Christmas is a time when even the keenest rower may have to face an extended leave of absence from home water. Family comes first and this year, we drove to Coleraine on the river Bann to spend the season with my wife’s family.
The river Bann is 80 miles long making it the longest river in Northern Ireland. At Coleraine, the river is tidal and the water only has four miles more to flow before joining the Atlantic Ocean via Portstewart.
This an enticing river. Its water winds calmly through the town flowing under bridges both new and old. Despite being tidal, and being in a part of the country known for challenging conditions, the river often displays a glassy peacefulness that’s just too tempting for a travelling oarsman. Add to that the fact that Bann Rowing Club has bred champions since its inception and currently boasts a few national and international rowers, and you’ll understand why this “RTB on Tour” simply had to get down and meet the club.
Luckily my brother-in-law is well-known to the club as he runs a wine merchants and hosts several fun-raising wine tastings a year. So, a quick phone call later and I was invited to join the club for its Boxing Day scratch regatta.
Bann Rowing club operates from a tiny two-tunnel boat house under the Water Margin Chinese restaurant near the town centre. I pitched up at 10.45 am to join various members who’d turned up to race in random scratch crews – drawn from a hat.
The members and coaches in particular were all super-friendly and welcoming. Six coxed quad crews were drawn and I was to race in the first of two heats. As the morning unfolded, members told me about the representative honours this tiny club had earned, both past and present. Alan Campbell, a four-time Olympian and bronze medal winner at London 2012 arrived with his family. Richard Chambers, three-time Olympian might have come home for the row too. It seemed there were national and international rowers everywhere. This wasn’t to be a simple scratch race!
My crew consisted of three junior rowers and me. Seated in the three seat, and having to use both hands for once, I quickly realised that this was not going to be an easy run. Alan Campbell appeared at the start – thankfully in the Marshals boat – and after a short briefing, we were off.
I think we were striking around 42 off the start and I think we settled at 38-ish for the 400m to 500m course. I say think because I realised very quickly how seriously out of my depth I was. All I could do was try to keep up. All other thoughts were wiped from my mind. It was fast and furious. But, whether I managed to get any decent lock on to deliver any leg drive? Who knows. All I can say is that lactate flooded my quads quickly and my lungs were bursting. This hurt and hurt a lot. I suspect that ultimately, I let my crew mates down a little. The junior rowers at Bann seemed exceptionally well drilled and I know – because their coaches told me – that there’s a firm focus on technique before fitness or power. I’m fit and can put down a lot of power, but I lacked the finesse and style that a sculling boat demands.
I really enjoyed the row, but it reminded me that I’ve got a lot of work to do if I’m going to stand a chance of being selected for a Star quad in Budapest. I’ve got to take it one step at time. But, the road to Budapest is long and there are still plenty of early mornings and late evenings between now and then. It’s time to row the miles.
I hope to see some of Bann’s master rowers in the Irish composite squad which is making the trip to Budapest. They’re all very welcome to visit Star and take a trip out with us too. Thanks Bann RC – what a great fun day and what a cracking club.
Dominic Hawes-Fairley learned to row and Magdalen College School in Oxford in the 1980’s. After bombing out of the J18 2- at the Junior National Championships in 1985, he got out of the boat and didn’t get back in until a short spell at Leicester Rowing Club in 2014. He joined Star in 2016 on moving to Bedford and in 2018 won gold in MasE4- and MasE4+ at British Rowing National Masters Championships, Gold in MasE8 at Henley Masters, Gold in MasF8 at the European Masters Regatta in Munich and E4+ in the Vets 4s Head.