In the mid 1970s, when the regatta season finished at the end of August we switched to land training on Tuesday and Thursday evenings in the basement at the clubhouse. This could get pretty crowded! In 1976 I think it was, we were delighted to accept an offer from the Commander of the Royal Naval College allowing us to use the college gym for a couple of hours on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and to provide us with a Royal Marines PTI to lick us into shape.
We turned up at the gym with some trepidation and met PTI Mick Newstead, a battle hardened Royal Marine, thick set with the face of a boxer. It was clear from the start that he would accept no nonsense. He explained that he was happy to train people of varying levels of fitness but insisted that anyone entering his gym was expected always to “GIVE 110% OR CLEAR OFF”! Our aim at the time was to get the first eight into the top 100 at the head of the river race which we just succeeded in doing.
The training was very well structured with plenty of variety and was mainly tough circuit and weight training. Given his boxing background there was strong focus on abdominals involving a huge number of sit-ups and V-sits, but also star jumps and burpees. We had been warned that the passing out test on the final session was to lie down side by side while each person in turn ran across the stomachs of the rest. We didn’t really believe it, but it did focus the mind and sure enough we all had to do it. It was not so bad when 10st Gordon Sanders sprinted across us but pretty terrifying when it was 14-15st Cliff Nichols’ turn.
Mick was a great guy who identified with our objectives and worked us incredibly hard, which made us pretty fit and also developed a strong team spirit. I think he trained us for 2 or 3 years and became a good friend of the club.
At the time the Royal Naval College was fulfilling its intended purpose of training senior Royal Navy officers. This was at the time of the IRA bombings and security was a very tight indeed. There was no access to the public. One of our members, the late Martin Swan, worked in the college as an engineer on the small nuclear reactor on the site. It was used for training nuclear submarine officers. Its existence was not widely known and ironically the Borough of Greenwich was ringed with signposts proclaiming itself as a Nuclear Free Zone whilst hosting the only nuclear reactor in any city in the UK.
Martin persuaded the college to offer facilities to Curlew rowing club as part of their local community engagement project. In addition to the gym and the PTI we were given access to the college squash courts at specific times. Martin was a lovely man and together with his wife Dorothy did a great deal for the club. Martin built and donated the club’s first trailer and together they organised great fund racing events. Words by Paul Maloney