Lancaster John O’Gaunt enjoys blockbuster season

Lancaster John O'Gaunt crews boating on the River Lune

Lancaster John O’Gaunt Rowing Club has been an exciting and developing club to be involved with throughout the 2010/11 season, with many new projects and improvements at the Lune-based boathouse. A combination of new introductions and great successes has made this season one of the most memorable in recent history.

One of the biggest successes this season is the introduction of the Lancaster Schools Rowing Association, a new subset club for the juniors of Lancaster to encourage more local schools to be actively involved in the sport, with the local Ripley St Thomas School already starting to introduce rowing as an option to their physical education curriculum. This has resulted in the junior squad having almost doubled in recent months with many progressing towards competing next term. The youngest being the very talented 10 year old Dylan Bell, following his father Phil and siblings Kieran and Rhianne into the club. Having been successful both as a cox for most squads in the club, he even took to competing in a single scull himself!

For the past few years, the very popular and highly subscribed Lancaster City Regatta has been cancelled and this year saw the introduction of a new racing format in the form of the Red Rose Sprint Regatta – which will be used as a template for restarting the regatta soon. It also served as a great opportunity to hold the annual Francis Russell Memorial race between Gaunt and the University. John O’Gaunt repeated last year’s triumphant performance and retained the trophy with their three fastest crews placing in the top six as well at taking the top spot.

This year has also seen a wider variety of competitions and events being entered outside of the norm by the club who stereotypically stick to visiting the local events and sticking to sculling small boats. Such feats include entering a Men’s VIII into competition for the first time in 10 years at the North of England Head of the River in Chester. Having had only one outing together the week before and with a crew of ages ranging between 16 and 50, Gaunt placed ninth of 13 crews in IM3 Eights, coming only 13 seconds behind the University’s top boat who had been training together for 5 months. The club also sent groups down south to compete with bands of club members representing the club at Marlow, Gloucester and Ross Regattas, for what may have been its first time there.

The first Men's VIII for ten years at the North of England Head

This then leads onto the increased amount of collaboration between John O’Gaunt and the Lancaster University Boat Club, who not only graciously offered a boat and a cox for North of England Head but also have been involved in composite crews such as the victorious WIM3 Coxed Four at Northwich Spring Head, club athletes racing for the university – such as Aaron Sims stroking the LUBC IM3 Eight at Marlow – and vice versa, with Seb Miller and Matt Whitehead racing in Novice Doubles at Gloucester and Ross Regattas. Hopefully this cooperation will continue into following seasons as the clubs experiment with new methods to further their success.

This season has seen John O’Gaunt at its most competitively successful for quite a few years, netting a total of 33 wins (including the seven LSRA and 10 composite wins) from 13 events throughout head and regatta seasons ranging from novice to elite and from J13 to MasC/D. This comes from a squad not just the usual seniors but with many having their first competitive season and several others having just returned to the sport from several years out.

There have been some great success stories throughout this season in competition from all the squads in the club. This year saw the new recruits from the 2010 Summer Learn to Row Course getting their first taste of racing experience and while some were lessons in how not to tip a single during a head race, others proved more fruitful with the likes of Steve Holmes and Matt Birchall losing their sculling novice status’, Matt even managing to earn a sweep point mere weeks after being introduced to the discipline.

Some of the Lancaster winners with their pots at Northwich Regatta

Arguably, however, the club’s most successful crew of the year was the lightweight double of Matt Wilkinson and Aaron Sims, starting the season as novice scullers and finished an IM1 crew, having won seven of their nine races together this season as well as four wins out of six as part of a coxless quad – their only two losses being in IM1 where the boys took third place at Marlow Regatta and second at Ross Regatta. Other highlights include winning IM2 Doubles both days of Gloucester and Ross and claiming the overall victory for the Red Rose Sprint, becoming the fastest crew on the Lune.

The club’s success is hoped to progress further next year with the club making plans to restart senior crew training to dominate at the local events and with the final target of entering at least one crew for the prestigious Henley Royal Regatta. Meanwhile, with the continual growth of the LSRA, plans to expand that part of the club and create a much more competitive squad will continue, ensuring a future generation of the club with experience, confidence and talent.

By Aaron Sims, Lancaster John O’Gaunt RC