Thursday, 18 October 2018

How to do the Tour du Leman

One of the many reasons why this 160km race round Lake Geneva is totally, utterly my favourite rowing event (and why I keep going back) is that the organisers are so lovely, particularly to British crews who need help with hiring boats and lifts from the airport (unlike the continentals who turn up with trailers and their own cars).

One good turn deserves another, though, and so over the years I've been the person they refer new English-speaking entries to for advice. I'm happy to help, but to save me retyping the same answers ever time, here's my "How to" guide for Brits with no experience of long-distance rowing (unlike the aforementioned continentals, most of whom do several 50k+ rowing marathons a year).

Saturday, 29 September 2018

The Tour du Leman that wasn't

Lake Geneva is mostly calm as well as enchantingly beautiful at the end of September when the 160km Tour du Leman a l'Aviron takes place, and I've had some dream sculling experiences there on mirror-flat water surrounded by stunning scenery. However, because it's so big, and surrounded by mountains, it also has its own microclimate, which can turn nasty in quite a short space of time, before turning back again, as if to say, "Storm? Me? No, you're making it up!" Frustratingly, this often seems to happen on a Saturday.

Over the 13 runnings of the event since I first did it in 2006 and including this year, there have been no fewer than five occasions when the conditions were so awful that either the course had to be shortened or most of the crews sank (like us) or pulled out before they did so. Despite this unpromising statistic, the lure of the Lac pulls most of us back again and again to take on this relentlessly hard challenge, in the most gorgeous of surroundings.

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Cheese and chocolate and rowing - oh my!

The Netherlands - basically Xanadu for expedition rowers with its circular routes, respect for this form of rowing, and friendliness to eccentric Brits - produces a rowing marathon calendar every year (I mean, just brilliant or what?) and I'm working my way through it, ticking off one event a year.

2018's little taste of paradise was the 70km Nord Holland Tocht which, let's be quite clear, is a challenge ("tocht") in the region of North Holland which is part of the country that patiently wishes the English-speaking world would call it the Netherlands.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

"Visitor rowing" in the Netherlands and the romance of the coxed single

We all like going on holiday. Fact. And we all love rowing. Fact. So rowing on holiday would be like chocolate chip ice cream in a chocolate-lined cone with a chocolate flake, right?

Yes, but how can it be done when you're somewhere that you got to by train? It's not like you can hire a sliding seat rowing boat like you can hire bikes in touristy destinations, is it?

Well, generally, no. But one Dutch rowing club has come up with a neatly-branded service that makes it all possible. Please give a huge cheer for Gastroeien.nl (trans "visitor rowing")!

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Because who wouldn't want to win a stork?

As far as I'm concerned, the Netherlands is marathon rowing heaven. I mean, they have an actual marathon CALENDAR, so many are the 50km+ events that take place each year. Compare that with the UK's single event of that distance... Occasionally I wonder about moving there just so I could take part in them all, but then I'd have nothing to look forward to afterwards (and recent political events have put paid to the idea unless I got on with it very quickly), so instead I'm working my way through their list at the rate of about one a year. But how to choose which one to do next when you're feeling like a kid in a sweet shop?

Actually, the 54km Haegsche Bluf Marathon (trans "the Hague Bluff Marathon" - despite being almost unpronounceable, a lot of Dutch is quite easy to decipher in writing) was an easy pick for two reasons. First, most of my Dutch marathon rowing friends are members at De Laak, the club that organises it, but second, the prizes are STORKS! Soft toy ones, I hasten to add. And wearing club scarves too. Other events take note.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Venetian rowing and why it's like pushing a fridge


For those of us for whom rowing means heading forwards while going backwards, hanging off our blade handles and - above all - sitting DOWN, Venetian-style rowing is about as different as you can get whilst still being rowing. But for all that, the tiny taste I had of it in a RowVenice lesson was as delicious as a Cornetto (not provided).

