Words by Danielle Vande Voorde, who sadly left the club earlier this month to move back home to the USA.
There is nothing quite like the first headrace of the season. In my case, this race was coupled with my last race of the season with Curlew. I wanted to write this race’s segment to both reminisce and to thank Curlew for being a wonderful rowing home—a place to reconnect with the sport I love, all while making great friends.
The day of the Four’s Head started off early. This was to allow for enough time to fit in a practice loop through Barnes and Chiswick. As always, a slight wait to push off but overall a good practice allowing us to get our bearings and familiarize ourselves with the landmarks and traffic pattern of the Tideway. It also just so happened to be our warm-up for the race—a few bursts leading up to race pace and a start through Chiswick (albeit the opposite direction) prepared us for what was to come.
In between the practice and the race was a time to fuel, prepare, and adjust. A slight tinker with the boat, an adjustment of clothing as it was much warmer than expected, and some relaxing was had before getting hands on. Last minute decisions and timing was decided amongst crews and the decision to “go ahead” with the full course despite high winds after Hammersmith was agreed upon by race directors– both welcome and nerve wracking.
For both women’s fours, getting on the water was interesting. Due to our positioning on the Middlesex Bank we were able to boat later, directly into our category. It was a bit of a hectic start as both women’s fours waited on the bank due to congestion. There was no delay to set the boat down at the prospect of trestles.
3 build, 5 wind, GO.
Our start was at full speed under Chiswick and through the University Stone. A good start, from my perspective, executing a particularly clean ratio switch. With a focus on power maintenance we set in to our rhythm– alone in the prospect of other boats but together through slide progression and stroke.
Look up, ratio, power on.
Under Barnes bridge our main goal was to maintain rhythm and power as we pushed on towards Hammersmith. The boat moved clean and powerful under the bridge, past the bandstand and around the curve. Near Chiswick Pier we expertly steered around one crew while fighting of another in the lead up to Hammersmith Bridge. This fight was elongated but ultimately the crew overtook us right before passing under the middle span.
Legs on, tap down, lean back—now.
With the gusts of 100 winds we came underneath Hammersmith bridge, almost feeling as if we hit a wall. As a crew we moved to overcome the elements that confronted us head on, quite literally. A battle against wind and waves compared to the more common battle of the boats. Our focus after Hammersmith, despite the wind, was to proceed with a three-minute push at Fred’s suggestion. Ultimately, this push kept us focused and thrust us into better water. Not long after that we came near Fulham Football club—our signifier for preparing to wind the hands for the sprint. With two winds from the 500 meter mark, and at long last, we received the command to “wind down” and with that the race was over. An epic battle of competitors and nature related elements and a lasting memory of teamwork and friendship.
Thanks to all those who supported during the race and to everyone at Curlew for making this last year one that was full of fun and lots of laughs.