The Team – Simon Draper, Mark Bavington, Ian Rowe, Julia Templeman.
This year’s ThamesRow was originally going to be more of a private jolly for a bunch of us rowers – a leisurely paddle down the river with plenty of stops for cook ups, pubs and relaxing. That started to change after I spoke at a MacMillan fund raiser and offered a day on the boat for their blind auction; it was almost a throw away offer and I did not really expect anyone to step up to the plate – how wrong I was as Simon Draper and Julia Templeman scuppered the plans by bidding for the trip – and their bids meant that I felt obliged to change the plan. I am really glad I did and as is always the way with this sort of thing you get the unexpected which is a big part of doing it in the first place!
As we got closer to the date a close family member of mine was diagnosed with Crohns and so we added in raising a few quid for the Crohn’s charity as well – once again Simon and Julia were brilliant as they happily took this on as well even though they were on board for MacMillan – hence the trip was for MacMillan and also for Crohn’s – spot the purple t-shirts!
Mark and I explain to Simon and Julia that rowing is not all hard work….!
First off thought was the weather – wow! talk about unseasonal as on our planned start day we had 22+ mph winds gusting to 42 miles per hour.
It was quite clear quite quickly that leaving under those conditions was not a clever thing to do particularly in the twisty early sections of the river and with novice rowers on board; the risk of being blown uncontrollably into the bank side or lock sides and landing stages was way too high. The windage on these boats is significant and even with experienced rowers on board they can be tricky and so we made the call to postpone rather than risk damage to oars, gates, the boat itself and worse still to the people on board. Being sat in the rain, a strong wind and gales is a recipe for hypothermia even in the ‘summer’!
We therefore dropped the first day and set off from Abingdon Marina on Sunday at around midday, reaching the new first stop of The Swan at Streatley ahead of schedule not least to the largely prevailing tail wind that was still blowing at over 16 mph with occasional gusts.
Simon Draper and Julia Templeman were magnificent on board and we wanted to give them the best experience we could. Coaching from Mark Bavington in particular as Director of Rowing at Bedford Modern School was always going to be good and I am always happy to throw in some ‘When I was on the Atlantic..’ anecdotes of course.
Simon and Julia – day finished at The Swan at Streatley – note the wet weather gear.
They picked it up well and moved the boat well; plus once given the ‘reigns’ to steer with from the roof of the stern cabin they also had a chance to get an insight into the life of a river rowing cox – essentially keep the boat straight, touch the rudder as little as possible and as gently as possible or face a tirade of grumpiness from the actual rowers moaning about the boat being slowed down or going a bit further than they should! Julia was particularly impressive and resilient in this department – she had to be!!
The first stage was from Abingdon to The Swan Hotel at Streatley and we had some good contrasting weather on the way – tailwinds, sunshine, cloud and then the rain. One of the great things about the row is the support you get along the way from people simply waving and saying hello – often with some comment about ‘Aren’t you lost? Shouldn’t you be on the sea?’ through to those that invite you in to have a drink, food and a netter. This happened first with a great bunch of people near Moulsford who were having drinks in the lawn of a spectacular riverside property. In no time we were moored up with glasses of Prosecco and plates of cake pressed into our hands. What great, down to earth, people they were – even when we asked if we could use their ‘facilities’ we were offered to go up to the big house, or make it easier on ourselves and have a pee behind the summerhouse! Summerhouse it was!
Below – a tiny excerpt of Julia and Simon in action:
Day 2: Three men in a boat – Sean Usher steps into the breech – rowing here with Mark
It was then back into Lisa Too and head off to the Swan, just as the heavens opened! The Hotel supported us really well via their superb Racquel who helped us with mooring overnight, a good rate on a room for the guest rowers whilst Mark and I could ‘snuggle’ down in the stern cabin for a ‘good’ nights sleep. Before turning in though we had a chance to take on some decent isotonic drinks and a great meal and in no time at all we were up and about a 5.30am for the next stint down to The Oakley Court Hotel.
Simon (Read his story by clicking here) and Julia left the boat at this point and Sean Usher came on board – big courage to step in when a regular rower had to drop out and Sean said he’d be up for it – what ‘it’ was he was not entirely sure but we had said that Day 2 and Day 3 were going to be a different kettle of fish once us former, and current competitive rowers got on the oars and someone said, ‘Go!’ It was game on then.
David Sogan, current Captain at Star Rowing Club and a great supporter of Lisa Too and Atlantic Experience showed what pulling together was all about. As we were getting underway on the water at 6.00am he had just left Bedford to drive to The Oakley Court Hotel, then he’d get a taxi to whichever lock we had reached and then come on board for the rest of the trip – brilliant and generous of him.
David ‘The Soganator’ Sogan comes on board – now it is four men in a boat and an increase in pace. The strain may be beginning to tell….
David met us in Reading and the pace picked up again as our instincts to ‘make the boat go faster’ took over and Sean started to get a better appreciation of what the ‘it’ in ‘I’m up for it’ was actually going to mean – essentially this was going to be trying to learn to row and also to steer a boat for the first time ever in the company of increasingly tired, fractious and driven rowers. He loved it!! Sean properly stepped up to the plate and I am still not sure that he gives himself full credit for just what he achieved in what is a pretty white hot environment of pressure from all angles whether you are rowing, steering, jumping off the boat to set locks, jumping back on, trimming the boat and all the time with the edgy drive to push the boat on relentlessly.
