Sunday, July 1, 2012

And We're Out

Yesterday was the semifinals day at the Henley Royal Regatta for 2012. It was also the last day that the West End crew of Brad Jowitt, Henry Poor, Nick Pusinelli and Joseph Nihotte would be racing. 

Racing in the semifinal
We were up against a crew composed of some of the top scullers from Durham University and London University. We had already been warned that they were a quick crew and so we went in to the race a bit more focussed. Due to the amount of river traffic, we had to row down the course in reverse for a few hundred metres until we could turn off. It's almost intimidating rowing in front of the Stewards' Enclosure when you are warming up. Coming the other way you are too busy dealing with the pain and trying to hold on to a semblance of technique to worry about looking bad. 

We were a tad rushed to get to the start as they wouldn't let us down the course until a race had finished. Knowing this we did our warm up faster. Into the blocks and we were sitting waiting for the allocated start time. No early starts if crews are ready, this is Henley. The Umpire stood up to address the crews and there was a small moment of excitement as we realised that we had Sir Matthew Pinsent officiating our race. 

"Go!" Once brain received the word, the legs followed. We had one of our quickest starts and it was even. To Temple Island at least. Thinking that we were in a good position, the Durham crew then did another massive push away. This isn't a deal breaker for us. We had a solid race plan and we knew that we could back ourselves. I was calling the race plan and the boat was moving very well. If we had a gust of wind the call was "leg press" to get us back on. 
Driving on

Every call down the course was responded to and I know that we fought as best we could. This was one of our best races in some of the most difficult conditions. We were left behind by a very strong crew and deserved winners. We came off the water and congratulated them and presented them with West End ties as a mark of respect and we wished them well against the fancied Leander crew that they are racing today. 
Packing up

So we have now finished with all the training, early starts, hard racing and trying not to eat too many sausages. It has been a fantastic journey. We started out not knowing how tough the competition was going to be, not knowing the costs and in some cases how we were to get our equipment from A to B. 
Our groupies

I would like to thank on behalf of the crew, all of those that came to our fundraising events, the people that donated to us, our friends and family sending us messages of support, the Brassey family for taking us in, Shiplake College for letting us stay there, and Tony Gibson and Alasdair for making the trip over to watch us compete. It is so great that we have West Enders travelling to support the crew. 
Thank you all - West End Henley Crew 2012

Now it is time for some sleep and some Pimms and to enjoy the rest of the Regatta from the posh Stewards' Enclosure. 

Ake Ake, Kia Kaha

Friday, June 29, 2012

Into The Semifinals!

Hey all, we are now into the business end of the racing. We now have two more races between us and the Prince of Wales trophy. We are racing at 11:50 and I think you can follow online by the Regatta Radio.

We had our first race at 7pm on the Thursday evening. It was a day where we had far too much time to dwell on what was to come. The best and worst thing about coming all the way over to Henley is that you never know how you stack up until the racing is under way. Our first crew was the University of London and lining up against them brought along all sorts of insecurities. Have we done enough training? Are we ready? Do I look good in spandex?
Learning how to tie a tie for the Stewards

Once you are down at the start, you realise just how important tradition is to this regatta. No starting lights or buzzers here. Instead you are told by the upright Steward how they will start the race, and then they raise the flag.

Go. Such a great word. A motivating word and an unleashing word. Starts are one of the most favourite and dreaded things in racing. If you have a fast start then you feel that an early advantage gives you a boost, while a slow one means that the slog begins early. Henley, as many people will tell you, is about the start. Get out fast and you have the advantage of the cleaner water, and if you get far enough in front then you can put a safe margin between you and the wooden booms.

So far this regatta there have been quite a few clashes with the dreaded booms. It is death. All over. I have been practising sitting just on the booms on both sides for the last week trying to get my eye in. The only thing is that it is much harder to steer when you are slowly pushing yourself into a coma.
The crowds are building

We started off strongly against the University crew and in the very strong head conditions we just kept it on the legs and inched away. These are the kinds of races that you want, a clear lead so that you don't have to use too much energy. Today we were lined up against the same crew from Imperial that beat us at the Marlow Regatta only a short time ago. This time though, we were confident that we had made improvements.