There's nothing that quite makes a holiday like being able to row during it and even though my recent trip to Venice was for the purpose of taking part in the Vogalonga (literally, "long row"), I'd done that before so I really needed a different rowing fix and anyway I was dead keen on having a go at the Venetian-style stand up version.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

I-Spy on a Meander


Let's start with some definitions. "I-Spy" books were much loved by those of us who were kids in the 1970s - and probably by our parents too as they kept us vaguely occupied when on holiday. Each little booklet contained a list of things you might see (with a short, informative explanation), which you ticked off and got "points" for: in I-Spy Birds, for example, you got something like 5 points for a mallard but 50 for an osprey. You get the idea. Some were easier than others: the whole of I-Spy Churches could be completed on a single visit to York Minster, but I digress.

Once you'd amassed 1,500 points you could send off your book to Big Chief I-Spy at Wigwam-on-the-Green (why do I remember this stuff?) and it would come back with a stamp on it. Children were more easily pleased then.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lake Geneva again: the 10th anniversary edition

Ten years ago, I was a cox who could scull. Competently, but not fast enough to win any races. And after 20 year in the sport, I still had what British Rowing designates Novice status. Officially, I was the lowest of the low as an oarswoman.

But then I discovered marathon rowing.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

12 reasons why the Great River Race really is great

In a fine example of that "six degrees of separation" thing, I got an email last Thursday evening from, let's call her A, who is a member of my skiff club. It was passed to her by a member of another rowing club she belongs to, now known as B. B had received it from C, who had taken a pretty scattergun approach after receiving a plea from D who had belatedly been told that the crew which someone else (not worthy of a letter) was going to provide for Saturday's Great River Race in London was not going to happen, and he needed five shipmates pronto. Owing to the C's broadcast, D had actually filled his empty seats by the time I replied, but by then D's wife (E) needed another rower for her crew as someone was ill.

And so it was that around 36 hours after I first got that email (and the lack of preparation was a guilty pleasure), I met what I was expecting to be a bunch of complete strangers under the clock in Waterloo Station on Saturday morning, only to discover that one of them was F, who I've known for nearly 20 years. Although, let's be honest, using rowing to prove the six degrees theory is no more scientific than using kittens to prove that wool tangles.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

On and on and on: How we set a new 24 hour distance rowing Guinness World Record

I have no idea whether Sir Edmund Hillary thought "I HAVE to do that," when he first realised that Mount Everest had yet to be climbed, or even what went through astronaut Tim Peake's mind when he saw an ad for "International Space Station Crew Member" in "Out of This World Jobs Weekly" (yes, I'm making that up, but you get the idea). But I do remember gasping in delight when, over a year ago, whilst browsing the Guinness World Records site, I spotted that there was an existing record for the greatest distance rowed in 24 hours by a women's team. And, more to the point, at 229km it was eminently breakable.

It just HAD to be done.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

If Disney did rivers: skiffing the Severn and Avon:

If Disney were setting out to create the perfect river, they would surely use the Severn and its dainty sister the Avon, as a model.

On a two-day skiff tour there, we found exquisitely pretty river banks lined with cow parsley and some kind of yellow flower (I’m a rower not a botanist, OK), quintessentially English church towers and fields of unicorns. Frankly, it’s amazing we weren’t surrounded by rainbow bubbles… oh, wait, we were…

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

When women first rowed at the Olympics

"What year was that?", you may ask. Was it back in 1948 when women first competed in canoe racing over 500m? No. Maybe in the 1960s then – after all, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963? Wrong again.

Astoundingly, it was only in 1976, at the same time as the incredible gymnast Nadia Comaneci was achieving levels of perfection that had hitherto been thought impossible (and awakening my interest in the Olympics on a black and white TV), that women rowers took part in the Olympics for the first time. And they didn't even get to race the full distance.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Rowing without walls (but with tea and baby robins)

Read these words: "Rowing club". What did you just think of? A building? Maybe with a bar? And changing rooms? Lots of boats on racks (probably all racing boats, if you're British, though a mix of touring and racing boats if you're Dutch or from elsewhere in Europe)? Regular outing times?

