First days in England – Reading Regatta

Day 1 and 2, Saturday, June 9, 2012

Today we raced at the Reading Amateur Regatta, about 20 minutes west of Henley.  Over the years we have had very good racing here, and Groton is a name that is well-known here.  As the Chairman of the Regatta told us today, “We like have the best American schools and colleges come here.  It adds class to our regatta.”  Nice to hear.

Our trip over was mostly uneventful although we got caught in incredible traffic to the airport.  Most likely it was the combination of rush hour and Celtics traffic, but we arrived with minutes to spare.  Thanks very much to David Black and Cathy Lincoln for driving us.   The oars all made it safely; there was only one bag lost.  (Now found)

Friday was a long, long day.  I don’t let the kids take naps during the day, so that they will sleep like logs the first night.  They were really dragging, and to make it worse, there was a cold rain and very strong winds.  But they did a good job throughout the day.

Most of them slept 11-12 hours the first night, and although they would have been happy to stay in bed, we had to get them up at 8:00 for races.  Upon arrival at Reading one of our three rental vans died – it refused to go into gear – and so the day started off badly.  Thanks to Bob Madden, its driver, who was patient and stayed in good humor despite a trying day.

The Reading Amateur Regatta is so named because in the old days this regatta was open only to “amateurs,” the distinction as applied by the British meaning that only those who did not get any financial gain from rowing were allowed to compete.  No professional oarsmen or coaches or watermen were allowed.  Some of you may remember when tennis was like this.  Big tournaments like the US Open have their name because they were “open” to all, even tennis pros.  So, this was not originally an open regatta.  Its participants had to meet the definition of amateur, which was skewed towards the upper classes.  At any event, it’s not like that now.  It is a fine example of a town regatta.  There are competitors of all ages and many different abilities.

OK, cut to the case, Andy.  I’m tired and need to get to bed.

The boys 8 won their first three races and kept improving with each race.  In the final of their event, the Intermediate 3, they lost to a local high school, the reading Blue Coat School.  I’ve always wondered about the name too.     The bluecoat is a style of dress code, traditionally worn in Bluecoat schools (British private schools deriving from charity schools).  The main element of the bluecoat is a long (dark blue or black) coat, belted at the waist, with white neck decoration. Underneath a white shirt and grey shorts are worn, with knee-length socks and smart shoes.  The school was founded in 1646 by a wealthy London merchant, Richard Aldworth of Stanlake Park, who left the Corporation of Reading the sum of £4,000, the proceeds of which were to be devoted to “the education and upbringing of twenty poor male children, being the children of honest, religious poor men in the town of Reading.”

Although they were disappointed to lose a race, it was close and their fourth race of the day was their fastest by almost ten seconds.  They told me that they felt that they had learned a lot over the course of the day – which is exactly why we come over right away.

The boys 4 with coxswain had a tough draw.  They were in the Intermediate 1 event (almost the highest level, there is also Elite) because that was the only race available today.  We knew that for the fours this would be tough.  It was.  They lost to a Reading Rowing Club men’s four (who looked to all be in their mid 20’s) by one length.  Reading went on to be the second place crew in the event, so I think our ids raced pretty well.  Tomorrow they will have a much better day, I am sure, because they will race in Intermediate 2’s – a more suitable match.

The girls 4 with coxswain also had a tough opening race in the Intermediate 4’s.  They raced against Vesta Boat Club, one of the biggest clubs in London, and although they raced hard, they came up short “a canvas”, the bow deck of the boat.  (about 10’).  They will have their fill of racing tomorrow.  I have entered them in both the intermediate 2 and 3 events.  If all goes well, they could race 7 times.   They are going to be some tired kids tomorrow.

Finally, the girls quad (quadruple scull, the difference being that sculling boats each person has two oars while our normal sweep boats each have one oar.  The difference between the two has often been compared to the difference between squash and tennis.  It helps a lot to be good at one, but they are really quite different.) .  Anyway, the quad raced with a young boat from Lady Eleanor Holles School, one of the strongest schools in England.  We beat them “easily” the term for a victory of more than 5 lengths.  Then a few hours later we raced their top boat, a boat that, like us, is planning on racing at the Henley Royal Regatta, which has opened its gates to high school girls for the first time ever this summer.  Three of the four of this boat had raced our girls in an 8 last summer, so we are old rivals.  Or, as their coach told me, “one of my girls asked why Groton always has to show up at these regattas and ruing them for us.”  They did their best in our race, starting very quickly, rowing at 35 to 37 beats a minute (to our 32-33) and leading by a half-length for the first 500 meters.  But then our girls showed their determination (and speed) and rowed through them to win by 2 lengths.  The final, at 6:30 tonight, followed a similar pattern.  Reading Rowing Club jumped out ahead, but we rowed them down and won by two lengths.

These victories in the quad against LEH and Reading are especially exciting because they prove that we belong in the sculling event.  It’s always a risk to try something new, but the girls had wanted to take that risk, and it looks like it wasn’t a crazy idea.  But we’ll have to see.  There is bound to be a lot of really good competition down the road.

Ok, I’m turning in.  I was proud of all of the Groton kids today.  They raced hard and showed speed and class.  Tomorrow is another long day of racing.  The distance is only 1100 meters, instead of today’s 1500, but everyone will be tested fully.

We are having fun.  And working hard.  (Incredibly, the kids seem to buy my little saying that working hard can be fun.  It doesn’t hurt that we had wonderful English strawberries and lots of Nutella for lunch.


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