Tiffin youngsters tame the Thames

Youngsters from Tiffin Schools Boat Club completed an epic 145km challenge on Sunday, rowing from Oxford to Kingston in just two days.

The 2011 OK (Oxford to Kingston) Row saw a host of young rowers take to the water for a long weekend of rowing on the River Thames, with the aim of raising much-needed funds for new equipment at the club and making a substantial donation to a local ME charity.

Shaun Ellis – one of the tour’s organisers and a member of the support team – documented the biennial challenge, as around 60 rowers successfully completed their gruelling 86-mile challenge:

OK Row 2011

Saturday 8 October

‘An early start from Kingston – 5.30am. Our crews are divided between minibuses and parents’ cars, and OK Row 2011 is underway! The weather is kind to us, although some light rain is expected.

‘The coaches have already taken our seven quads to the Oxford City Boat Club, which has kindly allowed us to launch our trip from their boathouse – the first of the many kindnesses that we experienced along the 145km journey back to our own club in Kingston.

‘Six of the seven boats are crewed by the boys and girls of the Tiffin Schools. The rowers range from 12 to 18 years old, with an average age of 16.

‘The short distance to Iffley Lock is passed in mere minutes. With a big ‘thank you!’ to the Lock Keeper and our parent Lock crew – and smiles all round – our first Lock is navigated. Only 30 more of these to home!

‘We sought permission for our challenge from the EA long before setting off, providing details of our itinerary and timings. The Lock Keepers along the way, therefore, are expecting us, and are extremely supportive throughout the journey.

‘Our first stop to change crews takes place at the Oxford University Boat club (31km into the trip, six locks down), where the crews meet one of their former old boys. After a quick stop, we head swiftly on to lunch at Pangbourne Rowing Club (50km, nine locks).

‘We keep lunch brief to avoid seriously dropping behind time, before setting off again in earnest. Lights are fitted to the boats, and we head on to the next changeover at Reading (60km, 11 Locks). By the time we reach Reading, the first third of the challenge has passed under our blades.

‘After a punishing row to complete our first day on the water, we arrive at Henley Rowing Club – which has kindly agreed to host us overnight. The crews waiting at Henley described our arrival in the twilight as like the scene from Harry Potter, with pupils arriving in twilight by boat. To us, on the water, it looked like a mini-constellation. We have a supper of Spaghetti Bolognese and warm drinks, and all are asleep by 10.30pm.

OK Row 2011

Sunday 9 October

‘Another early morning and we’re back on the water by 8am – 16 more locks and 67km rowing lies ahead.  The Thames is a marvellous river, and the scenery is fantastic – with the early rain easing and the sun threatening to come out it is warmer than Saturday and the crews are soon moving swiftly downstream.

‘Boulters Lock (97km, 21 Locks) heralds the 100km mark, which is the cue for a changeover at Maidenhead, and on to Eton Excelsior Rowing Club – who allow us to stop for lunch. A very welcome lunch is provided by the Organising Committee, and we are soon into the last third of our journey.

‘We make a brief stop at Walton Rowing Club before it’s finally time to put on our ‘OK Row Survivor’ t-shirts, which is a real lift to the crews. We are soon through Sunbury Lock (135km, 29 Locks) and moving quickly through the gathering twilight towards Molesey Lock – the 31st and final lock on our route.

‘The lock is manned by our support team, who have journeyed by road from lock to lock easing our passage. They give us a few final yells of encouragement as the lock doors open, and we are released to sprint – navigation lights blazing – down the home stretch.

‘The 140km behind us melts away as we cover the distance in impressive time. The waiting Head Teacher, Miss Hilda Clarke, and the anxious parents waiting to receive the rowers give a hero’s welcome to our constellation of stars as we inch into view.

‘Our tireless crews were truly the stars of this trip, but the organising committee were the force keeping them in place and enabling them to shine. We couldn’t have completed this challenge without the help of organisers Carol Cornell, Dave White, Kristina Ferraro, Andy and Jane Hale, Sarah Clarke, and Davina Salman. Our final thanks go to them.

‘With boats away and photographs taken, the crew were soon heading home to enjoy a well earned rest.’

OK Row crews wearing their 'Survivor' t-shirts - kindly sponsored by Tuke Manton Architects

For more information on the Tiffin Schools Boat Club, see the TSBC blog.

If you are interested in creating or undertaking a rowing challenge yourself, visit www.ExploreRowing.org.