86th Grand Handicap d’Hiver
In sub zero and snowy conditions crews from Weyfarers (the recreational arm of Weybridge) and Maidstone Invicta RC (MIRC), at the invitation of Royal Sport Nautique de Bruxelles (RSNB), took part in the 86th “Grand Handicap d’Hiver”, on Valentine’s Day afternoon. Some 62 crews entered from around Belgium and neighbouring countries but the bad weather prevented a few (but not the crazy Brits!) from travelling.
This annual event is run over 5 kilometres on the Vilvoorde canal in Brussels and is specifically for “Yolette” and similar touring type boats, such as the “stable” boats being promoted by the British Rowing Explore Rowing programme. It is unorthodox for a Head in that the slowest boats start first! So singles lead off and are then followed by doubles, triples, fours and quads that can start three or four abreast. The handicap system ensures exciting racing as, in principle, everyone could finish together – though fortunately this doesn’t happen. There are some scrambles for position to get through the narrow bridge at half way however!.
For 8 of the 10 crew members in the Weyfarers boats (VEMxd 4x+ and VF 4x+) this was their very first race, having just completed a Learn to Row course last Summer. But they rose to the challenge, finishing in the middle of the field at 32 and 35.
Maidstone with a more experienced, but still Novice, VE 4x+ had a good row to finish 18th and win their class.
The positions were secondary to the experience however. Everyone agreed that it was a fantastic social weekend in which they had conquered the conditions as much as the opposition. There could be opportunities for this type of event in the UK as part of the Explore Rowing programme – though it may not be the same without the moules, frites and Belgian beer!
Thanks go to RSNB for their hospitality and making it all possible.
Any takers for next year?
Report from John Turnbull (Weyfarers RC)