At the start line we were out quick, even. Then after a few hundred the other crew began to drop back. Once we had about a length or so we kept the work rate even. Again, no wanting to waste too much energy going into the weekend. In the final 500m or so the other crew took their rating up and started to pull back on us, but we didn't feel under pressure so we didn't take it up.

At the beginning
Tomorrow is the semifinal. Four months of work has gone into this. We are up against a fancied crew from Durham University. The problem with Henley is that you never know how the other winners really raced so again on the start line, it's all even. The only thing you can do is just go, and keep going until you hit that finish line.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

'Twas The Night Before Racing

And here we are! Finally, the first day of racing at Henley is over and tomorrow our first race will be under way.

We had the Queen drop in the other day

The Cup
We have been fairly busy since the Reading Regatta. We moved into our house in Henley with the lovely Brassey family. Brad, Henry and I stayed here two years ago and loved the family. Last time we had the house to ourselves but this time we are sharing with an American school, Belmont High School. They have an eight and a four that didn't make it through the qualifying round. With this lot, the house is full almost to bursting.

We have been trying to get used to the amount of people. As each day drew closer to the start, more and more crews turned up. Now there is hardly a time where you can get flat water. I'm surprised that there haven't been any more accidents as the water is flowing really fast still and there are some crews that aren't used to the traffic flow.

Lunch time rush hour

We have had a look at the draw and it looks like every race we are going to be on the Bucks station. This means we are on the far side of the course. In theory it is the slower side due to the way the river curves around the track, but I think we are looking at it as a bit of luck as this was the station that we won all of our races on last time.

The Officials' boats and the live race feed behind

Now that we have left the comforts of Shiplake, we have had to start looking after ourselves a lot more. Unfortunately there are no more wonderful breakfast sausages in seemingly endless supply. Instead it is back to reality, but it is also probably a good thing. It has meant that we are in the kitchen cooking, and even worse is that we have had to do our own ironing. Let's just say that some of us need practice.

Us with Tony at the Reception

Finally, we are very excited to be here. We had a great time at the Overseas Crew Reception (we were dressed appropriately this time) where we met a few other crews and a fair amount of the Stewards. Even better we bumped into West End's new Club President, Tony Gibson! It was great to catch up with him and no doubt he will be leading the chant come tomorrow. We also had a wander through the Stewards' Enclosure today and it is so cool to see everyone dressed in their blazers. We had a look at the trophy we are hoping to win. The saddest part was finding that a jug of Pimms is going to set us back £25.

Observing the racing

We will endeavour to represent West End with pride tomorrow and we will keep you updated. I think you can keep tabs on the results here.

Boys are in the kitchen ladies

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Winners at Reading

Well it's a great end to our last week of training before the big regatta. We have been busy with looking at all the other crews now filling out the big boat tent at Henley. What I love about Henley is complete Clubbies mingling with some international crews. And to day the New Zealand Under 23 team turned up so at least we won't be the only Kiwi contingent here, plus Duncan Grant has been seen pacing us on the course.

At least this wasn't us

We have had a few quiet days off water because Joe has been studying hard for his final exam but once that was over Joe was ready to let his hair down. So that evening there was a BBQ down at the Leander RC which in true Kiwi style we thought would be free, but when we turned up we soon realised that was not the case, and had to go hungry...

This morning we had some time to kill before racing so we took a quick trip to Oxford with Joe repeatedly saying "Let's go to Hogwarts". Fortunately we couldn't get in, otherwise we would not have heard the end of it. We had a wander around some of the old town and had a gander in the museum where we got to try on some period hats. We then headed over to the University Church and we were all set to walk up the tower, when we were set upon by a 3 quid charge and being as tight as we are, we couldn't go up.

Then this afternoon we decided to row upstream to the Reading Town Regatta. To get there we had to row back through the two locks and through another to get to the boat park. It was a journey of just under two hours with a big chunk of it sitting in the locks. Fortunately the river wasn't running as fast as it was when we had drifted into Henley so our progress wasn't slow. There is some great scenery around.

Joe,  coming up to the last lock

As we arrived at the regatta location, we only had to wait for about two hours before our race and so we were holed up in the communal marquee. Soon we were in the starting blocks and the Umpires telling us and the one other crew to line up ourselves. We were racing into the current and it was pushing us back and the other crew ended up starting about half a length in front. However this wasn't enough of an advantage and we passed them quickly and left them behind. We crossed the line, stoked to have won a tankard.

