Brits contest 2014 World Coastal Champs

On October 17-19, three British coastal rowing crews lined up alongside rowers from around the world at the World Rowing Coastal Championships in Greece. We caught up with two of members of the British crews, to see how they got on…

James Plumley, Guernsey RC 2x

Never have I been so excited to wake up at 2am alone in bed. My best friend, Anthony Brewer, and I were off to Thessaloniki, Greece, to take part in the 7th World Coastal Championships. This year three crews were flying the British flag; a woman’s quad from Devil’s Elbow Rowing Club, a men’s quad from Trafford Rowing Club and us in a double from Guernsey Rowing Club.

Touching down in Thessaloniki, the Mediterranean Sea before us was like an infinity pool merging with the sky above; a candle wouldn’t have flickered. This would certainly be advantageous to any river rowers, especially Olympic bronze medallists and home favourites the Gkountoulas twins who won gold in the 2008 World Rowing Championships in the lightweight pair.

In the men’s doubles there were two heats, each with 19 boats. The top eight would go through to the A final and nine to 16 the B final. No lanes, no coxes, a 4km lap and five buoys to go around. Oars would clash…

Along the 60m start line, nineteen crews lined up, with three balls hanging from a yacht in anticipation of the start. One ball drops, two minutes to go; the second falls, one minute. I look over my shoulder to try and glimpse the six-foot tall orange buoy 1,450 meters away. Barely a foot on either side separates us from our neighbouring competitors, breathing space doesn’t exist, not that you could breathe in the stifling heat and sauna room humidity. The Swedish on our left and the Spanish on our right rise to attention. Glancing at my watch I tell Anthony in front of me, “five seconds”.

As the final ball is cut loose to gravity, seventy-eight oars strain to make a clean and quick getaway to surge into clear water. Never has a coxed double sounded more reasonable as we converge briefly with the Spanish. We are all heading to turn around the same buoy, collisions are inevitable, but leaves only losers as other crews make ground.

By mid race we had settled into 15th place. It wasn’t where we wanted to be, but it meant we’d make the B final as long as we held our ground. Sweat stinging eyes and burning thighs carried us onwards. We were racing on the Mediterranean in the World Championships, sometimes rowing is almost glamorous!

Clinging on till the end, we crossed the line in 15th place. Not jubilant, but satisfied with a job done; we’d be racing again. All valuable experience as we aim towards Peru next year and our long term goal of standing on the podium.

The Devil’s Elbow crew finished 8th in their heat, getting through to the A final and the Trafford RC crew, coastal rowing for the first time, made it through to the B final.

Saturday morning saw the Aegean Sea whipped up into a frenzy by 35 knot winds, it was worse than Nottingham. Someone had angered Poseidon – even Odysseus would’ve called upon his gods for mercy. However this is the great thing about coastal rowing, the racing would still be going ahead.

Readying up on the line for the final was so disorderly only an astrologer could have found meaning in it. When eventually the last ball dropped we began thrashing through the sea, each stroke a struggle merely to get two oars in the water so that you could pull. Things were looking good after one kilometre, sitting in third place and still afloat. By half way we were battling with four other crews, positions swapped with each gust of wind. Anthony kept blind faith in my steering and I kept blind faith in the crews around us and they did the same. Therefore we all went off in the wrong direction, blown off course by our faith in the flock. Anthony pointed out afterwards, “sheep can’t row”.

The home straight was 500 meters of pure nonsense – coastal rowing at its best. Form had flown out the smashed window long ago; we had no choice but to try and make hay in the storm. Crossing the line, we felt a mixture of relief that it was over and dissatisfaction for we’d come in 6th. It probably wasn’t the best day for the scenic route. “We always go the extra mile” I proffered to Anthony, he nodded ruefully and replied “…in the wrong direction.”

With tough conditions for all, especially first-time coastal rowers, it was an achievement just to get round the course. Devil’s Elbow came in 8th in their A final and Trafford RC finished 13th in their B final. The Gkountoulas twins came in third, losing to the impressive Garibaldi brothers. The World Coastal Championships is a very humble affair where everyone feels like one big family; clearly it is the key to success.

Jill Lees, Devil’s Elbow RC W4x+

Traditional fine boat rowing clubs Trafford RC and Devil’s Elbow RC decided to enter crews for the first time for this year’s race having been training out of Mayflower Offshore RC.

The Trafford RC men’s quad were all new to coastal rowing this year along with Ailbhe for the women’s quad. Nicola, Morag, Brian and I have all been coastal rowing for some years.

With much anticipation, off we travelled to Thessaloniki to take in the extremely friendly atmosphere of the event.

Races were held over two days, with conditions that ranged from fine boat calm to extremely windy. Rough water is an important part of coastal rowing, you don’t know what will be thrown at you. Add that to the turns around buoys and it all makes for exciting racing.

It was great to see all nationalities helping each other out on the pontoon as the rough seas were taking their toll. Even though we didn’t bring any medals home for Great Britain, the crews thoroughly enjoyed the event and suggestions of Lima next year could already be heard…

For photos and updates from the event, visit www.facebook.com/worldrowingcoastal.

British Crews

Men’s coxed quad

Trafford RC: Timur Chulinin, Chris Barton, Alvin Foy, Mark Hamer, Brian O’Dea (cox)

Women’s coxed quad

Devil’s Elbow RC: Nicola Cheesman, Ailbhe McMullin (also Trafford), Morag Van Niekerk, Jill Lees (also Trafford) and Brian O’Dea (cox)

Men’s double

Guernsey RC: James Plumley, Anthony Brewer

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