Captain's Log - August 14 2012

The victorious gang from Peterborough, wearing Lycra specially made for the weekend

Captain’s Log No01 : August 2012
Yes, I’m back – sorry! Uncontested again! What can I say? Precisely. . . .

Annual General Meeting
Thanks to everyone who attended this year – and to Margot for putting on a full bar service (through a less than full sized serving hatch) and barbeque afterwards. I know many were away Olympicking or racing at Peterborough (2 more wins!) but there were enough of us present to get through all the business and Keith and Emma kept things tight for what was probably the shortest AGM ever.

We managed to fill nearly all the officer positions and have some new committee members to give us a strong committee for the coming year.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of last year’s committee – steering the club through the whole upheaval of the building works and generally ensuring all the members get exactly what they expect from a volunteer-run club.

And I think everyone would agree the Rowing Manager position – new last year – has been a complete success with Jacqui Johnston really developing the role into exactly what we need.

Great work everyone and many thanks.

The Olympics
Wasn’t it great to see GB Rowing at its best – all those medals and wins. I am sure you are all suitably inspired and ready to get back into it as we head into (eventually) the new 2012/3 Season.

What did we learn from it all ? Well, you need to be in an Empacher or Filippi if you expect to get into a final (although there was a Hudson in the women’s eights). Four-stay riggers, like macons, are a thing of the past – it’s all wing riggers now (and even those are being reversed to sit behind the rower’s seat). Always carry a screwdriver in case your seat comes apart off the start (I didn’t know the 100m rule still applied at international level – it doesn’t on the domestic circuit so please don’t try that fast one!). Gary Herbert squeaks when he gets excited – which I would have thought is a bit of a handicap if you are a commentator. Oh, and winners all seem to have very good teeth!

And yellow wasn’t confined to the colour of boats in the rowing finals – the running finals were filled with bright yellow shoes (Adidas are German like Empacher – possibly they learnt something about marketing from their boatbuilding cousins!).

All in all a great event and a triumph for London and everyone who had a hand in making it happen – we had a number of members volunteering as gamesmakers and our own Ian Crockford was the main Project Manager for the stadium and aquatic centre. Makes me proud to be half-British!

Our Racing Season
A record medal haul for Team GB ? Pah! TwRC has just recorded a big improvement on last year’s results (which weren’t bad) with 24 regatta wins to add to our 13 head class wins giving us a total of 37 wins overall (as against 16 regatta and 0 head class wins in 2010/11). I can also report the quality of wins improved across a wider range of boat classes. Definitely onwards and upwards and during a period when the club was mostly a building site.
Well done to everyone who competed, coached, repaired boats, trailed trailers and generally pitched in. We couldn’t have done it without you and we will want to step up again this coming season. I am so looking forward to it.

New Season – New Coaches
Right now my attention is focused on assembling the team of coaches to see us through next season. It remains a nagging thought that I can really screw this up if I get it wrong!!

Every coach that coached this season is welcome to stay on as all have performed so well. Sadly that is not always possible and we have to say goodbye to Jonno Davidson who looked after the Senior Women these last two seasons.
I owe a particular debt of gratitude to Jonno, as when I first became captain I had no rowing coaches at all. With little hesitation Jonno stepped up as my first rowing coach, and has seen the ladies develop to a point where they raced so
well in the eight at WHR this season. Many thanks Jonno and I hope all goes well in your new position coaching at Cheltenham College.

We also have some new faces joining us and I am trying to fit the right people into the right jobs.

Remember every coach for the competition squads is a volunteer at this club and we all I hope recognize the massive personal commitment this requires – for no financial gain. It’s what makes these individuals so special!

I hope to persuade the committee to allow us to buy them some TwRC branded coaching clothing – it can get quite chilly/wet/lonely out in those launches!
Once I have that little challenge sorted I will be announcing pre-season squad meetings where we will introduce the coaching teams, and outline the plans and expectations for the coming season. I have some ideas up my sleeve which should really take full advantage of the new facilities we have. I am thinking at the moment the meetings will be mid September. More info to follow.

Yes, I will make no secret of the plan to incorporate this long distance sculling ladder within the competition squad training programme. Open to singles, doubles and pairs it will allow us to get some valuable long-distance work done, in a slightly (!) competitive environment under the all-seeing stopwatch that never lies.

With the Draw Off starting in October we need to get a few rounds out of the way quite soon – although we can change most start times to suit the tides (and anyone who is out too long may find themselves beached somewhere!
Now there’s an incentive).

New Boats
After a slight change in plan due to less than positive feedback when trialling the Wintech quad, we set out to find a slightly used “name” boat for the ladies. Buying new boats is relatively straight-forward; you identify the need and budget and place the order for the right spec. Buying quality second hand is a completely different bag and I am so grateful to have Spike as our boat “broker”. He managed to dig up a good-as-new Hudson coxless four/quad at exactly the right spec and price – being sold directly by Hudson.