Racing number

In true Kiwi style, we had no idea of how we were going to go back. Fortunately we were saved by the Shiplake crew (who also won their Eights race) and we were able to put our boat on their trailer. Our next problem was how were going to get back to our car in Henley... Seeing as we were among the last to race just about everyone had packed up. We were looking rather lost and under dressed in a strange town and we were lucky a friendly guy from Rowing Solutions gave us a lift to the train station. We managed to get to Henley and home from there.

Short course champs

So it has been an exciting few days and there was the qualification racing on Friday and so the weaker crews were eliminated and now the draw it out. You can see it here. We have a crew from the University of London up first. Our friends from across the ditch, Melbourne University, are on the other side of the draw so hopefully we get to meet them in the final! And lastly there are some more pictures on the UK Pictures tab up top.

For the ladies

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

One Week To Go!

The finish line getting closer to completion
Ok so now we are into the final week before racing. So far we have been getting up very early in the mornings at 5am to get on the water well before any of the other crews. It's quite nice to be able to head out with no other traffic and get the course to ourselves. This morning was interesting as there was fog over the first half. It is very noticeable when the first crews begin to drift past you going the other way, even though they don't kick out much wake the disturbed water is quite strong.

New licence

I have also spent the time going up both lanes trying to get my eye in on the steering and when we are on early it's not so hard to steer a straight course with no real worries. But in the afternoon with so many crews around and the water moving a bit quicker, the boat gets pushed around a lot and there is not a lot of room for error. I just have to pray to the steering gods to keep my foot true. 

We have given the boat a clean and its new licence plate. The boat has had a hard life from the looks of it but we are looking after it and with the tender love and care from Ruud and Chris at Hudson it's not in bad shape. I do feel like the team from Cool Runnings though. This is all in readiness for the 800m sprint race on Saturday.

Changing of the Guards
We have been relaxing a bit in our last few days at Shiplake. We will be moving out of our luxury accommodation at the end of the week before we head to the Reading Town Regatta. We are staying at the same place we stayed two years ago with the lovely Brassey family. No doubt we will introduce them later. Instead today Brad, Henry and I went to Windsor Castle while Joe stayed back and studied. It was a beautiful day as they have all been recently.
Free samples

Thanks to those that signed the flag!
We were too cheap and short on time to go for the tour of the Castle but we heard that the Queen herself was actually in residence. We wandered around for the castle gardens and had a chat with a friendly member of the staff. We watched the changing of the Guards before wandering around the local shops. We found a fudge store and Henry and I managed to pack some fudge before we left.

The cleaning ladies

Brad trying to pump some water

Monday, June 18, 2012

Marlow Winners!

So the second day of racing was only over 1000m, so a good old fashioned sprint regatta. We had the morning off as the race wasn't until 4:20pm. So we woke up to have breakfast at the normal time of 7:30 only to find out that there was only brunch, another four hours away. Damn.

John told us to take up cricket

Instead we went down to the beautiful erg room and did a half hour, working on getting us all back working together. But we were pretty hungry and Joe had eaten the last of the food the day before. Joe has to sit two exams while he is here and he studied all day except for the race. Meanwhile Brad, Henry and I went and hit up the cricket nets. We were joined by Hana, who became our photographer later. We started off easy, but then we started bowling to one of the school boys, and he returned everything we could throw at him.

Paddling through to the start
We finally headed off to Dorney Lake for our sprint. After a warm up where the boat was feeling much better we lined up. There were only three crews racing but it was still game on. We took off out of the blocks and grabbed the early lead. We didn't let anyone catch us and although we were being chased by Carlow RC Ireland, we kept in front. We were soon off the water, derigged the boat, loaded it (a massive thanks to Ruud from Hudson for taking our boat) and we were off. First though we stopped by the Officials' tent to pick up and be presented with our medals. Yesterday we could have won some tankards so at least we got to take something home from this trip. I think we get to race for some more "pots", as they call them here, at the Reading Town Regatta this Saturday.

