ACE Series, Part 12: Putting a bow on it, but not bowing out

Photo: Hannah Wagner Photography

So, as it turned out, I bought a $4,000 teddy bear for my daughter—the price tag said £25 but all the extra lessons added a bit of markup.

We lost on Henley Wednesday, for those just checking in. We drew Cork Boat Club in the first round; based on strong results at the Metropolitan Regatta, Cork Regatta, and individual international achievements they were seeded as one of the top four crews in the Thames Challenge Cup Eight event. The Wyfold Four, on the other hand, went in against Thames Rowing Club 'A' and yet Potomac was the seeded crew. Thames made Saturday; the Potomac four de-rigged on Wednesday as well.



The draw is ruthless and to expect otherwise is a mistake. The Stewards' goal is to see the fastest crew win each event, not seed the round of 32 in a proper snake-draft bracket or make sure that the top four make it to Saturday or whatever it is.

(Hell, the Princess Elizabeth Cup draw made no bones about giving a Wednesday pass to the historically fast junior eight from St. Paul’s School, even though they full well could have paddled through just about anyone on that first day. Seriously—how good was that crew? If you ain’t first, you’re last.)

My crew and I never went into the race with any goal other than a win in our minds, and even as captain it felt like bad juju to even do any contingency planning with regards to a first-round loss, for the eight or the four. And Henley for us was never just the racing but what we'd get to do in the days prior. We got to tune up against Cornell over five minutes (bad), Temple over Fawley and the Stewards (better) and some quick pieces against Shiplake (best), the kind of scrimmaging and general mixing-it-up that we rarely get to do stateside.

We were also generously invested in by sponsors—like U Apparel, Oatly, and Level Agency—and supported enthusiastically by friends and family. Heading to a regatta where not only everyone you know is closely following you but actually is jealous of your trip is a different experience indeed.

"My crew and I never went into the race with any goal other than a win in our minds, and even as captain it felt like bad juju to even do any contingency planning with regards to a first-round loss, for the eight or the four."

Lastly, having watched this crew come together as an outsider for several months and then an insider for the last few weeks, there's very little if anything I could second guess about the choices we made in preparation. So it's not like a whiteboard session prior to the race would have prepared us any better for the disappointment, mild surprise, and silence.

But while bodies and spirits might recover after a few days, our wallets would not. Drowning our sorrows commenced almost immediately, followed thence by a comprehensive after-action analysis that the National Transportation Safety Bureau would have been proud of.

Hundreds of dollars later and with the sun barely setting on Wednesday evening, we moved onto the final stage of post-race grieving: the ceremonial making of promises. Ex-lightweights pledging a return to 159 (well, 165, anyway—for the Head Of The Charles); the three-seat who would win the triathlon every year if he didn't always get lost yet again pledging to win the triathlon; the long and lanky vowing to turn into the thick and explosive. The more money you spend on Pimm's, the more elaborate the pledges become.

By the sounds of it we'll spend all of August flipping tires on Water Street, digging new divots in the Exorcist Stairs, and drinking whole milk by the keg. Lucky for us, while it'll be extremely warm, it will also be unbearably muggy.

"The more money you spend on Pimm's, the more elaborate the pledges become."

But that’s at least a week, probably two from now. A few of the Henley squad carried on into USRowing Club Nationals—not me.

As the oldest of the group, I'm a B-17 coming in for a landing full of bullet holes, missing a few crew, and sending sparks off the runway on landing. It'll take more than a weekend hanging out with the baby and some low-key masters racing before the mechanics have me ready to fly again. In fairness, I can barely imagine what the refractory period would look like after three, four, or even five days of racing. So at least the one-and-done has that as a silver lining.

With a clock time of 6:37 at the end of the race, that’s a little over $7.50 per second of racing when I tally up the rough cost, pre-Pimm's. Lord knows what it'll be after airline change fees, gifts for the family, and a few days more than planned at the Fawley Bar.

But I bought more than just six and a half minutes down the track and a teddy bear I've been lamenting the lack of club racing in America, so I'm not upset about being smacked down by European clubs coming from an actual vibrant and exciting ecosystem. The smug part of me that thinks I'm a great rower is upset, of course; the smug part of me that thinks I'm always right feels vindicated.

Within a four month window, the British isles have the Head of the River, the Metropolitan Regatta, and the Marlow Regatta all in sequence with other events sprinkled in. And yes, while I'm aware of different threads of gossip about which club is doing what and the ways in which British rowing is perhaps a bit too mercenary and certain clubs suck up more than their share of oxygen for a few years at a time, a league where the poles swing dramatically is still better than no league at all.

"But I bought more than just six and a half minutes down the track and a teddy bear I've been lamenting the lack of club racing in America, so I'm not upset about being smacked down by European clubs coming from an actual vibrant and exciting ecosystem."

I mean, here in the US we've got, what? The Club Eight at the San Diego Crew Classic, a series of duels your competition might not even show up for, and then cross your fingers that Vesper and Baltimore show up for Schuylkill Navy, or you're still scheduling scrimmages while you're in the customs line at Heathrow. I think it's reasonable to assume we were faster than a number of the crews in the regatta, though obviously not the ones we raced. But they race Henley every year, us every four to six. There's dozens of club eights on the Thames, and only a handful on the east coast. The Conference of Competitive Club Programs (CCCP) has some work to do.

I think I knew that already though. Maybe I could have saved a couple thousand dollars.

So what's next? Our Masters continued on to the Henley Masters Regatta, where they enjoyed some success (see below).



A few of us slotted into the Club Nationals lineups, hopefully with most of the Pimm's out of our systems. Then Middletown, Delaware for the Diamond States Master Regatta—a fun couple of trips down a 1,000-meter course on a beautiful lake, where we can play with some fun lineups and race for intramural bragging rights more than anything else.

After that, who knows. Everyone's chasing big individual goals, and some guys will hit those. We'll be back at Head Of The Charles, and hopefully host London Rowing Club for a visit in the fall to our own Head of the Potomac. Maybe up to Riverside to keep the Stars and Stripes dual alive; maybe we'll host Baltimore Rowing Club for the first in a Francis Scott Key series of duals. The Henley trip brought a lot of energy to our everyday operations that won't go anywhere anytime soon.

But we still want to win races.

So, we gotta race.

-Peter Clements




Thanks very much to Peter Clements for the hard typing, bantering, and general great work over the past 12 weeks! You can keep up with him via the Potomac Men's Sweep Instagram account.

-RR

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