Usually, you'd be right about all of those. But yesterday I was a guest at Langstone Cutters Rowing Club, which flourishes without having a boathouse at all (although they do have what could reasonably described as a strong relationship with the pub next door) and simply keep their boats on trolleys in a narrow strip of land, nestling among trees. What's more, geography dictates that they can only get afloat two hours either side of high tide, so the concept of "rowing is at 8am on Saturdays" isn't on. It was the best fun, and I rowed in not one but TWO types of boat I'd never been in before (or heard of, in one case).

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Getting to the Heart of the Hart van Holland

"Do the Hart van Holland," my Dutch marathon rowing buddies told me. "It's in the Green Heart area and it's really pretty," they said. I looked it up. 90km: lovely! Long enough to make it worth the flight over there. I sought some crewmates, and finished up with a four-boat team of 18 which made up 10% of the total entry. Great!

Which made the fact that two of our crews, including nine, were stopped before the final timed section all the harder. Some of it was our fault. Most of it wasn't. Still, in the 70km we did complete we found out how you can get 40 boats in a lock, how to get through a passageway that's so narrow you can't get your blades out on either side, and what happens when you don't stick to the "swap the cox every 30 minutes" plan. We also saw some windmills.

Saturday, 12 March 2016

The Ergo Marathon: An expedition to nowhere

Years ago, I coxed a crew which was interviewed for a student magazine, and we all had to put down our hobbies and ambitions. One bloke, with a wit unusual amongst occupants of the three seat, cited his hobby as "exploring the frontiers of pain", and his ambition, "to have a map next time".

Well, adventuring in the wilderness is all the rage these days, so if you're considering erging a marathon (and I've put the idea in your head now, so you can't not do it, [evil chuckle]), here's something like a map.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Harder or easier? Racing then and now

Alpha Ladies Amateur Rowing Club WEHORR 1954
The strapline for this blog is "going beyond regattas and head races", so what is a post about racing doing here? Well, it's got in on a wild card because it takes a peek at the quite incredible "expedition" that rowing, and in particular women's rowing, has been on since the 1950s when entries in the Women's Eights Head of the River Race were frequently in single figures.

Since then, boats, blades, kit, training, standards and the size of events have been transformed. But have the young racers of today really "never had it so good"? Or does the very popularity of women's rowing nowadays, which makes it harder to win, mean that "the good old days" were actually better?

Thursday, 4 February 2016

The hardest rowing challenge he could think of

When it comes to challenges of any kind, the enormity of the challenge is depends on the individual as well as what it actually involves. If you're rowing an ocean, the challenge is pretty much built in: there's no such thing as "taster" ocean. That said, the Pacific Ocean is a heck of a lot bigger than the others: I mean, you can position a globe so that it's all you can see. But when my friend John Beeden, who already had an extremely fast (53 days) solo crossing of the Atlantic under his belt, was planning his Pacific crossing, he deliberately sought a route that was proper hard.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

The Grasshopper Book of Expedition Rowing


For those of us who grew up in English-speaking homes in the 1960s and 70s, long before the days of Wikipedia, our early education was shaped by Ladybird Books.

Extraordinarily, despite covering an extremely broad range of topics from Your Body, to Baby Jesus, via Ballet and The Beach (to name but four that I remember owning), there was never a Ladybird Book of Expedition Rowing.

There still isn't, but this is what one might have looked like. Particularly if their illustration department had been on strike.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Seven Wonders of the (Dutch rowing) World

The Netherlands is a short flight from the southern UK and their weather is similar to ours, but their rowing clubs are practically on a different planet.

Last weekend, I went on an informal 29km rowing tour there with Dutch friends, followed by a conference on touring rowing (organised by Toer!) the next day in Amsterdam, and was bowled over by what I found.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Gig rowing for river rowers/skiffers

Today I was lucky enough to be taken out for a "taster session" in a Cornish Pilot Gig (in Hampshire, but you can eat Cornish Pasties there, so why not?).

On hearing that I was a river rower/skiffer, the coach immediately told me that "This is completely different", and it turned out that he was right, in several ways. Here's what I learned...