Sudbury Regatta 1998

The Rowing Service

Haining Shows His Best

Sunday 2nd August saw Sudbury Regatta blessed, if not with bright sunshine, then at least with warmth, plenty ofclose racing, and a star. The added attraction of PeterHaining to the programme made this year's regatta a bit special.

Peter was present due to a friendship with Antony Moule, Vice-Captain, whichstarted with the latter buying a boat from the former after the AtlantaOlympics. I remember the initial meeting between the pair well: it wasat Walton small boats head in 1996, cold and damp, and Haining had raced inthe first division in a double, for that centre of rowing, Roehampton Institute.

Despite the weather and his cold, Peter remained outside Walton RC,resplendent in Atlanta-issue kit (more stylish than the kit he'd just rowedin), chatting to all and sundry. That made an impression on me, how easy hewas to talk to. I shouldn't have been surprised: I'd previously seen himwading into the lake at Strathclyde at the 1996 Worlds to congratulateKarsten Nielsen, who in Peter's absence due to the Olympics had claimed theWorld Lwt. 1x crown, and I'd last seen him attempting to win the "Identify thewhisky" competition, but I cannot recall whether he was beating the assembledmembers of the British Association of Rowing Journalists (BARJ) or not. Onesuspects that this was one competition where you could safely bet againsthim...

The day started on a somewhat surreal note: Peter ringing from his mobilephone for directions. Beleaguered and somewhat busy in the regatta controltent, I caught snatches of the conversation as Tony guided him in: "Yeah,that's right, past Gainsborough's've heard of him, haven't you?He was a famous painter you know"....

Having doubled with Tony all year, culminating in the National Championships,recurrence of a respiratory infection had sidelined me from any seriousracing on the day, and so it was that at our regatta I found myself manningthe control tent whilst Tony sought glory with Peter on board. They duly wonElite Doubles without much trouble, beating a composite double fromLowestoft/Norwich.

With that, Peter returned to the serious business of charming everybody, evenfinding time to do some impromptu commentary. It is doubtful that many racesof such status as "Mixed Invitational Veteran Novice Coxed 4's" canboast such an experienced commentator. That my coach stroked the winning crewin this added to my enjoyment of it.

More drama was to follow in a somewhat inglorious 30 minutes for SRC. In theSprint 8's event, our rudder caught on some weed, and the boat rocketed offat an angle in a heat against Broxbourne RC. Our cox fought for control butthe rudder snapped and we hit the (thankfully soft) bank very hard, atmaximum racing speed. The bow pair, already on dry land, elected to walkback, and the rest of us limped back to the landing stage. As if that wasnot disaster enough, when the remaining crew tried to lift the boat from thewater, I managed to tear the cartilage in my right knee. Thank goodness I hadalways regarded the National Championships as the end of my season.

And so it was that, not content with ousting me from the stroke seat of thedouble, Haining also took my 6-seat in the mixed 8. Apparently on the way tothe start he had plenty of advice, principally about balancing the boataround the bend despite it being a straight(ish) course; certainly the restof the crew loved rowing with him.

"I hate losing"
was his comment between breaths after a close race against Broxbourne. (Therewere other clubs at the regatta, really there were). 30 minutes later camethe last race of the day: Peter in his scull trying to put one over thewinner of the sprint 8's - Broxbourne again. The course is 350m, on a verygentle bend, but with little leeway for error. Pat Lockley, the North-West's RegionalCoaching Development Officer has called the stretch of river here
"one of the prettiest little rivers in England"
but for this race the operative bit was little, although it was pretty. Afterthe earlier disaster I could hardly bear to watch.

Off they went, both crews rating high and sharp. Haining's rate was veryhigh, and as they shot towards me, I mentally raced every stroke with him.At the pillbox, I knew that 2 hard strokes on bowside would straighten asingle up, and willed Haining to do them. Had Tony briefed him? As a cannysculler I guessed he had, and Haining did indeed turn, but was it enough?Was the man famed variously for his never-give-up fighting instinct anderratic steering about to exhibit both at once?

Before there was time to worry, a thrilling finishing sprint was set up.Unfortunately Haining had drifted a bit into the centre of the river, and hadto ease off a fraction, which let Broxbourne off. Thereafter they washedPeter down, and they flashed across the finish line, just about able to seeclear water between the two boats. It was a thrilling race, and there is nodoubt that both crews gave it their all.

Peter did the prize-giving, still in dripping-wet kit and for every pot hegave to a taller person, there seemed to be one where he could bend down andline up cheek-to-cheek for the photo with the winner.

Some years ago Haining, talking about his plans for retirement, which can behoped for only by his International opponents, said

"I cannot wait for the day when I can trap two or three young guys in the barand, out of respect, they'll have to listen to me..."
Well, his prize-giving speech here was pertinent for grassroots sport in anera where big money seems to be corrupting club-level competition. Rugby andfootball are going through problematic times, and while the Worlds and NatChamps are the icing on the rowing cake, he said, it was regattas like this,with their close racing, bands, cake stalls and bouncy castles, which are thecake itself, and which we must not lose. He wound up by claiming to havesolved the riddle of corn circles whilst driving to the regatta - somethingto do with errant boat trailers circling, forever doomed, trying to findSudbury and getting stuck instead behind combine harvesters...

As the other clubs leaked away, the hard work of dismantling the marquees etcbegan. Peter insisted that "many hands make light work", and set to a littletoo enthusiastically, dismantling the VIP tent himself before it was empty.Since he was the only VIP left it didn't matter too much. For good measure hefilled in the drainage pit too, the digger of which had been the subject ofmuch ribbing in the morning.

His parting gesture after a meal to recover (I think - I had long since beentaken to hospital) was to donate his sole pot of the day to the new clubhousewe are about to build with our National lottery grant, specifying that all new membersshould be invested with a drink from it.

An excellent day, and we are all very grateful that Peter came and made sucha good impression and enjoyed himself. He has a reputation for being able tocharm almost anyone into almost anything, and so it proved. He is already agood ambassador for the sport with his waterborne feats, but he proved itagain on Sunday.

I don't think that it would be too great a hardship to prop up a bar withhim for company...

So on behalf of Sudbury RC, thank you Peter and we are thoroughly behind youfor the Worlds this September in Cologne.

 ©Trevor Chambers 24th August 1998.