To round off the term for Third Form rowers, Oratory came through the lock to test our mettle. Two tall tidy Octos sat menacingly in black lycras opposite the landing stage. As we boated for the first of three races Oratory looked a slick outfit moving well if somewhat quickly up their slides.
‘Attention. Go!’ called by Umpire Corry – followed by a whirr hands and blades as the Octos three abreast set off to see who would get to the Boathouse first. Straining sinews, driven legs and breathless bodies powered their way downstream driven on by the cheers of four waiting quads – Oratory J13, our J14C crew and the WJ14 (girls) A and B.
First blood to Pangbourne by a canvas – 0.2% of the distance raced, two thirds of a second. Coach Walker’s precise verdict was essential for Round Two to yield more intense racing.
Then the quads lined up. This next race looked to be in our favour as the C quad was pitted against Oratory’s J13s and our WJ14 A crew. Corry again, ‘Attention. Go!’ They were off, well at least two crews were. The boys in black and the C quad were well into their stride before the third quad gathered pace. Unsurprisingly, size and strength coupled with some technique meant two out of two for the College.
Marshall Stanford sends all six crews back for more.
Staggered starts came into play to make for better racing. If the stagger was right (based on the finishing distances of the previous race and skill of Coach Walker) each crew would have to push themselves until the last stroke to cross the line first. ‘Attention. Go!’ Oratory B were away drawing in their first strokes, six strokes later Oratory A set off in pursuit. ‘Draw! Draw…’ called Callum Adey as he coxed his crew to finish. Another close race: Oratory B were caught and Oratory A being hauled back inch by inch on every stroke. The men in black would not yield. Yet Team Pangbourne showed resilience to take the race.
‘Attention. Go!’ Girls B quad get off with the boys in black. Our boys’ quad champ at the bit; it’s a long wait. Focussed they power off the start. Again our boys’ quad see off the determined Oratory youngsters as well as the more sedate Girls B quad.
Four out of four. Well rowed Pangbourne!
Our boys rested. Now it was the WJ14 girls A and B against the J13 boys in black. However, the stagger for the A boat did not factor in their muddled first round start. Oratory ran out of river before they could take the victory – my bad due to a poor stagger. This time both WJ14 crews rowed well, indeed they raced! A rows down B to a dead heat, not a even a bobble between them. Re-row. Phoebe Marsh drove the more experienced taller crew to win the medals. It is a bitter sweet victory as the runners up are awarded jelly babies.
Octo staggers altered could we get the blanket finish? ‘Attention. Go!’ Two black clad crews are off then our octo is released. Hands, body, slide, reach for the catch: less than seventy strokes from Corry start to the judgement of Mr Walker. A race too far? Oratory determined not to lose face? It matters not. No clean sweep, but honour satisfied and a great afternoon of racing.
For Mr Walker’s and Mrs Davies’ Third Form squads the sweet taste of success and more silverware, and for Oratory the taste of sweets as they sit in Pangbourne Lock. We look forward to seeing them on their stretch. Until next season.