It was Derby Day with a difference for the UEABC women’s squad this year as they headed to London to compete in the Women’s Eights Head of the River Race (WEHORR). Over 300 boats from universities, colleges and clubs came from the UK and beyond to race the 6.8km from Chiswick Bridge to Putney. But most importantly, this included two boats from UEA and one from Essex with the agreement that the highest placing boat would win a point towards the Derby Day rowing score.
Nerves were mounting as the UEA senior and novice boats, racing 111th and 232nd respectively, waited their turn to row down the river watching the crews before them fly passed; including Olympic Gold Medallists Katherine Grainger, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning. Conditions on the Thames were rough with the crew placing first completing the course over a minute slower than the champions from last year so the rowers knew they would have to face strong wind and waves as they battled down the course.
As their turns came, each crew upped their rate under Chiswick Bridge and, as the Marshall called the start, began their first push towards the distant finish line. Just over a kilometre in the crews turn the corner under Barnes Bridge and are exposed to the full extent of the windy conditions. From there to the cheering crowds on Hammersmith Bridge made up the main body of the race where the senior crew succeeded in overtaking another boat in their category. Rowing under Hammersmith Bridge meant about 2km to go but it was passing Fulham football club that the crews entered the final 800m and really pushed for the finish line.
The senior crew finished in 22 minutes 54 placing a respectable 108th overall whilst the novice crew, who have all been rowing for less than a year, placed 247th in a time of 24 minutes 50. The most important result however was the finishing position of Essex of 254th in a time of 25 minutes meaning their top crew had been beaten by the UEA 1st and 2nd boats and the women’s squad had done their job in contributing to the UEA Derby Day cause.
So it was 1-0 to UEA but all was to still to be decided back in Norwich with the turn of the men’s squads. The race of 1km took place on the river Yare with the crews racing side by side making for a nail biting competition. The Essex and UEA seniors sat poised next to each other on the start line and as the starter yelled go it became clear from the first few strokes that this was going to be a close race. For the first 700m the winner was hard to call as both boats stayed neck and neck but it was in the last 300 that UEA came into their own. Spurred on by cox Georgie Chapman they upped the power and pulled away winning the race by ¾ of a length.
So with 2-0 to UEA and no way for Essex to come back it was the turn of the novice men. Unfortunately, a problem in the boat forced them to stop shortly after the start line and they were unable to restart, forfeiting the race.
However, with two wins already secured for UEA it was a 2-1 victory for blue and yellow adding that all important point to the overall UEA tally.