So today we missed our breakfast as we were too tardy getting up this morning and Joe had to sit his first exam. The rest of us headed into Henley and rigged our boat. We also managed to change the steering shoes from bow to two so now we are back in the original seating order. Our first training session on the Henley course was very good. Joe got his eye in on navigating and I got to see how difficult it is to steer straight down the course. While the course is straight, the river isn't and the current which is very strong at the moment, pushes you into the boom at some points and into the other crew at others. We came off very happy with progress and we have the next week to nail our form.
Henry helping me with racing stickers

With only 8 more days until the regatta starts and 9 till our first race, we are getting pumped for racing. We found out that we do not need to race for qualification this Friday. Instead some 14 crews have to race off. I think we know that so far we have a few UK crews, Leander being favourites, a Melbourne University crew and two German crews to watch out for. It should make for some good racing. Now we just have to wait for the draw this weekend.

Our team talk before racing

Joe helping change the blades

Showing off our bling at the 157th regatta!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reunion And Our First Races

We are now into our second week over here in England. We have been busy getting the boat together, setting it up, getting the blades through customs and getting the boat from Shiplake to Henley to Dorney Lake for the Marlow Regatta.

Our blades made it!
Let's start with the reunion, Henry, Brad and myself met up on Tuesday in Henley to swap stories of the training they've been doing. Then we headed to Shiplake College, where we had organised to stay. It's a private school which has an amazing set up. We met the Headmaster and we were shown to our "basic" accommodation. A room each and a small kitchen with milk on tap. We are also eating with the kids and the school's motto is "Eat To Win". Naturally we have taken this to heart and one or two times we have had to loosen the belt.

We started back into the training with an hour erg which brought up some horrible memories and some bad words toward Joe for not being there. The boat we have is the same as the Hudson that we were training back in New Zealand which is fantastic and very easy to set up. We had to test it out so we had a student fill in for Joe. The school is on the Thames and with all the rain lately the river is running very quickly. Think Wanganui minus the sheep.

The next day we started getting a bit restless so after dinner we took a road trip over to Stonehenge, unfortunately we decided to do this at about 7pm so when we got there we couldn't even bribe the security guard to let us in. Not wanting to waste an opportunity we went to the Avebury Circles which was a much more interactive experience. The whole evening it was pouring with rain and the ground was quite slippery and this is where Henry slipped in his chinos and got grass stains and managed to rip them.

Not quite there...

After all this excitement the next day was a nice sunny one so we rowed the boat down with just the three of us to Henley so that we could get it on the trailer bound for Dorney Lake. You can see the trip in the Pictures tab along with the rest of the tour so far. It was a cool experience sitting in the locks and gradually sinking down to the next level. We had to tape Joe's sculls to the boat.  We were also lucky that the river was flowing so quickly as it made the journey swifter and easier. Our landing at Henley was almost disastrous though, even though I had angled us perfectly, the river was running so quickly that the blades were caught and we almost flipped. That would have been embarrassing.

Coming up to the first lock

Lock opening up
Finally that evening Joe arrived much to our delight, but we couldn't row because we had derigged the boat. Our first row was the heat of the Marlow Regatta. Being the location for the Olympics, the set up was much changed from the normal area and so the athletes were placed in a nearby field and we had to boat in the warm up area. This wasn't too bad, just like Mercer back home, except Mercer didn't have prickles everywhere. Jandles, rowers footwear for any occasion were rather inconvenient this time. We only just had the boat rigged before we had to get on and we also found out that we needed a number to go on the bowman. After a run around we got our act sorted and went on the water for the first time.

Back together!
A beautiful summers day
The weather wasn't that great with a massive side wind. There were quite a few crews drifting across lanes. We took off out of the blocks and we quickly got a lead and then dropped into cruise mode for the heat. We came back to Shiplake so that Joe could study before heading back for the final. The racing had been delayed so we had a bit of twiddling our thumbs before we got into the blocks. the side wind was so bad we had three people touching on stroke to keep us straight. We had tougher opposition in the final and we didn't get a massive lead. Instead after a bad stroke we found ourselves chasing a crew from Imperial RC and we couldn't push past them. We finished half a length down but a fair way ahead of the rest of the field. Once the race was over, Joe had spent 24 hours in the UK and we had done our second row together. We were disappointed to find out that we would have won tankards and a plaque though.

Today we have a 1000m sprint at Dorney Lake which hopefully is more successful. We are glad that Joe is now with us and we can get on with getting the boat moving fast again. Even with all the time apart, once we got in the boat the old feeling was almost back. Some tough speed sessions should sort that out. We are getting very excited with Reading Town Regatta next Saturday and then Henley after that. It's game on!