Racing

It seems strange that, after months of preparations by the rowers and a year of planning by our coach, Henley Women’s Regatta is over and the group is scattered across the world for the summer. However, in reflecting on our races in England, it surprises us how much this opportunity has changed us as rowers and as people.

Brown crew races with "tenacity and grit"

Brown crew races with “tenacity and grit”

In Friday racing, the Brown dueled it out with Henley RC, falling just 2 lengths short of advancing. The crew was lauded by commentators and spectators alike for the “tenacity, grit, and no-nonsense racing,” and clearly left everything they had on the racecourse with their strongest performance of the year.

Gibbons crew in front of Temple Island

Gibbons crew in front of Temple Island

The Gibbons crew advanced out of the Friday heats, beating Thames RC by open water. In the Saturday quarterfinal, they were matched against the Yale University crew that placed 2nd in the Ivy League Championships. The two crews raced neck and neck, never more than two seats apart from one another, the entire way down the course in by far the Gibbons’ closest race of the season. As the Bowdoin crew began surging up on the competition during the sprint sequence, a crab caused the boat to stop dead in the water, allowing Yale to win the fastest race of the day in 5:24. In the semifinals, Yale went on to fall to University of East London, the eventual victor of the Regatta, in UEL’s closest race of the weekend.

The Group celebrates

The Group celebrates

Our trip to the Thames River draws to a close with the whole squad grateful for the support from home. Hearing from parents, alumni, and friends in the college and town has meant the world to the team. Thank you all! We return to the New Meadows more seasoned as athletes and people. We have raced, and won, and lost in the highest level available to us on a river of historic racing and beauty. We have been a part of the pageant of international competition, and with Kipling have met with “Triumph and Disaster” and have learned to “treat those two imposters just the same.” Above all, we have learned to respect, trust, and even love one another through the gift of racing boats. Thank you all for helping make it possible.

Preparations

The last few days have been a rush of social events and final race preparations for the two Bowdoin crews as we gear up for the start of racing tomorrow. After a relaxing off day on Sunday, we’ve had practices each of the last four days, moving into the race venue on Tuesday.

Busride to Oxford

On the Bus to Oxford

Our two big social events before the racing begins were a great opportunity for us to experience the British style of rowing, which includes far more scones and tea than we are used to, to say the least. We attended a lunch reception with the Oxford University Women’s crew team at their boat house, and an evening gathering with the Cambridge University Women at the Leander club in Henley-on-Thames. The Oxford and Cambridge crew teams, notorious rivals, hold a huge regatta in late March simply called “The Boat Race.” While the men’s race has been prominent for years, with some 400,000 spectators over the course and 9 million watching on live television, the women’s equivalent race has been greatly underfunded and practically unknown by the British public. Next year, however, women will be allowed to row on the Tideway course just before the men’s race, a turnaround that will allow for an even more competitive women’s race and greater publicity for these incredible athletes.

Sophie gets attacked by a swan at Oxford

Sophie gets attacked by a swan at Oxford

Half of the Oxford boathouse

Half of the Oxford boathouse

In anticipation of this historic change in British sporting, both the Cambridge and Oxford boat clubs held events for overseas crews in an effort to spark conversation about female athletics (as well as to recruit interested international rowers to their squads). Maddy loved the chance it gave the group to dress up, saying, “It was very exciting to meet all of the other international crews and compliment each other on our blazers.” Audrey appreciated a different aspect of the receptions, noting that “It was great to see that rowing after Bowdoin is an option for all of us.” Getting a chance to talk over racing strategies and compare favorite rowing memories with members of the Oxford Blue boat, which won the Boat Race this last spring and recently defeated the British national team in a duel race, was an especially incredible opportunity for us. Erica commented, “Although I was incredibly star-struck by the caliber of rowers we met, they were all very sweet and humble.”

