The head of the Dart is a gruelling 15km race that winds its way along the river Dart between the rolling hills of South Devon. One year the start is in Dartmouth and finish in Totnes; the following year the course is the other way round. On Saturday 12th April 2014 two Exeter women’s eights took to the water at Dartmouth, which required very quick boating off the ferry slip while it was on the other side of the river! The first 8+ was composed of Kirsty Barker, Kerri-Ann Upham, Rebecca Kelly, Hana Lango Allen, Susie Howells, Jane Stack, Katy Campbell, Ellie Dodd and cox Dani Wall. Starting closely behind them was the second 8+ composed of Nadine Levin, Ruth Fray, Michaela Bailey, Kate Andrews, Caragh Newman, Miriam Bay, Katie Campbell, Fern Dymond, and cox Peter Cork.
Both crews started strong and were able to find a sustainable pace for the race which was expected to take just under an hour to complete. Having set off behind a Kingston mixed masters eight, the first crew closed the gap quickly and was able to claim their first victim of the day with the town of Dartmouth still in sight. The first challenging part of the course came at Dittisham where crews hit a strong head wind and choppy water conditions. This section required determination and sharp, technical rowing. The Exeter girls took this as an opportunity to draw upon the many hours spent training over the winter and battled through the testing conditions. The first crew was encouraged by their cox to keep on chasing a Worcester men’s masters eight far in the distance, making gains with every stroke. The second eight was themselves chased by the third women’s eight and several fast quads, which they used to push against despite the waves breaking over their boat.
At Dungannon the course narrowed and was bit more sheltered from the persisting head wind, but the S bends posed another challenge. At this point the first eight caught the Worcester crew ahead and had to row very hard to overtake them around the bends. Great credit goes to cox Dani for steering a good line between them and numerous paddle boarders, and insisting on her race line with the other crew understandably finding it difficult to adjust their line. Eventually the crews passed the start line of the Dart Totness mini head, where it was time to start pushing for home! This was familiar water for the Exeter women who had competed on this stretch of the river at the beginning of the head race season in the autumn. As the crews neared the finish line much appreciated cheers of support and encouragement could be heard from the tow path at Totnes. This motivated the Exeter girls to dig deep one last time as they powered towards that long awaited finish line.
Exeter crew was the first of the women’s eights to cross the line, in a time of 55min 24sec, finishing 13th overall out of 94 crews that included fine, offshore and coastal boats. They were placed as the 2nd overall women’s crew, just a minute behind a very fast Oxford Brooks coxless quad. The second Exeter eight finished in time of 1:02:32, 48th position overall.
This race marks the end of the head race season and in their training for the regattas ahead, the ladies are now adding power and speed to the endurance they’ve built up. We look forward to next year’s Head of the Dart which will start in Totnes and finish in Dartmouth.