Mr Hudson (well, the factory GM) and the European agent brought it over to the club just after the Olympic Regatta and our ladies have been trying it out since. It has pretty good provenance, having won the Elite Women’s event at
the last Fours Head, and before that securing a bronze medal at the 2009 World Rowing Champs for Canada. So it isn’t a slow boat!

The Wintech stern-loaded coxed four is ordered, and we have changed that to a convertible hull so as to give us a boat we can use in no fewer than four configurations – two of those even if they don’t have a cox.

Fleet Policy
An interesting question was asked at the AGM by Rob Bailey – what exactly is our policy regarding boats for the club?

I would have struggled to give a concise answer within the AGM but did promise to answer fully and I think this is probably the best forum for that – and I get to say it just once!

Put simply the captain has responsibility for ensuring the club has a fleet of boats appropriate to the needs of the club. I have a small monthly budget to buy bits and pieces to keep boats in working order, without having to refer every purchase to the committee, but capital purchases and major refurbishments are all submitted to the committee for approval prior to being actioned.

(As an aside, these submittals form part of the monthly Captain’s report to the committee and we will be posting up the committee meeting minutes on the website soon so that all members can read what decisions are being made on their behalf, and why).

We have an annual Boat Fund which is calculated as the value of the depreciation on the fleet from the previous year.

This way we maintain the fleet value, more or less. It is not fixed in stone – the purchase of the three Filippis and the ER fleet a few years ago having been in excess of the actual funds available but considered necessary at the time to benefit from a favourable exchange rate, a special offer from Filippi and also BR’s grant restrictions (for the ER boats).

So in financial terms we have a strict policy that serves us well.

The difficult part is the phrase “appropriate to the needs of the club” as these needs have a habit of changing. Boats can be with us for twenty years (several already have been) so their whole life application has to be thought through.
Anyone who knows me will have been bored by my stories of crews achieving great things in seemingly out-dated and past-it equipment.

In that respect I am very much of the belief that the quality of the contents of the boat (aka the crew) far outweigh any marginal gains as may be achieved by having the latest state-of-the-art equipment – at least at the levels we generally operate. So I am always looking at refurbishing boats and will happily recommend spending a sum of money to refurbish a boat in excess of its second-hand value – simply because we can prolong its service life and couldn’t buy an equivalent boat for the same money. Many who have seen the boats come back from refurbishment have wondered if we have in fact bought a new boat!

It is also likely that if a boat was suitable for the needs of the club when it was bought it will probably still be suitable as it ages – we just need to keep it in good order. And we couldn’t do that without first the members looking after the equipment as if it was their own (because actually it is!) and then the boatman – James Traynor currently – sorting out the minor repairs that need doing – shoes and stretchers seem the current issue. A thankless and endless task!

So with a prolonged fleet life we only need to consider changes to the club’s needs. The Explore Rowing fleet is a good example of this – we have never had boats like these before and so we needed a completely new set. Thanks to British Rowing for the grant towards them we had an instant ER fleet and everyone who has completed their L2R in these boats will have benefitted from the equipment. They have also allowed us to open up the corporate events – getting people out in those boats after only a few hours of coaching is actually achievable – certainly when compared with trying to do the same with fine hulls!

New boats have generally been bought to feed in at the highest squad level and filter down through the squads as the boat ages. I think the imminent purchase of the Wintech coxed/coxless four specifically for the Novice Women and
Rec group (and similarly many years ago boats bought specifically for Juniors) shows that this life path does not always work. By way of example, our knife-edge Filippi front-loaded coxed four designed to go arrow-straight for
2000m is never going to be completely suitable for a novice four racing at Chiswick Regatta. So we have some boats which will be sold on rather than passed down. I think that will always be the case if we are to have boats that are suitable at the top level for when we have crews of the right standard.

And that leads nicely to allocations and prioritisation. We have 58 boats and little room for any more!. That is more than most clubs have and only very few can be considered “ring-fenced” (the four Filippis, the new Hudson, the ladies’ Resolute, the Carl Douglas 2x and maybe a couple of singles). Obviously these top boats need to be kept in pristine condition and are not suitable for use by the less skilled amongst us. So these require the captain’s permission for use
– usually requested through the squad coach.

This degree of flexibility really helps and the squad members and coaches have generally understood the bigger picture. This approach this season has seen the men’s Henley double using the light Filippi 2x and the Master’s quad that raced at Henley Masters using the Filippi coxless hull. When asked for a ring-fenced boat I look at the competency and competitiveness of the crew rather than their standing in the squad hierarchy. Trust me when I say I have declined far more requests to use the club’s best boats than I have agreed to!

And then we have the 12 club single sculls. These have proved really useful in developing our rowers’ technical skills and certainly get the most mileage. There are usually plenty to go around and I can’t really ring fence any other than Mallard which since its refurb is back to its glorious best, and Sam Kerr – the wooden Ray Sims donated to the club by Robert Kerr (and currently away being fixed because I was obviously not clear enough about it being ring-fenced!!)

