ON a day that saw most of the rivers in Warwickshire bursting their banks and club rowing sessions throughout the region cancelled, a number of Stratford Boat Club crews were able to escape indoor training for a day’s racing on the Gloucester to Sharpness canal in the city.
In glorious sunny conditions contrasting the torrential rain of the day before, crews from all over the Midlands and South West of England enjoyed some competitive racing across two divisions for a full day’s racing finishing only as dusk settled over the 5km course.
The course, although providing some long straight line racing, also threw in some challenging bends, narrow bridges and large motorised river traffic to keep crews on their toes from start to finish.
Racing in the afternoon, Stratford had two crews in division events, first off being Heather Hayton and Tom Doherty racing in a combined masters’ double sculls event comprising three mixed and six men’s crews from clubs as far afield as Dart Totnes, Taunton, Worcester, Stourport and Upton-upon-Severn.
A steady start in the choppy conditions saw Stratford settle into as much of a rhythm as the conditions would allow.
Leading off the other eight crews, Stratford were able to push away from those immediately behind them to open up a gap and chase down two junior women’s coxed fours ahead of them from Worcester RC.
Racing towards a narrow bridge on the course saw Stratford overtake the first of the Worcester coxed fours boats to squeeze ahead.
By this time the field in their doubles event had began to sort itself out and Stratford began to come under pressure from the top-quality Upton mixed crew containing Steve Redgrave’s ex-rowing partner Julian Scrivener.
Stratford working hard, held Upton, the eventual event winners, off until the 4km mark.
Having negotiated the last major bend, Stratford closed right behind another Worcester women’s coxed four crew whilst in turn being chased down by the impressive men’s crew from Stourport.
A neck-by-neck and side-by-side race between the two crews over the last 500m saw them cross the finish line level.
The final race result saw Stratford’s mixed crew finish fourth out of nine entries, beating four men’s and one mixed crew, losing only to two men’s and one mixed crew from Upton.
The plaudits for the day’s racing, however, went to Kjersti Rogneflaten-Woolley racing in a single scull which, in the choppy conditions, saw many competitors throughout the event struggle to complete the course in what are normally quite unstable boats.
Racing in a field of four women’s masters scullers against strong opposition, some of whom had beaten Kjersti in earlier races, made for very challenging racing.
Using her experience of racing on rough water courses, Kjersti was able to maintain a very good consistent pace to finish in a very respectable time of 27:20 which saw her gain a deserved victory in the event.
Masters’ vice-captain Tom Doherty said: “A great day’s racing was topped off by seeing Kjersti gain a very well deserved win, a suitable reward for all her hard training, on what was a very challenging stretch of water in such an unstable boat as a single scull.”
Kjersti has had a busy season already this year having competed in The World’s Masters Regatta in Hungary in September and now that the head race season has started, she has to get used to racing in kilometres rather than sprinting over metres.
“The World’s Masters Regatta was a great experience,” she said.
“Racing was in eight lanes over 1,000m. “At the start block, hearing neither my name nor my club, but ‘in lane four: Great Britain’ – and that was me!
“Saying I was out of my comfort zone is an understatement, but I survived and managed to do a personal best, even though I was far away from a medal.”
Last weekend saw Kjersti race at the Weybridge Silver Sculls which is on a non-tidal reach of the Thames.
The Silver Sculls is a trophy that many famous scullers have won, including Sir Steve Redgrave.
After some discussions about the conditions earlier in the week, it was decided to shorten the course to 3km.
The race was upstream from Walton to Weybridge.
Kjersti’s immediate challenge was to manoeuvre down to start in the strong current among cruisers and competing crews coming up stream crossing in to the marshalling channel.
During the race Kjersti managed to overtake a younger woman, but with the strong current it felt like she was racing against the tide.
Kjersti was up against nine women in her event and the two she was hoping to beat scratched before the race.
However, Kjersti still finished fifth, being beaten by women from Tideway Scullers, Henley, Mortlake and Christchurch.
“In both events I met some amazing masters’ women. There is a passion about what we are doing, so ‘if it’s there, it has to be done’. We will continue to meet at various events and at training camps,” said Kjersti.