2013: an historic year (Part II)

Continuing with our review of 2013, here are the final 6 months:

A busy, sunny and fun month, with lots of work done on Willow as well. We spent a glorious weekend sailing on the Thames barge Pudge with the Thames Sailing Barge Trust, for James’s birthday, which was excellent fun! We rowed and coxed the annual Town Bumps races, we went to the somewhat disappointing IWA national and we got the gas man to come and finish off the gas system so we could cook and shower in the comfort of our own boat! Never is a shower or a cup of tea so satisfying as when you’ve done most of the work to make it happen!

August saw us frantically finishing off things so that my mum and her partner, Peter, would be able to stay with us for the weekend in relative comfort. Unfortunately we didn’t quite get the bathroom finished, but we did manage to get the solid oak floor down in the living room, which made a big difference, as did the bookshelves which James made. My mum and Peter arrived part way through our ‘Summer Pootle’, and we had some lovely weather! We met them in Ely, stayed overnight on the EA moorings near the Ship, then pottered up the Brandon Creek to drop them off. We always loving taking guests out because it helps us see the rivers through their eye, as a beautiful destination, not just a familiar backdrop that we’ve tired of. 20140103-215521.jpg

Back to school and university for both of us, but that didn’t stop us carrying on with work on the boat at weekends and evenings. I carried on with tiling bits of floor and James made the coat rail and shoe storage at the front of the boat. We went to the Shackerstone Family festival to see boats and boaters, where we picked up some presents for Willow: cheap ash trim and a brass toilet roll holder from one of the tat stalls! 20140103-220424.jpg

In October, we got stuck into researching Willow’s history, making contact with and eventually visiting the Waterways Museum and the County Archives in Gloucester. We visited Oak, Willow’s older sister, which is in very poor condition, and explored the city where Willow was based in her working days. We also found out a bit more about Willow’s work during the war, discovering that she was worked by the “Idle Women” for a time, and were kindly sent a photo of this- the earliest photo we have of the boat. We also had a great weekend staying on Ilford at That Fuller Do!

The biggest excitement of November was buying our first car, Jasper the Fforde. This allowed us to go and do things that we hadn’t been able to before, like load up with a massive pile of logs for the stove, and collect cans of diesel from St Ives. In fact we spent a lot of time at the weekends, when we weren’t working on the boat, collecting various types of fuel for the winter and for propulsion! We finally finished the bathroom, and were very pleased with the result, ready for visitors who came for the bonfire night fireworks on Midsummer Common.20140103-221634.jpg

And so that brings us to December. We had a lovely Christmas break in the Westcountry, despite some terrible weather for driving. Over the course of the holiday, Jasper took us nearly 700 miles there and back!

Now, not quite a year after setting eyes on Willow, we have a comfortable, spacious [its all relative!] home that we can be proud of. We’re not finished by any means but looking back has reminded me how far we’ve come! Here’s to 2014!

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Bumps 2013: Night 4

City W6 (Amy’s boat): Down 1

Chesterton M1 (James’s boat): Up 1

The last night was a disaster for our boat: one of the girls caught some weed on her blade, let go (caught a crab), and we ended up crashing into the bank and being overtaken by the crew behind (who we’d caught easily on Thursday). So that was our Bumps campaign and hopes of Blades over! Ah well, that’s Bumps. Anything can happen!

James’s boat did very well, which made up for my terrible last night a bit. They caught X Press M1, much quicker than they expected, placing Chesterton M1 9th overall (the highest their M1 has ever been was 7th, the first year James coxed them in 2007. For a small club, this is excellent.

Additionally, Chesterton won the John Jenner trophy, which was brilliant. It’s a trophy awarded to the club with the most bumps when divided by the number of crews entered.

The after party went on long into the night and we retired early at 3:30am.

Photo: Will C


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Bumps 2013: Night 3

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1

w6 thursday

About to bump Champs 4 (photo: Will C)

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Up 1

m1 thursday

The victorious M1, with their coach, Kate

More willow for the Willows, as we had another great night for both our boats. My City ladies caught Champs 4 very swiftly, and James’s M1 caught St Neots M1 much quicker than they expected. This means that they have avoided having to fight off the mighty City M3 for a second time. Tonight, they have X-Press M1 in their sights, a boat which bumped them some years ago, and revenge would be sweet!

