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Every few years, the pupils, staff, parents and vets of the school row 83 miles from Radley boathouse, down the Thames to KGS to raise money for the boat house and for charity. This year the chosen charity was Leukaemia and Lymphoma research. Thanks to your generosity, we raised over £50,000 split equally between the boat house and the charity. 138 rowers and 80 support volunteers met at Radley Boat House at 5 am to start their journey………
The mist was rolling gently along the river when the first boats pushed off from Radley Boathouse at 6:15am; it muffled the shouts of encouragement from the large crowd gathered to wave them off, and it appeared to envelope them before they even rounded the first bend on the start of their 83-mile journey back to the KGS Boathouse.
Just a few days earlier the despatch of 37 boats bearing 138 participants seemed unlikely enough. The Boathouse was still being renovated, as it had been throughout the summer, and the KGS fleet was spread across Ditton Field, boats separated from riggers and seats, all accommodated in haphazard fashion in multiple storage containers. But with prodigious powers of organisation, and the willing help of the Senior squad and a large posse of Veterans, the coaches managed to transport - and reassemble - all the necessary boats, together with launches and ancillaries in time for a crack-of-dawn start (one or two unfortunate accidents notwithstanding).
Skalavag’r led the charge. A 35-foot Shetland yole, its 8-person crew (including two septuagenarians) had earlier in the summer escorted the Royal barge in the Jubilee procession, and, with KGSBC flag fluttering, had accompanied the olympic torch on the last day of its journey to East London. Confident that this journey would be longer and more arduous than either of those, its eager crew members set off ahead of everyone, anticipating a very late arrival.
After Skalavag’r the deluge…….singles, doubles, quads, Octs and eights - one after another they set off - novices, Veterans, ex-Olympians, recent junior GB members - a huge range of techniques, strength and stamina.
The previous Sponsored Row, in 2009, had started badly: an over-eager lock helper had frozen Abingdon lock (the first of the day), holding the crews up for almost two hours. But this time, some advanced training (thanks to the ever-helpful lock-keeper at Molesey Lock) ensured that parent lock parties were more than up to the task - not only were there no accidental foul-ups, but they even managed to coax a seized lock into action, allowing the rowers to carry on their way, almost unhindered.
By mid-morning the mist had lifted and the sun was shining down on some beautiful stretches of river - past Clifton to Day’s Lock, then on to Cleeve and Pangbourne for lunch. Along the entire length the Sherriff Club parents and helpers charmed the lock-keepers and lifted the spirits of the tiring rowers. At lunch a team of 12 doughty caterers produced the first 500 rolls of the weekend and the first 30 gallons of squash.
But there was no dawdling: a quick half-hour break and on the rowers went again - destination Henley Rowing Club. The first crews arrived at 5:00pm, and enjoyed some freshly-made bacon rolls and refreshments, before being whisked off to the Reading Hilton for the evening. For the next three and a half hours they kept coming, and parent helpers ferried them to Reading, where they could enjoy a shower and clean clothes, before feasting on what appeared to be an endless supply of food. But never has a party of schoolchildren shown so little interest in staying up late. By 10:00pm almost everyone had retired to bed - and no wonder: reveille the next morning was 5:00am.
But not for everyone. The “Mums’ Oct” - nine women, many of whom had first stepped in a boat in June (but not stroke Sue, an ex-Olympian and very reassuring presence) - had opted for a 4:30 wake-up and a 5:00am departure, keen to get on the water and hustle back to KGS before dark. They were joined in a quiet and sleepy minibus by the ever-eager crew of Skalavag’r, and by 6:00am both boats were heading downstream towards KGS, barely noticing the 1500 swimmers of the Henley triathlon coming towards them - although thankfully on the other side of the river.
And so the lunch at Eton became very spread out. The earliest crews arrived just before 1:00pm, but the latest crews didn’t get to eat until 4:00. Nevertheless, another lively team - 14 this time, including Mrs Maclean, Deputy Director of Sport, who received some surprised looks from the pupils to whom she was handing lunch - kept the food flowing: yet more rolls, cakes and bananas, washed down by gallons more squash, tea and coffee.
The rest of the crews began leaving Henley shortly thereafter, and before 8:00am everyone was afloat and heading home. Progress was brisk in the early morning quiet, and even the slowest outpaced the organisers’ expectations at first. But by mid-morning the river traffic began to thicken, augmented by another Boat Club’s Sponsored Row. The first crews were ahead of the crush, but the crews who embarked later were caught in lengthy jams at locks. And while the smaller boats can be ported around (or perhaps the opportunity taken for a snooze), the bigger boats had no choice but to sit and wait their turn.
And the most impressive number of all is the sum raised by the intrepid rowers to support not just the Boat Club, but also - and most importantly - the important work of Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research. To date, the sum raised easily tops £50,000, and the money is still coming in - a fitting tribute to a weekend of such effort and commitment from so many people. Well done the rowers, coaches , parents and friends of the KGSBC. [Roland Wales]
Thank you to Andrew Sim, Richard Sealy, Kate Borwick and other parents for the photos above.
And after the last boat had left lunch, the mad dash with the trailers - boat and food - to get back to the KGS Boathouse before the first crews arrived. But the boats got their first, just before 6:00pm - the unexpected winner a 50-something veteran who had outpaced his rivals by porting around the locks, rather than waiting to go through them. Congratulations to Neil Christie on his triumph, and to all the other crews who fought their way through the crowded Sunday river traffic to make it back to the newly-renovated Boathouse before 9:00pm.
Their welcome: a huge crowd of over 200 parents and friends, mountains of bacon rolls and - for those of the appropriate age - a welcoming beer (or wine - the Sherriff Club is nothing if not flexible). 138 participants set out, and the few who found themselves unable to complete due to injury found their places taken by willing volunteers. The oldest participant - Martin Leach, indefatigable as always - was 75 years and 4 months old when he stepped into the Vets Eight at Radley, and the youngest, Will Burden, a mere 14 years and 1 month. Almost 80 parents helped along the way and another 30 rowed the entire distance. Former parents and students rowed, or helped on the river or on land - the entire weekend a tribute to the strength of the rowing community at KGS.
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