This year’s COVID-secure autumn head race had a celebratory feel as competitors and volunteers alike were just glad to be back at the Weybridge Single Sculls. Zoe Gullen reports
Founded in 1956, Weybridge Silver Sculls is a true autumn classic, attracting a wealth of sculling talent over the years. The field might have been reduced in size this year, and entries prioritised for clubs within a 20km radius of Weybridge Rowing Club, but there was an impressive and encouraging standard of racing, particularly in the junior events – and vast enthusiasm among competitors and organisers alike.
Raced on a deceptively technical 3.3km upstream course, from Little Weir to Elmbridge Canoe Club, it is a real time trial, with all categories offered across all divisions and the results produced at the end of the day.
The exceptions are the two perpetual trophies awarded to the fastest open and women’s scullers in the final division.
Quintin’s Mike Ewing successfully defended his 2019 title, and put his name on the Silver Sculls trophy for the third time, having also won in 2014. His 13:44 in Senior Band 3 earlier in the day was the fastest time overall.
The Houghton Cup was retained by Alison Jackson, a record sixth overall win for the Walton sculler who won women’s masters B/C/D.
Alison said, “I was delighted to win the Houghton Cup today, and to be a part of this event. Even though I felt a bit rusty, it was great to feel like our sport is getting back to ‘almost normal’ again post-lockdown!
“Walton members produced some excellent results throughout the day, and the junior members in particular were thrilled to be able to race again after such a long period of waiting since March. A great day was had by all!”
Twickenham scullers and World Class Start athletes Alex King and Olivia Jani took a Senior pennant apiece, and the University of Surrey’s Sacha Kennedy won women’s Senior band 3. There was a good spread of winners in the junior events, with wins going to scullers from St George’s College, Radnor House School, Barn Elms and Team Keane.
Auriol Kensington’s Hugh Mackworth-Praed, who has won the Silver Sculls five times, was fastest masters sculler of the day, winning B/C in 14:23, while Guy Pooley of Crabtree, a four-time winner overall winner, won E by a minute.
Guy said, “I first raced at Weybridge 30 years ago, and it was a great pleasure to return today to race in the Silver Sculls. I have some great memories from my former visits. A great deal of thanks goes to the organisers for all their efforts to put on this event, which is one of the highlights of the autumn sculling races.”
The Bonnie Bird Cup for fastest junior woman went to Avril Walters of St George’s College in women’s J18; she was also the fastest female sculler of the day, with an impressive 15:22 in women’s Senior Band 1. The junior men’s trophy, the Demerara Cup, went to Gabriel Obholzer of Tideway Scullers School in 13:57.
Walton had the fastest men’s and women’s double sculls of the day, and a second double-double at J17, while Weybridge claimed both women’s and open J16. Nicholas Didaskalou, of the latter crew, also won J16 singles.
“The toughest bit was Desborough Channel – it seems longer every time!”
Eton Excelsior’s Kathy Johnson, meanwhile, had two double-scull wins, with different partners, taking women’s masters B/C with Erica Moon and women’s masters D with Amy Hewitt. The race encourages doubling up, and while crews cannot enter the same event twice, the Walton/Bewl Bridge composite of Rod McLean and Hagen Jahnich finished both first and second in a combined C/D/E handicap event.
Tideway Scullers won both open and women’s junior doubles with the fastest junior crews of the day, and the club also claimed the women’s J15 and women’s masters E pennants.
Fiona Betts, of the E crew, said: “It’s always a great race on a challenging course, with some interesting steering challenges. The toughest bit was Desborough Channel – it seems longer every time! But it was so good to be racing again, and thanks to Weybridge – it was brilliantly and safely organised.”
Matt Hansen, of the winning J18 double, agreed: “I really enjoyed racing. Conditions were very good, results came out quickly and we are very appreciative of all the hard work the organisers put into making the race run smoothly.”
Indeed, the near-seamless running was a huge credit to the organising committee, and their meticulous planning to deliver a safe, enjoyable and COVID-secure event – not least when Elmbridge borough was raised to Tier 2 restrictions just days before the race.
“All credit to the participants – all the clubs, all the coaches. It was just a great celebration of the rowing community”
Entries secretary Rachel Kornberg said: “Everyone just raised their game. There was an exceptional level of teamwork and willingness, and our modelling and analysis meant that we were comfortable that we had manageable numbers based on space.”
Also, in the words of chief umpire Caroline Turnbull: “the clubs on the reach pulled together – not just the rowing club but the sailing club, the skiff club and the sea cadets”. This allowed boating across multiple sites, while Thames Valley Skiff Club served as results headquarters – and three TVSC crews raced in an invitational skiff event.
And, as ever, the contribution of the vast number of volunteers was absolutely critical.
Rachel said: “Everyone couldn’t do enough to help. The attitude of the volunteers was fabulous and it really did make the event. And all credit to the participants – all the clubs, all the coaches. It was just a great celebration of the rowing community.”
Check the full results here.
Photos: Zoe Gullen