So at the moment we have a pretty decent fleet most clubs would be envious of. The two new fours will fill in a couple of gaps in the women’s fleet and this allows us to free up some boats for others to use. Whichever is the better of the two women’s coxed fours will be sent away soon for a full refurbishment and over the next season it is the fours and pair/doubles which will be looked at (so don’t go bending any eights or singles as these will not be refurbished again for some time).

We even managed to break the tradition of never selling boats and have sold four fours this season – and I don’t think it has adversely affected our ability to get boats out!

Finally a word about blades. We haven’t purchased any new ones for a long time – apart from the C2 sculling blades we acquired with the ER boats – and it is starting to show. So if we don’t need any more boats for a while I can look at the blades and if we have the money maybe we can get a couple of new sweep sets. (I’ve already been in conversation with the Croker and Concept 2 agents about what will be available after the Olympics and Worlds – seems they don’t like to give much of a discount but we’ll see what we can do!)

Boat Racking
You will have noticed all the boat name labels on all the racks have been removed. This is because we are redrawing the racking plans so as to accommodate better our shiny fleet.

Fundamental changes will be that the best boats go up on the highest racks (and we have purchased four lightweight step ups to facilitate getting the boats up and down in the fours shed and outdoor sculling racks – these are not to be
used as slings or trestles by the way) and the boats for Juniors will go on the lowest racks/trolleys. Everything else in between.

Bay 3 (with the private sculls in it) will be turned over completely to private sculls (we should be able to get 26 in there) so there will be no need for members to go in that bay (unless they have their own boat there). That will make me feel much more comfortable – I always fear a badly carried pair or double could wipe out several thousands of pounds worth of prime sculling boat in one sweep (literally). We have even managed to retain the blade racks in that bay so there is no need for any blades to be stored outside the Tank Room or Bay 3 (It has always been possible for someone to climb the gate, choose a single, grab a pair of sculls from the fours shed, and scull away into the sunset without us being able to prevent it)

A new racking plan has been drawn up so you may find yourself being asked to put a boat back on a different rack – or to help move a boat from one rack to another. Please help when you can.
Eventually new labels will be attached to the racks once the plan is settled.

Yes – once again the tea-leaves have been back helping themselves to some phones and wallets. I have to say I struggle to sympathise with the victims here. First of all we provide lockers for your valuables.

Secondly, by leaving things out to be stolen all you do is encourage the thieves to come back. If they come a few times and can’t find anything to steal they will bugger off and raid someone else’s changing rooms. So please, stop
encouraging them.I have arranged for a police officer to come to the squad meetings to explain all this again but it really is common sense.

Club Website
I am very pleased to update you on the development of our all-new all singing website.

It is undergoing a complete overhaul to make it a doddle to find things with the minimum number of clicks, contact details have been tidied up so enquiries find the right person, and there will be an online shop where you can buy all your new kit direct off the site, any time you like (rather than for us having to laboriously assemble kit orders only a few times a year). It will be a new kit supplier using new materials ideally suited to what we do (that is, a wet onepiece will dry out very quickly rather than stay soaked for the rest of the day. Trials have been very successful I hear!)

And we (the club) get 10% back on all sales through the online shop. Brilliant!
There will also be areas for blogging and regular updates of what all the squads are up to – a wholly interactive place where members can keep up to speed with what is going on (this log will probably end up just being published there rather than emailed every month, so if you don’t want to read it you don’t even get sent it). More on that in due course.

Club Dinner
Yes, it is time to start thinking about that. A great social event where everyone gets to see everyone else getting drunk and generally having a great time.

We were at the Wharf last year and pretty much packed it out. We are now a much bigger club so it may be even that venue is too small. Next time we will have some dates for you but I strongly recommend signing up to it really early – otherwise if we have to cap numbers you may not get in, which would be a crying shame.

Water Safety Section
Last time I reported Laura Baker has stood down as our CWSA and asked for volunteers to take over the role.

I am very pleased to report Kersten Hall (of the Rec group) has answered that call and after a brief handover meeting with Laura and me, she was officially appointed at the AGM on Sunday. Welcome.

It will take a while for Kersten to get into the groove but she has some great plans for the role, carrying on Laura’s good work.

One thing she wouldn’t have had a chance to deal with is the impending Draw Off – this year taking up some seven weekends! I have prepared a table of dates, tide times and recommended boating times. These are based on the published tide tables and take no account of rainfall, flag status or other variable factors, so these are only recommended times and crews still have a responsibility to assess the conditions at the time of the outing and act accordingly. I shall post a few around the place (one is already on the noticeboard by the new entrance) so you can plan your outings.

And there it is, the first Captain’s Log of my third year – and five pages worth so hopefully there is something for everyone. I hope you enjoyed it!