Sidney M2 had a disappointing first day, getting bumped early by a very strong Clare III. The only consolation was Charlie Spicer spotting the professional photographer on the row to the start and pulling a face that deserves to pass into immortal legend simply as ‘the Charlie face’. By Wednesday, though, the depressing, rainy conditions had passed, and with them passed the despondency that had clouded the crew after Tuesday’s row. The sun was out. A fresh breeze tickled the surface of the Cam. A positive warm up was marred only by David Barley finding himself the unfortunate target of some avian excrement, but a clear river meant that the crew could get in some useful practice starts, and we arrived at our station at the top of division four in good time, full of anticipation.
As the clock ticked down eight pairs of eyes shut out the lurid purple of King’s II and focused instead on the shoulder of the man in front. The cannon boomed; the Dorothy Larkum leapt forward, but our start, while considerably better than Tuesday’s, was still scrappy, and almost immediately King’s had one whistle on us. Not a hint of alarm entered cox Paavan Sawjani’s voice however, and as he called the strides, and the crew settled at around rate 32, the rate at which King’s were gaining on us slowed. But King’s were clearly determined to get an early bump. One whistle became two, and then three, and soon the crew’s ears were filled with continuous whistles as the bow of the King’s boat nosed alongside our stern. The previous day, in a similar scenario, panic had taken hold, with strokes shortening, blades digging, slides being rushed, timing falling apart. Not today. Pav called for the ‘restart’: three huge, long strokes, as powerful as the draws from the start sequence. The excited continuous whistling of the King’s coach faded back down to three whistles, and clear water emerged again between the two boats. The respite was only temporary though. King’s rallied; in what seemed like no time at all Pav was forced to call the restart again, and again we dragged ourselves out of their clutches. As the tight corners of the gut came and went, the pattern repeated itself, King’s coming heart-stoppingly close, but every time Sidney responded with a restart, or a power ten, or an extra ten percent pressure. The feeling inside the boat shifted from desperation to belief. King’s’s frustration was evident. But, as Sidney rounded the corner at Ditton and emerged onto the reach, the wind, which had been diffused by the trees lining the bank all this time, struck hard. A wall of pressure smothered the speed the boat had been carrying, slowing it down just as King’s, still sheltered by the bank, gave a final squeeze. It was enough to get them the bump.
On the row home, however, the crew’s heads remained high – it had been a performance to be proud of. Camille Lardy, who gave up her time to bank party us both days, reported the words of the Chief Umpire: he had never seen a crew fight so bravely in all his time umpiring, she proudly informed us. On Thursday we will be chasing King’s, knowing that we have the grit to do what it takes to catch them.