Success at Vets Fours Head

27th November, 2019

Minerva Bath Rowing Club are celebrating huge success on the Thames Boat Race course this week: their Men’s Masters’ coxed four won the Veteran Fours Head race on the Tideway from Mile Post to Chiswick Staithe in London on Sunday.

Only the strongest, most experienced 215 crews were advised to race following an assessment of the river’s swollen conditions and constant weather watching in the days leading up to the international race. An hour before the race, fog had descended and there was talk of delays, but Minerva’s men triumphed in their group (category E, with an average age of 55), storming to the finish line in 20 minutes and 37 seconds, and were the third fastest crew over the 4.25-mile-long course overall in all coxed-four categories, shaving one-and-a-half minutes off their time with handicaps applied.

It was a personal triumph for Stroke, Tim Birtwistle, who 12 months ago was recovering from an operation to correct an irregular heart rhythm, and battling a damaged diaphragm nerve which affected his breathing.

Racing again was a very distant hope last year, so this very special win on the Tideway – a major achievement for any crew – has particular significance. It’s really only today that its sunk in that we won!

And for Bow, Charlie Jackson, it was the perfect way to celebrate his 50th birthday earlier in the week.

The role of a highly experienced race-cox and rower, Maggie Cooke, cannot be underestimated: her pre-race plan had the crew focused on five different stages of the race with five winning focuses, such as imagining gaining on other crews ‘an inch at a time’ from five minutes into the gruelling nineteen-minute race on the Thames feisty waves. Tim Birtwistle said:

We executed Maggie’s plan to perfection, her command and control over the crew and surrounding crews allowed us total confidence to just concentrate on the rowing.

It was our longest race as a crew, so it was important we stuck to [the plan] so we did not get fatigued before the finish. At Stroke I set the rhythm but needed the guys behind to help maintain the power to the finish of every stroke. After the first two minutes I thought ‘this is going well’… I could see crews that had set off behind us slipping behind, so there were no overtaking threats from the stern.

Known amongst Minerva Club members as one of the most charming crews, they insist on crediting many at the club for their success: “We have come along way over the past 8 months; we could not do it without the complete squad behind us – all those who coached and coxed us along our training route, especially our regular cox and Minerva chair, Sue Shipley.”

Crew: Stroke, Tim Birtwistle (59); Ian Townsend in seat 3 (51), Tim Spratt at 2 (61) and Charlie Jackson (50) in Bow were coxed by Maggie Cooke in the 6.8kms (4.25 miles) time trial.

See a clip of the winning crew at 13.15 here.

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