We rowed into The Oakley Court Hotel around 7.30pm, well ahead of schedule not least because of the lock keepers on the way and the generosity of other river users letting us jump the queue at locks and sneak in behind the bigger vessels. It’s great to see that human generosity in action – it often seems in short supply these days!
The evening at Oakley Court was fantastic – we met with Duncan Souster of the Jubilee Sailing Trust to look at
options on the next ThamesRow with them, had a couple of drinks something to eat and a general all round great time.
Jubilee Sailing Trust logo proudly displayed on Lisa Too’s washboard – it’s good work.
Around midnight myself, Mark and David retired to the river bank with a bottle of port, broke out the cooker on the boat and proceeded to cook steak rolls and bacon rolls washed down with port – by 1am or later it was a very convivial time – but also we were very aware that the alarm would go off at 5.30am for the final stretch to Teddington and it was going to be headwinds and scorching sunshine.
Sean, Mark, David and I climbed aboard, re-acquainted our now very uncomfortable backsides with the seats and set off for the finish line. The atmosphere in the boat was now very different as it felt that we were now very much against the clock, in racing mode and it was going to be pretty brutal.
Sean, as the novice was brilliant with this and accepted that he would not be able to move the boat as fast as any combination of the three of us rowers but stepped up and did his stints to give us breaks and steer the boat – it is not easy to give full credit on that front, Sean was unknown to us at the beginning, had no rowing knowledge, did not really understand what was ahead of him except that it was going to be tough – he just knuckled down and took it all – pretty legendary!
Early on it became apparent that there was a severe and growing need for coffee – be that physiological or psychological and we got progressively more grumpy and short tempered the longer we went without it.
Atlantic storytime in the Oakley Court library!
Mark summed up the mood the best by stating in no uncertain terms that even his friends didn’t like rowing with him and he made it quite clear why that would be – clearly the response was to give him as hard a time as possible whilst avoiding a complete swearathon meltdown – we struck the balance well. It think they call it ‘conflict resolution’ and it applied to all of us!
What a brilliant session though – we had close to nine hours rowing in unrelenting head wind and blazing sun with no escape from it and just drove the boat on. Breaks at every lock were so welcome as we tended to row in a pair between each lock; that changed with the last couple and we swapped out as each one of us ran out of petrol in turn.
Danny and Jackie – almost certainly saved lives with coffee and biscuits!
The highlight was the lovely couple just through Chertsey Lock who after a shouted hello from us – and a very cheeky request for a coffee – invited us to stop and in no time had sorted out mugs of coffee and chocolate biscuits – Danny and Jackie were just superb and we had a great short break nattering with them before gingerly easing onto the rowing seats and getting off for the last stretches.
It seemed an age but eventually we were heading into Kingston and the final stretch; we knew that Daniel Lewis of LWS group was going to meet us at the slipway to help get the boat out and tow us back home. Sean’s partner, Julia was also going to meet us with food and drink so there was something to aim for. Sean lead the last charge down the Kingston Embankment and we could then hear and see Daniel welcoming us in. What a relief.
It think we stumbled out of the boat in some level of shock – we had not really eaten, were dehydrated, sunburnt and had had very little sleep – but we had made it! Quickly we turned to simply getting the boat out, on the trailer and sorted for towing. Not much was said as we were spent – Julia was a welcome smiling face and doubly welcome with food and drink.
Sean and Julia were once again superb as they now were going to drive David back to The Oakley Court to get his car before heading home which added a significant amount of miles and time to their journey and Sean was as spent as everyone else – really great work and properly pulling together.
You can still donate here by clicking here a few quid can make all the difference:
The finish – we were spent. The last day in blazing sun, headwind and heat sucked everything out of us.
So the thank yous:
The rowers for bending the oars – Simon, Julia, Sean, Mark and David.
Ally for taking the truck back on Day One and dropping the trailer off.
David for driving to Oakley Court, getting a taxi to us, smashing the rowing and then having to get back after it all. Legend.
Mark for taking endless opportunities to make us laugh.
Daniel Lewis – a massive thank you for getting involved as usual and driving down to get the trailer from Oakley Court then come to pick us up and tow us back home – just in time for rush hour too. Brilliant.
Everyone who donated
Everyone who offered help and support along the river.
Friends and family for backing us.
All the partners, supporters and donors who have their names on the boat and help keep her little slice of history afloat.
Lisa Too for carrying us, and my Lisa for standing by me – again! x
See you next year, and if you want to get involved, get in touch!
Julia and Simon – ore Thames meeting; little did they know….!
Bav & Satch – invaluable friends supporting the Thames Rowers of Simon, Julia and Sean
In the water – ready to go
Crew ready too
The Thames Row is on
Day one – finish
…and another lock – there are 44 to negotiate and become more and more welcome the more tired we become
David Sogan and his sense of humour…
Coffee – essential
You see some beautiful sights
Must be early on – we are still laughing!
When I was on the Atlantic….!
Social media updates- essential
Lovely people let us queue jump at some locks – this is genuinely a big and generous thing to do
Power gives way to oars, in theory
Sean – so eager to get involved he found a kayak and paddled along for a bit!
End of Day 2 – phew
We know what we are doing, we are experts…
Tight squeeze for some
Coaching team taking a well earned drinks break
Steering is far more pressured and difficult than you might think – and you really, really do not want to get it wrong!
Final stretch – its getting really tough
Not smiling so much anymore – yet this is where we earn our acheivement
…finished, in all ways! Crew lads pulling together, great work.