On Saturday 15th March, Exeter Rowing Clubs Women’s squad competed in the most important Head Race of the season, the Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WHORR) in London. The 6.8 km course runs from Chiswick bridge to Putney pier, going with the fast flow of the tideway.
The weather was amazing with clear skies, glorious sunshine and a quick northwesterly wind. Two Exeter crews entered the race along with 290 others, although some novice and junior crews were not able to compete owing to safety concerns about fast tidal stream. There was a huge buzz around as Olympians Catherine Copeland, Helen Glover, Heather Stanning, and world champion Polly Swann were competing in impressive composite crews, and everyone was hoping to catch a glimpse of their idols.
Both Exeter boats were racing in the intermediate 3 provincial club category along with 31 other boats. Exeter RC A boat (Nadine Levin, Lisa Cocks, Ellie May Dodd, Kirsty Barker, Kerri-Ann Upham, Susie Howells, Nic Walker, Rebecca Kelly; cox Dani Wall) was placed at 104 to start; Exeter RC B boat (Hana Lango Allen, Katie Lean, Michaela Bailey, Ruth Fray, Jane Stack, Hannah Tennet, Katie Campbell, Fern Dymond; cox Katy Cambell) had a start number 167. The crews were hosted by the Vesta RC on the Putney Embankment, and a long paddle up to the start allowed both crews to feel the water and warm up well. The race started without much delay just after 3.30. Marshalling in a basking sunshine but strong stream conditions challenging for the coxes, we watched the first crews race past, including the eventual winners GB composite with several gold medallists.
Inspired by the opportunity to race along their idols and keen to put all the hard winter training into practice, Exeter RC A crew started very well and was able to overtake Lea RC in the first 3rd of the race. They rowed extremely well all the way and had gained on Birmingham University by the end of the race. They finished in an impressive 69th place overall and 3rd out of their category (IM3 Provincial Club), beating many much more experienced crews in higher categories. Exeter RC B also had a good row, the first on the tideway for the majority of the crew . They finished 217th overall, slightly disappointed with the result but nevertheless very pleased with the experience. As one crew member said (Jane): “this was one of the best days of my life”. Of note is that both crews included ladies who only started rowing last summer, a testament to the strength and depth of women’s rowing at Exeter RC.
Coach Peter Cork was very proud of both crews’ efforts but was sadly unable to attend the race due to illness. The crews are very grateful to Neil from Bristol RC for taking their boats to London at last minute. The squad’s next challenge will be in the Head of the Dart Race, a gruelling 15km from Dartmouth to Totnes.