Dewar Shield 2013 : From the Sons M2 boat
The small hours of Saturday afternoon saw waves cresting at four or even five inches on the Tideway. Dead leaves were seen to move on trees and a drizzly rain threatened any ant foolish enough to venture outside its nest with a catastrophic soaking.
It was reminiscent of the Dewar Shield race from the previous year. Then, Sons of the Thames Rowing Club was enveloped in polar conditions so severe that the decision was made to withdraw the club from the competition. By a quirk of local climate Auriol and Kensington RC and Furnivall SC, were somehow able to boat and contested the shield without us - most of the Sons membership fondly imagining that the whole event had been cancelled.
So at the core of the Sons 2013 effort was a determination to show up. Snapping their fingers at the weather, eight Sons of the Thames VIIIs pushed off from the pontoon. With seven crews from Furnivall Sculling Club and six from Auriol and Kensington Rowing Club, 21 VIIIs and 189 rowers contested the event - probably an all-time record and certainly one for recent times.
A new "Grand Prix" style scoring system meant the first ten in boats in the men's and women's sections would score - additional crews getting just one point. The strength of this is that a club is scored not just on the performance of its top boats, but the full spectrum of active members - social rowers and novices included.
In the Olympic year of 2012 volunteers at all three clubs have worked hard to train newcomers to the sport, many of whom have been inspired by watching the successes of our Olympic rowers.
Before the no-show of 2012, Sons had won the shield for a number of years running, but 2013 was never going to be a push-over.
A long, buttock-numbing delay at the start was due to a school's crew being stuck under Barnes Bridge. Or was that a Russian submarine? It was hard to hear. Eventually a PLA launch went by with a bushy thing like a discarded Christmas tree in the stern. Obviously if we'd been aware of the danger we would have pulled the whole club out of the race.
At last we turned into the stream and began the familiar build-up to Chiswick Bridge. A scratch crew of creaky veterans, we were none-the-less designated Sons M2, and started in fourth position. With Club Captain Tony Brown making the calls from the cox's seat, it became clear that we were gaining on Furnivall M1. Eventually we'd row through them before the finish at Hammersmith Bridge. At that point things seemed to be going well.
Our first VIII looked to have pushed away from an AK unit that had beaten them by 0.2 seconds in the Quintin Head. That Sons M1 time would turn out to be 11.13 - comfortably the fastest of the day. Behind us Furnivall 2 in a borrowed boat (and a few borrowed all-in-ones), didn't seem to be closing us down - and indeed, we finished third.
It wasn't a bad year 2012. We got two crews to Henley, plenty of new people joined and we were one of the few clubs to be represented in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant. We even won the PLA's safety award. The Christmas Party's always a good time to acknowlege and thank the people who made all those good things happen - not least Lju, who organised it.
It's also a time to exchange rowing kit for something smarter and the basement areas of Linden House for the more elegant upper floors of this handsome Georgian building. It's great to have the Linden House staff there as well - not just because they did a great job with the catering, but also because they are are familiar and friendly faces we see throughout the year.
Greg stepped up to claim Colin's trophy having just posted the best result in the Scullers' Head. The other main award - for club champion - was close run with a number of rowers in the frame. In the end, it was too close to call and the award went to the Henley Wyfolds crew which felt like the right resolution. Ross stepped up with Rory to claim the shield. His recent engagement to Gemma, whom he met at this very event a year or two ago, reminding us that stuff can happen at the Christmas party.
Over on the tables people tried to thread Bond quotes into the conversation without anyone else noticing, food was eaten, drink was drunk and it's rumoured that after one or two of the older members had creaked off into the night (OK, me), many of the young people even danced.