The Brown crew at Leander Club

The Brown Crew at Leander

The Gibbons Crew at Leander

The Gibbons Crew at Leander

Cambridge’s reception at the Leander club was an even more impressive event than the small gathering at Oxford’s boathouse. The club has an incredibly exclusive membership (among its members are 112 Olympic medalists, the greatest number of any one club in the world) and it acts as the training grounds for about 3/4 of the members of the British national team. MB recalls, “Yesterday, when we went to the Leander Club, I wanted to put a little clotted cream on my scone. The guy working the table, refilling the drinks and clotted cream bowl, started making conversation. Turns out he’s a rower for Leander Club, (he won all the seat races this spring), and he won the U23 world championships! And I talked to him for maybe 15 minutes! I looked him up on Youtube last night and watched his race. Also he’s a model.”

Sometimes we hobnob...

MB and Nora subtly compare muscles at a reception

Besides hobnobbing with prominent rowers (some of whom were dressed as waiters), we have continued to train alongside high schoolers, women in our races, and members of various European national teams. With Doug’s arrival on Wednesday, we’ve had the chance to see Henley once again through fresh eyes. Walking back from practice today, Doug commented that, being a rower in this town, “It’s such a pilgrimage. There is something indescribable when you see 80-year-old Olympians rowing 2000m pieces down the course.”

The view from the Oxford boathouse

The view from the Oxford boathouse

A short story about rowing at Henley from our very own Liza Tarbell: “Today, I went out for the last jaunt in the single. I was rowing along, dodging the motor boats, the fours and the super speedy eights. Passing the start line down toward the lock, I saw a fellow single heading my way. ‘HORRAY!’ I exclaimed, another small boat trying to fend off the giants. However, as I began to turn back toward the start line, I was busy marveling at a quad when BOOM! The older gent in the single came barreling toward me and we got caught in a squall of oars and boats. We sorted it out and then he promptly ran into the bank. I giggled.”

Edie, Coachie, and Maddy review the course

Edie, Coachie, and Maddy review the course

This week, Emily’s primary concern has been that all of us “Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate” – she has dedicated herself fully to running around and forcibly throwing water bottles into people’s hands. Katie Ross’ perspective on the last few days has been very similar, commenting “It has been all about preparation. Between all of the social events where we met amazing hosts and competitors, ate delicious dinners prepared by Edie, and more practice time on the official racecourse, we’re all feeling fired up and ready to let the dogs off the leash on Friday.”

The Group, all cleaned up

The Group, all cleaned up

Nora summed it up best of all, noting, “We’ve seen a lot of action in the last few days – we’ve mingled with former olympians and world champions, been courted by some of the world’s most prestigious collegiate programs, and seen traffic on the Thames start to fill up with some seriously beastly women. I think it’s been a reminder for all of us that we belong here amongst the best in the world. All of this excitement, along with the arrival of Doug, is making this race finally seem really, well, real. I’m finally feeling ready to get out there and do it!”

Coachie and Edie

Coachie and Edie

Tomorrow marks the first day of racing for the Henley Women’s Regatta, and in the words of Coachie, “We are totally ready.” The Gibbons crew will be racing at 4:06 pm GMT against Thames RC, and the Brown crew will race at 4:54 pm GMT against Henley RC. Please keep your fingers crossed for us and click here to watch us online (tuning in a few minutes early might be wise). Thank you all so much for your support, and LET’S GO BLACK!

Rowing for Gold at the Reading Amateur Regatta

As we sit in a cafe in Henley-on-Thames enjoying coffee and scones on our day off, all the events of yesterday already seem far away. We’ve recounted our version of events to one another several times now, but the thrill of competing in another country has not yet dulled.

