2019 sees SSBC M1 returning to BUCS Regatta. A successful time trial and a second place in the F final of the Men’s Intermediate VIII+ – together with some first-class team building off the water – made for a truly memorable weekend.
Saturday 4thto Monday 6thof May were the dates for this year’s British Universities and Colleges Sport Regatta, at the National Water Sports Centre in Nottingham. The number of participating crews is in the order of a thousand, and the sloped banks around the artificial rowing lake literally become covered in colourful racing shells, heaps of blades, uncountable trailers and lycra-clad rowing fanatics in hordes.
C: Paavan Sawjani
S: Joris Witstok
7: Philipp Hirsch
6: Günther Turk
5: Tor Svenungsson
4: Zach Lande
3: Andrew Ramsay
2: Ieuan Best
B: Abdullah Athar
Coach: Michael Burcher
(Category: Men’s Intermediate VIII+)
Time trial: shared 35th, 5:04.1
Final: 2ndin F Final (32ndoverall), 6:42.26 (2000 m)
Among this cacophony of broad-shouldered university teams, SSBC M1 made an appearance, being one of only four college crews representing Cambridge college rowing at the regatta. (Caius had entered their first and second men’s boats, and Jesus W1 showed up as well.)
Arriving in Nottingham on the Friday, one day before race day, M1 made their way directly to the Water Sports Centre to unload and assemble their boat, K. J. Pollard, before a calm afternoon paddle to get acquainted with the waters and the course. The experience in the crew shone through in the calmness and composure throughout the outing and gave them the strength and reassurance they needed in anticipation of the race. The high-end facilities of the Water Sports Centre came in handy, as the crew enjoyed steaming showers after a long day of travelling and preparation.
Back in central Nottingham, SSBC’s diligent Men’s Captain, Günther Turk, had arranged Airbnb accommodation for the entire crew. The crew debriefed the outing and discussed the coming day, going through race plans and off-water preparation routines before cooking dinner. True to their cause, the dinner consisted in a solid carb intake in the form of tortellini and tomato sauce with grated cheese. Not one rower or cox left the table hungry. Dinner was enjoyed in front of the tv, where the crew took turns screening their favourite YouTube rowing clips. They may not have been the biggest boys in Nottingham this weekend, but in terms of fanaticism they equal any of their peers. The rowing chat never ends in an apartment inhabited by eight SSBC rowers and a cox. The last task of the day was to distribute rowers over a limited number of double beds. After a bit of bathroom logistics, silence fell over a certain apartment in central Nottingham.
Alarms went off around 7:30 am. There was coffee, porridge, toast with peanut butter and juice for breakfast. The common room started to fill with race–kitted M1 boys. Soon after, the crew set off to the Water Sports Centre once again. Things went quickly. The time trial was scheduled for 10:45 am and race numbers (397) had to be collected, the GoPro camera had to be mounted, water bottles needed filling, bodies needed waking up. In spite of known opposition among some crew members, Günther prescribed a collective jog down the bank, and once back at the boat, M1’s patent warm up routine followed. It was soon time to boat. A short queue for a place on the launch pontoon, some quick action with blades and slippers, and SSBC was on the water, ready to warm up and marshal.
Imagine the joy of the crew when, passing the Cambridge Blues’ tent, they heard people shouting “go Sidney!”
The weather conditions had been expected to be challenging on race day, and the weather gods delivered on this malicious promise. Strong winds blew across the course from bow-side to stroke-side, and the water was choppy. This was clearly not within the comfort zone of innocent Cambridge college crews, used to the tranquil River Cam. But M1 raised to the occasion, performing a strong 1500 metre time trial, with a finishing time of 5:04.1.
Back at the boat racks, race nerves took time to settle, but the strong performance had made the crew hopeful. The results could not come too early: had they qualified for a final? Günther and Paavan (cox) went to return the race numbers.
Pav had a big smile on his face when he and Günther came back. “You better eat and recover well now boys!” The crew had qualified to the F final, with a shared 35th(last before elimination threshold) place in the time trial. The mood was on top, and the author saw several smiling faces turning to take in SSBC’s celebration. Yeah bois! M1 were in for a side-by-side 2000 metre race.
A long afternoon of waiting, resting and nerve management followed. Rumours were spreading that the organisers were deliberating calling off the minor finals because of worsening weather. At 4:00 pm, one hour before the F final was scheduled to take place, a speaker message confirmed that the racing would go ahead even in the minor finals. The morning routine was repeated: jogging, warm-up and light stretching; taking the boat off the racks, queuing and boating.
The weather had been changing by the minute, now sunshine, now rain, and nearing the start the crew was hit by a sudden hail. Laughable as it was, it could not shake the determination of the crew, which sat up in the freezing wind and hail and awaited the start. Unlike the time trial, which had involved a rolling start, finals were held with standing starts and semaphores, a first for some in the crew. Two of the six crews in the final, Oxford Brookes and Warwick, did not show up at the start, which led to Sidney being caught by surprise by a sudden call for attention. The crewmembers rushed to front-stops, the lights changed from red to green, and off they went. Southampton, in the lane next to Sidney, exploded out of the start, but within a few winds (rate-increasing quick strokes) the boys had recovered the few metres they had lost to Southampton.
A carefully crafted race plan was executed, where the goal was to stride past the opponents in the part of the race that hurt the most, 1000 to 1500 meters into the race. This meant a quick succession of burst moves and by the end of it, fatigue was making itself visible in a slight lapse in technique and cover. Other crews were tiring too, however. Southampton had not been able to keep up with M1, and were by this point half a boat length behind. Exeter, who had been leading until this point, were shortening up severely. Coming up to the last 500 metres, Sidney had gained a slight advantage over the Exeter crew, but the strongest push had come from the Imperial crew, who had been lurking in the background, at the far end of the course, and had mounted a massive assault in the third 500’s. They were now in the lead, rating significantly higher than the rest of the field.
Despite the painful middle phase of the race, M1 were bracing themselves for a last sprint. Pav called for the first tier, an extra 5% power in the drive, and the whole crew responded. A few strokes later, second tier was called for: another 5% power and a gear shift up to a higher rate. By this point nothing was spared. Sidney was sprinting against Imperial, and Exeter and Southampton were left behind – although not far behind. Tier three: finish yourselves!! The rate kept climbing, but no substantial loss of length in the stroke occurred. Imperial had gained a solid advantage in the early phases of the sprint, but Sidney was now creeping back. The rowers gasping for air and fighting against the instinct to quit, Pav was the only one aware of the standing and he was doing his utmost to push his oarsmen closer to that Imperial bow ball.
The crews crossed the finish line; Imperial celebrated. They had won by the length of a canvas. But Sidney were not less happy. A strong second position was definitely worth celebrating. They exchanged a few cheering comments with Southampton, who had fought so well and pushed the boys all the way, spun and went for a cool-down paddle in the designated area of the lake. The sun came out, and suddenly rowing was pure joy.
Soon after, the boat was taken back to the trailer and taken apart for transport home. There was no time for showering, and Subway provided dinner, as the crew caught the first possible train back to Cambridge. The spirit was high, but energy was practically null. Half of the crew slept on the train back, the other half indulged in whatever edible could be found.
Sunday was a rest day, but on Monday the crew could be seen assembling dear K. J. Pollard and hammering out a 60-minute erg in Caius boathouse.
The boat club thanks Caius Boat Club for kindly transporting Pollard to and from the races, for lending their boat house for derigging and for sharing their fantastic facilities for said erg session.
— Penned by M1 5-seat and SSBC Publicity officer Tor Svenungsson