Head of the Dart enjoys record entry

The tidal estuary of the river Dart between Totnes and Dartmouth must be one of the country’s hidden waterway gems. For many it is the scenic beauty of the wooded hills rising steeply from the silent waters sweeping by at their feet; but for oarsmen and women it must surely be the miles of uninterrupted waterway often giving almost perfect rowing conditions. Sharp bends and sweeping currents with shifting wind direction test cox and rower alike and make this annual event not just a race but an exciting challenge for the experience of taking part and finishing the nine mile course in under the hour.

The 2013 race held on the 20th April attracted a record 86 entries including 15 eights, 16 fours, eight quads and an armada of small boats – not to mention the assortment of coastal boats, gigs and seine boats bringing up the rear. These varied categories of craft alone reflect the broad appeal of this 43 year old event.

The Canford School eight lead the charge downstream in almost perfect conditions pursued by Stourport, Bewdley, Dart-Totnes and Molesey with the host club, Dart-Totnes’ men’s quad starting at number four. Both Bewdley and Stourport were caught by the Dart-Totnes eight and the quad, and although the school crew maintained their lead to the line at Dartmouth, the quad ended up Head of the River with a time of 49 minutes 4 seconds in a thrilling finish with Dart-Totnes eight just seventeen seconds behind and Canford third. The school’s second eight had a terrific race and would have finished less than a minute behind their first crew had they not missed the one obligatory race mark and were disqualified.

Among the small boats Elliott Barton (Dart-Totnes) and James Kerr (Greenbank, Falmouth) eclipsed all others. Starting one behind the other at 29 and 30 they strode through the field for Elliott to win the Elite Singles pennant in a time of 54 minutes 34 seconds taking 11th overall position and James to take the Masters singles pennant in 58 minutes 47 seconds. Holding out just ahead of Elliott was the Dart-Totnes Masters double of club captain, Ed Burnett, and Martin Burridge who lead the double sculls to finish 10th overall.

As one of the longest Head races in the country, this event is not just about the winning but for many it is the challenge of taking part. As Jackie Steinitz of Kingston Grammar School Veterans said afterwards, “Our crew had a great time. We will be there next year; our thanks to everyone for such excellent and friendly organisation”; sentiments echoed by Ted Bates of Molesey Boat Club. Next year’s race will be rowed in the reverse direction, from Dartmouth to Totnes on Saturday 12th April 2014.

Anthony Prowse

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