Where winning crews board

Where winning crews board

From the earliest moments of the day, the Reading Amateur Regatta set itself apart from any other races we had competed in before. Courtney noted that “One of the most unique aspects of racing here was transportation to the racecourse. We traveled by two separate trains and walked through Reading with only a vague sense of where the racecourse was. Seeing the sign at the Henley train station, ‘Where winning crews get on board’ before we headed over, was an exciting way to start the day off.” Once at the racecourse, it was very clear that British regattas would prove even more different than the circumstances of our arrival. Reading, just like Henley Women’s Regatta next weekend, is set up as a series of boat-on-boat duels over a 1500m course, with one boat advancing from each race. The race was established in 1842 and featured 180 different crews from across the United Kingdom and the US, many of whom use it as a preparatory race for the next weekend. This course, in contrast to Henley’s, is full of curves. It begins with a staggered start, requiring boats in the outside lane to race from behind for the first 500m, before gaining the advantage with a sweeping curve heading into the straightaway at the finish.

Liza races hard

Liza at the sprint

Liza racing with impeccable form

Liza racing with impeccable form

The first race of the day, at 10:08 am, was Liza Tarbell’s duel in the Women’s Intermediate single scull. Although our online research of the other racer revealed that she might not be the most serious rower, Liza said “I learned the hard way that my opponent was not an ‘epic partier.'” The other sculler, a 7th year rower from Thames RC, went on to win the event, but not without a challenge from Liza. From the sidelines, Maddy commented, “It was so incredible to watch Liza make power moves against a woman twice her size.” The tenacious first year, who has been in the single for 2 weeks, chased the more experienced Brit throughout the 1500m course, rowing better and more confidently than ever before. The entire Henley crew is in absolute agreement that her race and her attitude inspired them to be better teammates and competitors.

The Brown racing Thames RC

The Brown racing Thames RC

Hard racing from the Brown

Hard racing from the Brown

In the Women’s Intermediate 4+ event, the William Brown crew faced off against one of the toughest boats in their division,  Thames Rowing Club. Founded in 1860, the London-based group is one of the oldest and most prestigious rowing clubs in London and has produced 78 Olympians and 50 different winning crews at the Henley Women’s Regatta in just 26 years. The Bowdoin crew showed grit and determination, falling short by only 2 lengths to a boat that went on to the final. Erica commented on the regatta, “It was amazing to experience our first race at ‘the center of the rowing universe.’ Even if we didn’t advance as far as we would’ve liked, we still got to face off against Thames RC and felt the infectious energy of the crowds. Rowing is a totally different kind of spectator sport here in Britain!”

Nora and Amy drink tea while watching the racing

Nora and Amy drink tea while watching the racing

Amy also greatly appreciated the stark contrast in the experience of rowing in England as compared to in the US. “My favorite memory was sitting in the tea shop on the other side of the river and watching the boats racing down the Thames.” All in all, Nora looked at the race as a learning experience, commenting that “Our boat had a tough race, but we’re feeling much better prepared to attack the 1500 again next weekend.”

Gibbons with Medals

Gibbons with Medals

The Gibbons crew continued its undefeated season by claiming Bowdoin Rowing’s first ever gold-medal victory in an international regatta, competing in the Women’s Elite 4+ event. As Emily stated, “The way that we approached yesterday was that every win gave us one more race together, and I think that our collective attitude was a more powerful motivator than anything the other boats had.”

Gibbons Racing Thames RC

Gibbons Racing Thames RC

Gibbons Racing Thames RC

Gibbons Racing Thames RC

When describing the day, MB recalls that “Yesterday, off the water was a little bit of a struggle. We borrowed our boats, we didn’t have a trailer to ourselves, it started raining when we tried to take a nap on the grass, we had nowhere to go, we didn’t have a certificate to race in the final so Sophie and Coach had to run around while we were trying to launch. But at the start of both races, we set aside the chaos and went back to what we know best – racing.” In their first round, they competed against Thames RC’s top 4+, and they won decisively by 1.5 lengths against the far more experienced crew. Only an hour and a half later, after a shorter recovery period than they are used to, the crew was on the water again. This time, they faced off against Riverside Boat Club’s top 4+ boat, a Boston-based development team strongly favored to win Henley Women’s Regatta next weekend. Despite the headwind blowing down the course and the fact that Riverside had not yet raced, the Bowdoin women were able to beat Riverside by a boatlength, earning the Janet Snow Trophy and making an indelible impression on the British rowing community.

