Saturday, June 23, 2012

'On the Water' with John Forrest of Potomac Boat Club, Part II: Arrival in Henley

Prince Albert Cup Qualifier (Photo: © John Forrest)
The Potomac Boat Club Thames Cup crew has arrived in Henley, and the qualifiers are now done and dusted, following a very windy day on the Thames. Getting acclimated to the surroundings, time-change, and course will be the task at hand for the next two days, with The Draw next on the list–a hugely important factor at Henley Royal every year. Here's John's account of the PBC arrival in England:
Yesterday was like most Thursdays - row, work, and class - except it ended with a transatlantic flight. After a pre-departure email with more words of advice and encouragement from our coach Nancy Faigen, we made our way from Washington to Henley.

Today was all about finishing some big and small logistical details and getting settled in. First on the list was successfully meeting up in Terminal 1 of Heathrow Airport in order to catch a ride with Henley Taxis. Although most of us were on the same flight, there was a bit of uncertainty as Pete and Sean were each on a different flight and Chad was flying in from a week-long work trip to Kazakhstan. Despite some minor delays, we met each other by the Costa Coffee in Terminal 1 and rode to Henley-on-Thames.

Next on the list was getting settled into our accommodations. Luckily, we have stayed with some great host families on prior trips, and nine of us are staying with Jenny, who hosted part of the crew from 2007. Last month, Jenny put us in touch with Allan, who is hosting the rest of the group. Since Jenny has pet cats and Allan has a pet dog, we split the group based on allergies. Those with cat allergies are staying at Allan’s, now called the Doghouse. Since the bulk of the group is staying with Jenny, her house is now called the Big House.

Outside of the 'Dog House' on the way to the Boat Tents (Photo: © Tim Spell)
Since neither boat had to race in qualifiers this afternoon, we meandered through town, picking up lunch on our way to the boat tent. The eight quickly located our shell – The Lady Jenny - and oars and then worked on rigging them, making minor changes to heights and spreads, and adjusting oar lengths.

We did not get all of the rigging finished until after qualifiers began, and could not launch until they were completed. We had to change our original plan of paddling to Reading tonight to a quick paddle on the Henley course. We then spent a couple of hours hanging around the boat tents, chatting with some of the PBC scullers who are racing, and walking up the course to watch the qualifying races. As we waited, it was great to hear successful crews cheering after hearing the results of qualifying.

Rigging with Alex M, Carl, Tom and Pete (Photo: © John Forrest)
Today also fell into the category of be careful what you wish for. We were all hoping for a break from the DC summer heat; it was in the mid-90s yesterday afternoon with 85% humidity. Today was almost great weather with temperatures in the 60s and mostly sunny conditions. The wind, on the other hand, was out of control and made it downright cold. Hopefully the next few days find a happy medium for conditions, especially since the combination of headwind and stream seemed to make for some long races today.

One of the big pulls of coming to Henley is that, even on my third trip, rowing and racing here still feels like a once in a lifetime opportunity. Walking along the path today I was reminded of what an intimate course this is. The match-style racing means there is only one other crew to focus on during the race. You have one opponent at a time and can sense where they are, when they are trying to move, and know immediately how you have to react. The course also runs very close to the banks and spectators can hear the coxswains’ and steersman’s calls and can clearly see the effort each crew is putting into its race.

We launched after qualifiers for a quick paddle up and down the course. One of the cool aspects of this year's trip is seeing the reaction of my three boat mates who are racing here for the first time. As we pulled into the Berkshire lane at the start of the course, with the sun starting to set and Temple Island protecting us from the wind, one of them called it the coolest place he's ever been.

Tomorrow the eight is rowing to Reading in the morning and then racing in the Reading Town Regatta in the afternoon. Nick arrives in the morning, and then the four will be rowing and becoming familiar with steering on the course. -JF

More updates to come as PBC heads to Reading Town Regatta in preparation for Henley next week.

-RR

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