Saturday 18th May, 4 days before Torpids, and the St Peter’s College First Eight congregate at quarter to six in the Porter’s Lodge. Chat is limited and snoozing rife on the transit to Worcester, where we have entered an Eight and a Four – the Robert Calderisi and Jean Daniel Rossi, the newest member of the Boat Club, a very generous donation from Robert Calderisi, which is about to get its first taste of competition. We are a little apprehensive, since water conditions on the Isis and at Radley have severely limited our water time, and the “Top Four” have in fact only trained once together on the water.
The Four race first on the short Worcester course. As we tap up to the start line, we draw level with a boat of clean shaven youths, whose combined weight seems likely to fall short of the ‘old’ Tunnacliffe’s alone, and wonder whether we’ve made an embarrassing misjudgement by entering the ‘novice’ category… We row as hard as possible anyway, knowing that this is valuable rate training for a scratch crew, duly pull away, and apparently cause one of them to cry.
An interesting start to proceedings, but there’s no time to philosophise, as the Eight is up shortly after. We’ve drawn the University of the West of England (UWE) Fresher Eight. They are a well drilled outfit, the biggest, fittest guys drawn from across the whole University, who have trained very hard together all year. We row well and proud, but it is no surprise that the college, with its pool of 200 or so undergrad boys, can’t match the might of a whole University, and we succumb by two lengths.
Focus turns to the Four, who have drawn UWE, the old enemy, in the second round. There is an unspoken feeling that we’ll be calling the minibus for an early drive home, and those not racing begin to gorge on the BBQ and smorgasbord of cakes on offer, sensing that this might be there last chance. We start well, staggered slightly ahead to account for the stream, and incredibly are holding the UWE crew off. Our rhythm is fantastic for a scratch crew, and it’s easy to put everything in the water. We cross the line with a lead of a length.
We’re facing a Worcester University Fresher Four in the semi-final, and are very much the underdogs once again, it’s absolutely nip and tuck, and the staggered finish makes it difficult to know who has won, we’re in a state of uncertainty for a couple of minutes before the good news breaks! This was our best row of the day, the boat was perfectly sat and in time and we could put down as much power as we wanted. This was the most exhausted and exhilarated I have ever felt in a rowing boat.
So to the Final, against the Worcester Development Eight. This is an experienced crew, stronger than the one we beat in the last round, and with the home advantage. Surely the game is up? We start with the stagger, and have a good start, pulling away a little. The gap begins to shorten as fatigue sets in and the boat rocks a little. Antonio Borrelli, coxswain extraordinaire, gives the ‘power ten’ call as we reach halfway, and the response is immediate and spectacular, we pull away and hold the lead for a 1 ½ length victory!
We return to the bus clutching our tankards, it has been a great day, enjoyed by all. I would like to give personal thanks to Robert Calderisi, whose wonderful gift played the lead role in our victory, to Mr Sheeran, whose backing and photography on the day were greatly appreciated, and to all the rowers in the Eight but not the Four, who gave us their full support throughout a long regatta, and without whom we couldn’t have won.