Gibbons Racing Riverside

Gibbons Racing Riverside

For Sophie, one of the greatest parts of the race was “heading down the course and hearing so many people cheering for Bowdoin – our teammates, our coaches, our families, and even the parents and coaches from WPI. Thank you for your support.” As a spectator, Liza commented, “To be immersed in the rowing culture of England was so exciting. It was thrilling to see a group of scrappy Americans take down the Brits, and to share in the excitement and joy of our Varsity crew excelling across the pond.”

Gibbons gets Medals

Gibbons gets Medals

Katie Ross summed up the sentiments of the Gibbons crew best when she said, “Winning the Reading Amateur Regatta was a true team effort. Before we raced, our teammates in the W. Brown and Liza in the scull battled against intense competition in their events. We watched as the Brown pulled with everything they had and listened as Liza recounted chasing down the woman who went on to win her event. They told us about the course – the staggered start and where its turns favored one crew or the other. What we did in the afternoon was a direct result of the inspiration, guidance and support of our teammates.”

Over the train ride home and during a late dinner of rice and beans, all of us talked eagerly about how special it was to get the chance to scrimmage this weekend, and how excited we are for the racing to come. Audrey commented, “It was such an honor to row against the unbelievably talented women of Thames RC – it was an amazing and inspiring experience. I cannot wait to row in the Henley Women’s Regatta next week and truly own our race and dominate the course.”  MB seems just as excited to race against other crews as she is to continue maiming or slaying waterfowl. “I hit another goose during the finish sequence of our final race. I think it’s a sign. I’m preparing my blade for the geese at Henley.”

Polar Bear Sighting on the Thames

Henley Crew Travels

Henley Crew leaves the US

After a long but relatively painless flight from Boston, we arrived in London, tired and a little queasy but very excited! We quickly loaded into taxis and headed to Henley-on-Thames (we left the airport so rapidly that Captain Katie Ross commented, “I actually have no idea if we all made it into vans or not”). After no time at all, we arrived at the house we will call home for the next two weeks, where we quickly headed for the breakfast table.

A walk on the Racecourse

A walk on the Racecourse

With our first meal on British soil behind us, we went out for a jaunt to buy groceries and get acquainted with the town. The grocery store, Waitrose, provided several shocks for all. In the bakery aisle, Emily discovered that “They call english muffins ‘muffins’ over here!”  With a few digestive biscuits, apples and one snack sushi pack in our bellies, we headed down to the river, where Coachie and Edie showed us the racecourse. We walked over a bridge and down along the footpath on the other side, where we saw giant tents to shelter boats being erected next to the finish line of the men’s course. We made our way to Remenham club, where our own course will finish, and from there we looked back through the posts and booms that mark the course all the way to the start at Temple Island, 1500 m away.

First row on the Thames!

First row on the Thames!

After a quick lunch of sandwiches from a local bakery, we walked to our new boathouse Henley Boat Club, to receive our boats. A coach from Oxford University Women’s crew came to drop off our boats and show us how to rig them, and then we started making the minute adjustments necessary. After a few hours of rigging, we were thrilled to finally get a chance to row on the Thames, so we made our way out on our narrow concrete dock and launched.

