with a satisfied grin, which we later discovered was due to a quick pre-race burger. At least they negotiated the cycle to and from City Boat House safely: Seb, popping home to stock up on performance energy gels, returned with a rather nasty cut on his palm from trying to dodge a parked car. Luckily it was his outside hand, and in any case, us old timers are made of sterner stuff than the current lot, so after the application of some antiseptic and the removal of some tarmac, he was good to row.

A quick pre-race snack

Thoughts now turned to our opponents, Magdalene Alumni: we confidently predicted that if they dated from an era when Magdalene were any good, they would also have to be pretty old. As we rowed down to marshal for our race, the centrepiece of the entire day’s racing, we got our first glimpse of our foe. They were doing pause-paddling. Our hearts dropped. Even James H’s optimism couldn’t come to our aid: on pointing out that their four-man looked quite old, Emily pointed out that Magdalene were probably saying the same of him. As we manoeuvred into position on the stake boats, we all mentally prepared ourselves for the coming contest. Our start was solid (though our draw strokes could have been calmer) and we used our lead into the corner to push off Magdalene, who had the advantage of the bend: there wasn’t much of a settle in evidence. The roar of the crowd spurred us on. Coming to the end of the corner, we still had a lead, Emily sitting level with their five man. She called for a push, but this was not a crew to leave anything in the tank for that sort of thing. Magdalene perhaps were, and crept back at us, drawing level and pushing a few seats ahead as we went over the line.

It was an honourable loss, and when we eventually regained our breath we gave Magdalene three cheers (theirs was worryingly soon after they crossed the line – had they perhaps been training?). James H later admitted to having a mini-stroke (the cardiac type, not an confession of inadequacy in the boat). We rowed home with heads held high, blisters forming and lungs burning: we may not have won the pots we so coveted, but there’s always Champs Head next weekend? Who knows, with a bit of training…

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