Witchoar, one of the three Claydon Skiffs based at the club has had another busy year. Bob Leeds owns the boat and the regular mixed crew are Will Langton (stroke 4), Sharon Robinson (3), Bob Leeds (2), Caroline Cunningham (1), and Cox Philip Cunningham.
We tend to row most of the year, although the short days and the weather in the winter sometimes limit the opportunities. We have rowed when both the river and our fingers have been frozen and in the winter we are often the only people on the river, which seems a shame as it is peaceful and the wildlife is amazing. In 2012 we rowed in March and it was 18 degrees and sunny. In 2013 we rowed on the 30th March (Easter weekend and the day before the start of British Summer Time) and got caught in a snowstorm on the way to the Beacon and back, difficult to believe given the way the summer finally turned out, but we have the photographs to prove it!
There is a growing local interest in traditional fixed seat rowing, and the rowing crews try to support events run by other clubs, who then return the favour at the Paddle & Oar in Manningtree.
On 13 &14 April Witchoar represented the club at the Brightlingsea Gig festival. Based on traditional Thames working boats our skiff is not built for speed, and the only real measure of success is when we race against another Claydon. So it was a treat to be joined on the day by Christopher Jones from Walton, with a mixed crew. At the end of the day Bob and Witchoar came home with the Claydon Skiff trophy after a great day rowing round a tricky triangle course in rough weather, with competition from Cruisers using the same racing marks.
The second day was a trip up to Wivenhoe and back, memorable for most of the boats failing to follow the course on the way there, and for Witchoar proving that Claydon skiffs are really good in rough weather on the return leg. (Look for our video of the first day on face book ‘ManningtreeWitchoars’ or You Tube)
On 25 May Witchoar travelled to Stone Sailing Club on the Blackwater, for the first Round Osea Island Race. The weather was fantastic, and the race was made for us by the appearance of Mabel, another Claydon Skiff from Langstone Cutters. They had made the trip to the Manningtree Paddle and Oar in 2012 with a mixed crew where we beat them both days. At Osea they were out for revenge and brought a full men’s crew. With our Cox in charge of tactics we made our usual roaring start off the line and up to the first mark against the tide. Although the crew kept thinking that they might just catch us, they never came close and we finished well ahead. At the end of the race the crew of Mabel seemed quite surprised that Sharon and Caroline had been part of the crew!
In June we had the fantastic Paddle & Oar festival in Manningtree – a great event with lots of different clubs and boats involved, but a sad lack of Claydon Skiffs apart from the Manningtree Boats. On Day One, the Wrabness Challenge race, Witchoar was the fastest Claydon Skiff, and the fastest Mixed Crew over the seven mile course. But next day over the Mistley Triangle course, the women’s crew of Myrto turned it into a real race pushing us to the limit. They are clearly fast over the shorter distances!
At the end of July Witchoar travelled to Benfleet Yacht Club for the round Canvey Island Race for the second year in a row. The weather forecast was for thunder, lightening and rain, and we got sunshine, sunburn, two claps of thunder and thirty seconds of rain! Again it was good to have another Claydon Skiff to compete with, this time Alf Saunders from Gravesend. Round Canvey is about 17 miles and a combination of creek, open sea and meandering calm tidal river. This year it was tough, a strong wind on the nose against the tide on the outward leg, rough with a cross wind on the coastal leg followed by flat calm on the home leg. Witchoar showed her pedigree on the first two legs, edging ahead in rough conditions, and then being caught by faster boats when the going got good. However, a great event, and we finished ten minutes ahead of Alf Saunders for the second year in a row, after a tough 2 hr 52m 17 mile row.
The crew spent August mainly in training for the Great River Race, twenty one miles and three hours non-stop on the Thames, although we spent the regatta weekend taking turns in rowing Will and Bob’s Teiffi Skiff (very strange to have an oar in each hand!) generally messing about in boats, taking photos and video.
On 6 September the crew once again completed the Great River Race in aid of UK Cancer Research, the fourth time in a row for the mixed crew and the fifth time for Witchoar.
For the previous two years we had been beaten in the Claydon Skiff Class only by the Langstone Cutters men’s super vets team in ‘Gladys’.
This time we were determined not to give in easily. Despite losing an oar at start, and almost losing our Cox and Stroke overboard as they lunged to retrieve it from the water, we made an amazing start and kept ahead of the other Claydon skiffs for around five miles, when it became clear Gladys just had the edge on us.
Their men’s team eventually pulled past us just after Waterloo Bridge, clearly enjoying every second. At this point we were a little dispirited but our Cox told us that anything could happen in the next two hours and to keep rowing. Indeed after another half an hour or so, he shouted that Gladys was in trouble and had lost her flag and possibly her rudder as she was going round in circles.
Obviously we were saddened by this change in fortune, and rowed hard to feign a rescue, then rowed straight past leaving her dead in the water. We managed to make a bit of ground before Gladys was on the move again, flag and rudder restored. Later we found that she had encountered a large piece of wood, part of the flotsam on the Thames. We stayed ahead for a while, but sadly for us Gladys’s men’s crew still had the edge on us in terms of speed, and came past us again.
Our task for the rest of the race was to stay ahead of Gladys’s sister boat Mabel, also with a men’s crew, and in truth we caught not a glimpse of them until after the finish.
In the end we came home in under three hours for the first time, and although second, we did ourselves and the Stour Sailing Club proud, raising over £600 for CRUK. After the race there was a chance to join our shore crew who had magically acquired tables, chairs and beer, to de-brief and to plot next year’s battle (PS: rumour has it that Witchoar might be in the market for a couple of tall fit over sixty men who would be willing to train for a year to compete next time around – interested parties please put in a word!) (PPS: rumour also has it that Sharon and Caroline would love Witchoar to win and would consider a women’s vets attempt in a faster boat given a bit of a chance!).
In the meantime the year is not yet over and there will be many magical rowing days over the winter months. If you want to see what we get up to you can catch up with us for more photos and video on our face book:- manningtreewitchoars