As Sophie remarked immediately, “The Thames is bumpin'”. Rowing shells, motor boaters, birds, and drunk punters seem to steer their courses at random, so coxswains had to be extra alert. Maddy commented that navigation has proved tricky for all on the busy river, remembering that “I saw a single flip – it wasn’t Liza though.” A short story from MB on the wildlife of the Thames: “One lovely morning on the Thames, I was out rowing with my boat, and Sophie said ‘Starboards, watch out for the geese.’ But you can’t watch out when you’re rowing – heads in the boat! But then I felt a feathery lump at the end of my oar (I was just kidding, I couldn’t tell it was feathery). I looked over and said, ‘Oh my god, a goose!’ And then it kind of limped away in the water. MB – 1, Geese – 0.” Since then, MB and Emily have both hit another goose, bringing the overall count to Bowdoin 3, Geese 0.

Jetlag is Real

Liza discovers that jetlag is real

By the time we got off the water, we were beginning to feel the jet lag and were incredibly hungry once again (I think this may be a theme of our trip). Edie, our marvelous cook, had prepared a feast of salad and pasta, and we ate it outside on a picnic table. Afterward, we met our host family, Tim Brassey and Lisa Silver. This incredibly generous family has allowed us to take over several rooms in the house, and has hosted well over 600 rowers through the years, including our men’s team last year.

 

Our walk to the Boathouse

Our walk to the Boathouse

Two more full days have allowed us to recover from the jetlag and really get a chance to appreciate the town. We spend a lot of our time walking to and from our new boathouse, changing the rigging on the boats, and practicing on the Thames. Liza has had an adventurous time of it so far – although she recalled happily, “I didn’t flip!” A rower from WPI in Boston sustained a back injury, so Liza has been helping out by rowing in the 2v 8, and may even race with them on Sunday after her singles race. As for the 4s practices, Audrey simply commented that Henley Camp in England has been “Successful” thus far. She notes, “I can’t believe that we’re actually here and I’m so excited for the days to come!” It’s been particularly fun to row given that the temperature has risen to over 80 degrees every day, something shocking to us after months of rowing through rain and freezing cold. Erica summed it up nicely, commenting, “England isn’t nearly as rainy as they say!” The Brits, however, seem to blame the good weather on our arrival, promising that the temperatures are unseasonably high.

Leander Club

Leander Club

Despite devoting much of our time to practices, we have had plenty of time for adventures in town. Nora has been particularly excited about drinking English tea and has already amassed a large quantity of it. Amy has been particularly excited about seeing more of the points-of-interest along the racecourse, including the Leander Club, the training site of the British rowing team. She finds the ‘cerise hippopotamus’ mascot of the club particularly exciting, and approves strongly of their bright pink oars and blades.

An Adventurous Lunch

An Adventurous Lunch

Today, we went through a proper adventure, tromping through cow pastures and poppy field on the way to the Flower Pot restaurant. Katie Ross said of the afternoon jaunt, “It was so nice to walk through the English countryside and experience lunch at a real English pub, full of both stuffed and living animals.” Despite some attempted attacks by a large domesticated turkey by the name of Bernard, we enjoyed a delicious lunch, including pheasant and partridge with small buckshot pellets still intact.

Picnic Meals

Picnic Meals

At an incredible ‘Breakfast for Dinner’ tonight back at our host family’s house, we feasted on french toast, eggs, bacon, yogurt, and bangers while excitedly discussing our races for tomorrow. The first races for each boat will be held at 10:08 am GMT for Liza in the single, 11:14 am GMT for the Brown, and 3:45 pm GMT for the Gibbons. Check out race results here after our races!

Henley Camp

Spring/Summertime on the New Meadows

Spring/Summertime on the New Meadows

As most of the students at Bowdoin College left campus for the summer, the women’s crew team packed up from our year-long residences and moved into the 4th floor of Hyde (a first year dorm). After a grueling week of finals, the crews were recharged and ready to kick into a new gear for 3 weeks of intense training. With our final practice on the New Meadows River tomorrow, the Maine-based portion of our Henley Camp is nearly complete. This training period has allowed us to experience Maine in the summer, kick our training up to the next level, and grow together as a group. On Tuesday, we’ll depart for England, where we will compete in the Reading Amateur Regatta and the Henley Women’s Regatta. We couldn’t be more excited to compete on an international stage against some of the best boats in the world.