Will C’s write up of M1’s row

Thursday turned into our make-or-break day: having escaped Sharks on day 1, and got Nines 2 easily on day 2, we needed to get St Neots or face Sharks again on Friday; and whilst I wouldn’t object to giving them another go, on the whole I’d say once was enough. We were one of the first boats to Stourbridge and waited around for W1 which was delayed by Something (always nice to see the old traditions maintained). We lolled around under cloudless blue skies joking about the marshalling. James H revealed that he had a cunning frustrate-the-Sharks plan: start badly, or not start at all, and let ourselves get bumped by Nines! Which would have given us an easy day on Friday bumping Nines back. Ingenious, and not something that would have occurred to me, but naturally we didn’t seriously consider it, tempting as it was.

No, we rowed for glory instead. John pushed us out on 45 (with no stream and no wind that made perfect sense, and he’d done it on Tues and Weds too) and Emma counted us down (I really should slip in some thanks to those two for bank-partying us, so here it is) and we set off perfectly aligned. The race plan was that St Neots would be a good deal harder than Nines, and we couldn’t really expect to get them before the Plough, or possibly on the Reach, but that we should go off hard and try to break them. Last year they were shockingly fast, but we knew that this year we had a faster start than them.

Although looking at the GPS trace I can see that our actual start wasn’t desperately impressive – peak 1:27 – we’ve hit 1:20 on other days.

We got one whistle fairly soon – after perhaps 15 strokes. We (well, I) regarded this as ours by right and, as planned, we really paid little attention to it – just keep it hard. Vague shouting from the bank not long after the A14 bridge suggested we’d closed to 3/4 length, which was welcome but not very important – we knew we weren’t going to close just yet. Then somewhere in the fog of going round FP things started changing as we closed in to 2 whistles, and then rapidly 3; this was unexpected but quite welcome (at that point I was going through my usual mental fight with myself, which this year took the form of: “yes this hurts, but its going to hurt a lot more if you let Sharks chase you down the Reach tomorrow, so lets not let that happen”). It got somewhat choppy but we kept it up (the trace shows that, as usual, we slowed a little round FP but then we picked it back up to 1:38 / 1:39 and held that) until the bump. Which came rather suddenly in the gut.

Actually there is some (poor quality but welcome) video that establishes the sequence: we’re half a length down round FP, within at most 10 strokes that closes to overlap, and within a couple more strokes we bump / they acknowledge, about at the “change sides here” sign.

Hurray for us. Bring on Friday.

My boat have an interesting night ahead, as the boat we need to catch is our City W5. Clubs aren’t supposed to catch each others’ boats (we’re supposed to be in speed order but it’s difficult to know who is fastest sometimes). However, we will not be holding back, despite the fact that the club will be due a fine if we do bump them!

Of our race last night, Emily writes:

It was a confident W6 who paddled to the start, keen to continue to build on our fist two bumps. Tonight we were chasing Champs 4, who were potentially a bit speedier than the crews we’d caught previously. Cox John was once again worrying about his socks, but caused himself some problems in that department by spilling red bull all over them.

It was another short row for us, though tonight we did have to go round a corner. We caught them just before grassy corner. Our attempts to row quickly home in order to boat swap were slightly marred by a diligent and enthusiastic marshal. As ever, we stayed cool.

We’re looking forward to a longer, chunkier race tomorrow.

Apologies that rowing has taken over the blog for a few days! Normal service will resume at the weekend! Tonight’s row will be followed by the epic Last Night of the Town Bumps Party at City, which normally goes on until dawn. We will see how long we last, but unlike previous years, we won’t be cruising off into the sunrise, it’s James’s birthday BBQ tomorrow, and we have the gas man coming next week, so there’s lots to do on Willow, and we’ll be staying put.

Next weekend we have something very exciting planned but we’re not sure yet if it’s  going ahead…

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Bumps 2013: Night 2

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Up 1


Lots of willow on Willow last night. It’s much harder to get a bump in the higher divisions, so James’s boat’s achievement was definitely something to celebrate. My boat enjoyed a second night of bumping too – great fun

Again, I’ll hand over to Emily to write up our row:

W6 were feeling more relaxed today, and were keen to build on our first bump from Monday night. Fate gave me a tap on the shoulder – well the head – when I was struck by a falling branch on my way to city (that did actually happen). Clearly the gods knew we should have foliage. Despite an absence of ducks on the row up to the start, our paddling didn’t quite live-up to the elegance and panache that we had come to expect of ourselves. All the same, we didn’t panic and remembered that we could
still get it together. And this time, we were prepared for the gun.We had another strong start and champs behind us were soon disappearing into the distance. Once again, whistles were soon blowing and cox John was calling us to focus and ‘City, Go!’ There was a moment of drama when the Nines 3 cox took a while to yield and, despite being before the Plough, there was a physical bump. It was on first post corner, at almost exactly the same position as yesterday. Boom. Emily A

and to Will, who described their bump on the Chesterton blog:

A glorious bump up against Nines 2. Actually it wasn’t really that glorious, more in the nature of Inevitable, Nines 2 having the misfortune of being a rather poor crew this year and we’re pretty good.

