STRATFORD Boat Club senior crews took the long road to London for the Fullers Head of the River Fours on Saturday.
The national event, which attracts the best crews from all over the UK, is raced over the University Boat Race course in reverse, starting at Chiswick and finishing at Putney over a distance of more than six kilometers on the River Thames (The Tideway).
The event, which is only open to crews of a certain standard, requires a minimum of four sculling points and six sweep points at IM2 senior level for each crew which ensures a very high standard of competition across all events.
The weather for the race was continual rain which made for a damp but otherwise flat course – a somewhat unusual condition for Tideway racing which is known for its choppy conditions.
Stratford’s attempt to field four racing crews was dashed by illness which saw their much-fancied quad four withdraw before the race.
This was followed on the day by their number two coxed four crew having to abandon the race on arrival in London due to another outbreak of crew illness.
With two crews withdrawn, the remaining crews focused on their race preparations, only to suffer another crew member having to withdraw just before the race due to a family incident.
Fortunately a substitute was on hand in the shape of Ed Lewry who was able to jump into the boat and save the day.
With 50 per cent of their entries gone before the race, the remaining Stratford crews took to the water in a great visual spectacle of rowing with some 400 boats on the Thames in wet but otherwise good rowing conditions.
Stratford’s first boat, the remaining coxed four of Alistair Collier, Ben Twiney, Tom Coles and substitute Lewry, racing in IM1 coxed four, put in an extremely powerful performance to finish in a time of 20 minutes, 40 seconds and secure an overall finishing position of 202nd.
This strong mid-position finish in their event meant they beat a number of local experienced Tideway clubs in the process.
Dr Ben Twiney, senior men’s vice-captain, said: “This was a very pleasing performance from the crew considering the disruption just before the race. Credit must go to Ed Lewry who jumped into the crew at the last minute and put in a superb row.”
Stratford’s remaining crew racing in IM1 coxless fours had, unusually for them, a less stressful day getting to the race.
Competing in a large field of 36 crews in their event, the crew of Richard Nelson, Tim Lunel, Charlie Evans and Tom Doherty had originally been due to race in the Masters event on Sunday but were unable to secure an entry.
The crew, with an average age over 50 and one of the oldest crew entrants in the whole event, found themselves up against crews of almost half their age.
However, not to be outdone by the opposition, the crew put in a hard race for the whole of the event as they raced neck and neck with a City of Oxford crew for two kilometers to finish in a time of 21 minutes, 36 seconds for an overall finishing position of 263rd out of 430.
Masters vice-captain Doherty said: “We were always going to be up against stiff opposition racing much younger and fitter crews, but we were determined to put in a good show despite limited practice beforehand and are pleased to have beaten some of our IM1 event opposition and a large number of IM2 crews.
“Credit is also due to the sterling support team of Shan Stokes, Becky Stokes and Ben Smith who, despite the disappointment of not competing, gave the racing crews immense support on the day without which we couldn’t have raced.”
Meanwhile, back at Stratford, the club observed a two-minutes silence on Remembrance Sunday to honour those who fell in the World Wars and other conflicts.
Nineteen names on the club’s memorial who died in the Battle of the Somme were read out and the club’s thoughts were led by president Paul Stanton.
Wreaths were laid by the club’s youngest member William Clarke and oldest member Peter Wyatt, who are 75 years apart.