Fortified by a scratch breakfast of instant porridge, the NW made their way to BUCS with surprisingly few mishaps. The day had dawned wet and anxious, and looked set to continue that way for a good couple of hours - the information that we were only going to have a few minutes to rig before the beginner IVs time trials was quickly passed from window to window between the two cars (along with general grumbles of "I could've had another hour in bed"). The NM, who were making their way down that morning, had forgotten the Eton 4 which the 3rd IV were racing in that morning, and had had to drive back to the boathouse to get it- leaving us completely boatless for the time being.
We made good use of the extra time by refusing to leave the cars until we absolutely had to in order to warm up and get into race kit - and then it was time to prove that we were capable of rigging boats quickly, no doubt to both the seniors' and Broom's immense surprise. There was no time to pause after rigging, a race number was slapped on the bows and the boats and we were sent scurrying off into the rain for our first taste of what BUCS had to offer. The time trials were something a little more familiar to us than the regatta races that would come later in the day- we had had plenty of practice with rolling starts through the winter season of head races.
The stories from the 1st IV were mostly tales of pain ("I've never heard Steph scream in a race before" and "we hit our 500m sprint and then sort of just kept going"), all very proper for racing and landing them a solid 17th position. The 3rd IV had a little more in the way of technical failure. It is not reassuring to push off from the bank, take your first stroke, and then hear a stream of expletives over the cox box. Much to Sophie's joy, we'd completely lost what little of the boat's steering we'd managed to save after our outing the day before, and according to her, she had been about to make the call to tell us to row in when there was the shout from Orla, at stroke, that we 'NEEDED TO GO NOW'. Despite paddling over the starting line and having to pressure steer our way down the lake, ambling through no less than three separate lanes, we managed to scrape our way into a final, coming 48th. Overtaking a crew on the way down was more of a cause of incredulity than triumph.
The majority of the day on Sunday was spent unsure as to whether we were going to be able to race again- the weather looked set on being awful. There was much muttering between the beginner coxes about the difficulties of steering in straight lines, a good amount of changing out of soaking kit in pitch black vans and a great deal of commentating on crews probably better than us as if we knew what we were talking about, which was all good fun. Getting to watch the boys and our seniors race was fantastic, and I know that I was hoarse for much of the rest of the day from screaming encouragements and abuse.
The weather really showed up for us by the end of the day, and the finals went ahead, though the semis were cancelled. Stripping off to our lycra for the racing was a lot less of a trauma in the bright sun than it was in the sheeting rain, and then it was time for side by side racing. Across the board, the agreement was that the adrenaline of regatta racing was something else- head races of 5km had seemed far shorter than the never ending 2km of the regatta. In the words of Broom, 'you think you're finished at 500m, you manage to make it to 1000m, and you survive to 1500m'. We were soon to discover this for ourselves, with the 1st IV coming in 5th in the C final and the 3rd IV coming in 4th in the H final. Then we pottered around Nottingham looking for food. Then bed. There was another day of racing yet to come.
Monday morning was all-round calmer. Everyone knew what was coming, we'd had another hour in bed, the boats were rigged already. Plus the extra hour meant that we were leaving the hotel as breakfast was being served and we arrived at basecamp still clutching bacon sandwiches and Tupperware full of beans and hash browns. Breakfast inhaled, we settled on to warming up.
We've now been spoiled for life for erging on the dark, stuffy Desso balcony after being able to erg in the middle of a field in the gorgeous early morning sun. After stretching, there was just time to ask Broom one more time if we'd really be rowing at BUCS with rainbow pipe cleaners marking our full stretch at front stops. Unsurprisingly, minutes later we made our way to boating with our multi-coloured crafts supplies fluttering gently in the breeze and our heads held high. Nothing like a pipe cleaner for morale.
The time trial was tough, what'd felt like a soft breeze in the sheltered camp was a vicious wind at the top of the lake, making the start incredibly difficult. But pulling through the waves at the top of the lake made rowing through the good conditions further down all the more satisfying, and we seemed to come together better for it, coming in at a solid 17th. We'd missed out on the semi-finals again, but we were in for the C finals against crews that we'd been competing against all year, including our age-old rivals Birmingham and newer foes Southampton, who'd followed us from Reading even to our training camp in Tilburg, Holland. We'd beaten them once and lost to them once, and it was undeniably time for us to pull ahead.
It was an incredible day to be waiting around for three or four hours for a final race. I got hideously sunburnt watching the other crews, and there was more cheering and despairing and laughter as the seniors raced again and our only single sculler, Gabriel, capsized (though to his credit and his insistence, it was after the finish, not before). There was lots of eating and ridiculous amounts of photos taken, but the hours dragged by.
The finals inevitably came around, and we boated amongst nervous chatter and the occasional determined outburst. Everything we�d trained for that year had boiled down to this moment. One of our biggest points of concern was our standing start, which we had been working on solidly since training camp, but we hadn't been coming together particularly well for. We often came to different lengths on the slide at different times, or came to full slide too soon. Needless to say, we were nervous when we were finally lined up for the start. The wind was still incredible, and we had to reset our position every few seconds as we were blown slightly off course. When the buzzer sounded, we came out of the blocks first, but the Exeter cox had still had his hand up, and crashed right over the line of buoys to clash blades with us. We rowed on furiously, completely ignoring the other boat, but it was declared a false start and we had to reset the entire line-up.
The warning was given to Exeter, luckily for us, even though we had been just over the buoys as well, and we turned and lined up again with noises of frustration. Confidence bolstered by our excellent first start, we sprang away powerfully again, holding first place for a little while. It wasn't to last, however, and Exeter came up behind us quickly, and by 750m, it was obvious that this was going to be a race between us and Southampton for 5th place. Despite a furious exchange of glares between our coxes, as well as some fantastically intense coxing from Sophie, playing us off against the other crew, we lost by about a length.
It was a fantastic weekend, such an invaluable experience for all of the beginner crews involved. We had such a wonderful time, and rowed like hell. We drove home exhausted (credit to our drivers for the weekend, Olivia and Sophie, for their valiant conquest of the motorways between Warwick and Nottingham) and with our first regatta under our belt, it was time to look on forwards to the next race. Sure as hell we're we not going to lose by a length in the last 500m this time.