Newquay. The Mecca of surfing and of stag and hen dos. Little known to many, it is also second only in the gig racing calendar to The Scillies. Spread over two weekends, Newquay Rowing Club hosts the Men’s and Ladies County Championships, each event attracting over 100 crews. Newquay is the stuff of legends. In any training calendar, where there is swell and wind, you will hear the sage response of crews crying, ‘this is sooooo Newquay.’
Imagine then, a year when the Atlantic isn’t rolling in. It is just resting, lapping Newquay’s beaches, as it finds the shore. The wind is southerly, so the bulk of the town puts its shoulder against the bay, as if protecting the racers. The elements are lazy. The mist and fog hanging over most of southern Cornwall can’t raise itself over the backbone of land. Whisper it, but conditions are benign in Newquay. For the first heats, the wind is trying, and out beyond the buoys there is enough to lift pigtails and ponytails. That changes through the morning, when the wind backs to the northwest, diminishing as it does.
Lady Luck plays a part in the draws. The shifting tides and winds means that there is never an even heat. Never an even race. This is Newquay. This year, those who raced later benefited from the increasingly languid elements. The race times got faster and faster. The early crews, perhaps only the first six heats, stared at the boards and willed them differently.
Some days you know it’s not your day.
We were a rookie crew, bearing the responsibility of the title of Ladies A (our racing heroines, past silver medalists in World standings). We had a change of seat in our last training run, recognising the crack power of Number Two (formerly Four) to turn a buoy. We were jittery, particularly after a shaky performance in Fowey’s regatta the week before. Come race day, we were keen to lay those ghosts to rest.
In Newquay’s Dal Lewyer, we made our way to the start. In the middle of the pack, we were short of the line, but had a cracking start – our race drills paying dividends. We climbed off the back of one gig, and were comfortable going up to the mark. We were rowing well. Our Cox positive, believing in us. The first turn. We were given water, our right to the mark. The gig on our starboard side ignored or flouted that right. Their Cox turn on us. Two and Four had no water, finding the wood on the port-side of their gig. Our Cox was hoarse. We had to stop rowing, but not before our Two was winded by the upthrust of a rear-ended oar. Re-group, start again. We watched the gig that we had climbed over take the safe water inside us. We didn’t see them again. The wind was stiff, squally. We reset, but some of our heart had gone. We rowed, but couldn’t find what we needed to lift us back into the race. We rowed the last forty, as we do, building power and pace, but we were at the back of the field. Water sloshed at our ankles as we slowed past the line.
We came into the harbour, valiant in our effort. We were high on the drama. As we pulled up, the marshals decided to haul Dal Lewyer up and bail her out. Too much water in her to race fairly. Dal Lewyer was retried before we’d walked up the beach. We think we carried another person’s weight in water.
Some days you know it’s not your day.
In our huddle we ruminated. We’d rowed well. We could not have asked anything more of ourselves and each other. The day conspired against us. The elements slackened. The lovely yellow gig was sinking. There was another gig that ruined our day… but their Cox also ruined that crew’s. They were DQ’d.
We are gig rowers. We do the best for each other and ourselves. We strive to do the best we can. On this day, despite all of that, it didn’t work out. But, next time it just might.