Liza on the New Meadows

Liza practicing in the single

We started Henley Camp strong on May 18th, making our way to the boathouse by 6am and returning for a second practice at 4:30pm so as to maximize training time. Practices have been focused on high rate work and making the mental switch from 2k pieces (which take about 7 to 8 minutes in 4s) to the faster 1500m ones we will race in England (lasting 5 to 6 minutes). Amy loved getting a chance to practice in small boats, and felt they were very helpful for working on technique. One of MB’s favorite practices was a tough sprinting workout – she loved the feeling of learning to dig deeper as a boat. For most of the team, it was incredibly rewarding to watch Liza improve in the single. Remarking on her progress, Emily says, “It’s been so much fun watching her zoom by us faster and at a higher rate every time she gets in that boat!” (When asked about rowing in the single, Liza simply responds “I flipped, twice!”)

Crew at Reid

Members of the Crew at Reid State Park

Although we’ve had our fair share of wet and cold mornings over the course of the training camp, the weather has for the most part been very agreeable, a big change from the bone-chilling cold we endured through much of the spring season. One of the most incredible parts of spending hours in the summer on the New Meadows has been experiencing more of the wildlife on the river. The bald eaglets have begun to learn how to fly, but are still raucous in their nest by the boathouse, until silence descends when their parents bring back fish. As the jellyfish swarmed the estuary, Nora learned that she especially loved poking the jellyfish as they glided by, and even picked several up out of the water. Additional sitings include ospreys, herons, cormorants, seagulls, Canada geese and goslings, ducks, a family of foxes, horseshoe crabs, and the ever-present “Jumpy” the seal.

Brunch at the Basin

Brunch at the Basin

Aside from the rowing, one of the most incredible parts of Henley camp has been bonding as a group and exploring Maine. Some of our favorite activities included post-practice trips to Fat Boy, movie nights, a lazy afternoon at Sewell pond, cooking dinners together, brunch in the Basin on Coachie’s launch, read-aloud nights, and a trip to Reid State Park. Maddy did her best to remind everyone to put on sunscreen at the beach, but despite her warnings, most beach-goers ended up with fairly terrible sunburns. Courtney particularly loved riding on the launches to the Basin and lazing around while eating lunch there.

Nora reading aloud after dinner

Nora reads to the group after dinner

Over the course of our training, all of the shows of support from families and friends has been amazing. Meals provided by Coachie and Edie, Maddy’s mother, Audrey’s family, Sophie’s parents, MB’s family, Steve Peck, and the Shott family were among our favorite memories of the last 3 weeks (despite delicious meals we made in our tiny kitchen in Brunswick Apartments, opportunities to enjoy home-cooked meals were greatly appreciated). Canoeing and motorboating around the lake by the Shotts’ house after a lobster dinner was a favorite experience of many rowers. Maddy loved jumping off the rope swing, while Erica thought that “Not only was the food delicious, but the scenery was absolute Maine perfection!” Audrey loved dinner at Enoteca Athena with Steve Peck, saying that her chicken parmesan was one of the best dinners she had ever had. Katie Ross’ favorite part of Henley training was the high level of support she felt from not just our food benefactors, but also the overall Bowdoin and Brunswick communities. People we meet in Hannaford, on the quad, and along the New Meadows wish us luck sincerely, and the Bowdoin housekeeping staff, despite having to work around us, have gotten particularly excited about our upcoming trip. Katie Ross feels that getting to race for the Brunswick community will be a particularly rewarding aspect of rowing in England

Coachie

Coachie relaxes after practice

 

All in all, after an incredible training period, we’re excited for our last practice on the New Meadows tomorrow and to embark on our adventures in England. As Coachie likes to say, “Now, you just gotta go.”