After yesterday, today’s race plan was obvious: us to get Nines 2 quite early, about where St Neots got them or perhaps a little earlier: before the end of First Post reach. But behind us, ah, the Sharks, who would surely know we had a slow crew ahead of us, and be out for blood, and therefore come up like a rocket.

The first part worked fine: we got a decent start, peak 1:20, and had only faded to 1:37 when we hit Nines. It got pretty choppy under the A14 bridge and closing in on them, but that doesn’t seem to have affected our speed much. The second part didn’t happen: City 3 didn’t gain at all off the start, and indeed when we last saw them they were being hard pressed by Tabs 3 (who blew up not much later). What we hadn’t thought of was that the Sharks knew we’d get Nines, and saw no reason to put themselves out pushing the start hard for no possible gain. Its nice that they were so confident of us.

Afterwards, to Queens for some club beer, tactfully leaving Nines (who were also boating from Peterhouse) to weep in peace.

Will C

Bring on tonight!

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Bumps 2013: Night 1

Amy’s boat (City W6): Up 1


Rowing to the start

James’s boat (Chesterton M1): Row Over


This week, we’re rowing every night, in the annual Town Bumps races. For anyone new to our blog, Bumps racing is a type of rowing race almost exclusive to Oxbridge rowing. Basically, all the crews line up along the bank at regular intervals, are pushed out into the stream with long poles, and then all set off at the same time, at a cannon. You then have to catch up with and ‘bump’ the boat in front. Literally sometimes. And all before the boat behind catches up with you. Crazy? Yes. Dangerous? Occasionally. Fun? Of course! Traditionally, boats who successfully ‘bump’ the boat in front wear willow in their hair, which seemed particularly appropriate this year!

My crew had a good race, bumping the boat in front fairly quickly. Our stroke girl wrote up the night’s action:

During training W6 had suffered from a tendency to row slower as soon as anyone started watching. Asking the  spectators who would inevitably be lining the Cam banks to close their eyes when we approached didn’t seem like a viable option, so it was with some nervousness that we approached the first day of bumps. We would be chasing Champs W3, a boat which included the boss of one of our crew, so the stakes were high.  We had to stay focused; we had to stay calm. We had to think of John’s favourite phrase echoing down the river: ‘Keep. A. Lid. On. It.’ Our row down, despite a delayed practice start due to an inconvenient family of ducks, had great control and concentration, and helped us to get into a winning frame of mind – seven’s flow of suggestions for Harry Potter themed calls trickled out, and cox John soon stopped worrying about his socks.Our station was a little too close to the canon for comfort (by the outflow), especially for those who had not experienced bumps before. Managing to remain unphased, though, we had a solid start despite the gun firing a few seconds earlier than expected. It seemed that we had barely settled into a rhythm and become used to rowing in Champs’ wake before whistles started sounding from the towpath, a noise which few of the crew could believe was connected to us. Unbeknown to the W6 rowers, there was some concern on the bank that Champs would bump out before we managed to reach them. Fortunately, we responded to John’s carefully rehearsed calls asking us to focus and to push on, and bumped Champs in time, at first post corner. It was foliage and smiles all round on the row home, and we’re all looking forward to racing in day two – when we’ll once again row like there’s no-one watching. Emily A

James’s crew were pleased with their row – one of the crew wrote it up here:

Brief race description: we’d expected the Sharks (City 3, behind us) to be fast but blow up after 500m. We’d expected St Neots to be OK, but not as good as last year. That latter turned out to be true: we got a whistle on them soon after the start. What we’d omitted to think of was how slow Nines 2 were; St Neots got them around the top of First Post Reach. Happily James (helped by John on the bank) saw them well in time to steer round with minimal loss of speed. That left us with plan B: row past FP and wait for the Sharks to blow up. Alas, they failed to comply, and after dropping back to maybe 2 lengths they began to gain ground around Grassy, to perhaps a length down at the top of the Reach. Still, its now far down the Reach (oh yeah) and they’d only closed to within 3-6 feet by the time we were safe and sound.

We were all very happy with the row: we felt we’d done well, and “defeated” (if we hadn’t been faster than them over the whole course, we’d done well enough to avoid the bump) a powerful opponent (you can read what they say about themselves at they’re hot). Will C

So we’re both going into tonight’s racing feeling confident, and looking forwards to racing.

Full results here. And Jet photographic caught the moment we bumped, and there’s a video here (from 1:00)

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