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Baptism by Fire – Girl on the River Has Her Coxing Debut

By Girlontheriver @girlontheriver

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. My first time coxing a race was meant to take place on a nice, straight course with no major obstacles or risks, just to ease me in gently.

Huh. I should, of course, have known better. If there’s one thing that has characterised my rowing career, it’s things not quite going according to plan. So when Evesham Head was cancelled and I had to drop out of Cardiff because of a family emergency, that left the one race that I had sworn I would never, ever cox: the Head of the Dart.

Deceptively pretty

Deceptively pretty

Looks pretty, doesn’t it? Well, don’t be fooled. The Head of the Dart – a 15km course from Totnes to Dartmouth – was, I’m convinced, specially designed to fox the most confident coxswain. Think the Tideway’s tricky with its stream and multiple crews? Pah.

At the Dart the fun starts with an early encounter with a ferry that stops for no man.

Another bend, another ferry...

Another bend, another ferry…

It carries on with two markers that you have to cross on the outside or you’ll get disqualified (and most years a couple of crews do). It continues around sharp bends, through open waters with no visible exit, past a dinghy event and along narrow channels lined with multiple moorings.

And then, to make it really exciting, you have to time your finish according to the whim of a chain ferry that, we were cheerfully told in the briefing, can slice the boat in two like a cheese slicer (yeah, thanks for that). When you can see the cars lining up on the ferry ready for the return journey, let’s just say it focuses the mind.

Cheese slicer. Also known as Dartmouth chain ferry. (Image by Herbythyme)

Cheese slicer. Also known as Dartmouth chain ferry. (Image by Herbythyme)

With any other crew I might have been just too scared to embark on this madness, but when you have a boat full of Monmouth’s finest ladies (Mas E W8+, in case you’re wondering) you know you can count on them to respond in an instant, to execute a faultless handbrake turn when asked and row harder than is entirely ladylike.

And so, by some miracle, we made it through in one piece, in a highly respectable time of 52:50 – the fastest women’s 8+ of the day. On the way we even passed two mixed 8+s and we even beat a men’s 8+. Sadly there was no competition in our category so we didn’t get a pennant or a shiny cup like the Monmouth men did, but it’s not always about the bling.

Most excellent crew.

Most excellent crew.

As for me, having always seen myself as a pretty chilled kind of steersman, I turned out, in fact, to be That Cox. You know, the one that roars at the crew ahead to make way, who’s lost her voice by the end of the race and who says things like, “bow 4, in time would be good”. Oddly, my husband was not remotely surprised by this revelation and muttered something about how good it was for me to “get it out of my system”. No idea what he’s talking about…

With the race over, the rest of the weekend was mostly spent laughing until our sides hurt, though we did manage to explore the fabulous Dartmouth area by ferry and steam train.

So. Much. Laughing.

So. Much. Laughing.

And will I cox again? Well, I might, in a moment of madness, have agreed to cox a race at Nat Vets, but I can’t deny I’m looking forward to facing the other way for a while. Let’s just say we’ll see.


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