Itchen Imperial RC triumphs at weather-hit South Coast Champs

Itchen Imperial RC claimed the coveted Bideford Bowl for the first time in 57 years on Saturday, after a severely weather-hit day at the 2013 South Coast Championships in Deal.

With the South Coast Junior Regatta successfully completed in the morning with only a slight sea running, little wind, and the forecast promising further improvement during the afternoon, no one could have expected the rough seas and pounding surf that led to South Coast Championship Regatta and Open Event to be abandoned later in the day.

Southampton’s Itchen Imperial RC refused to be phased by the horrendous conditions, though, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat in the Senior Championship race for the Bideford Bowl.

The Men’s Senior Coxed Fours Championship was one of few races to go ahead and, for a long time, it looked as though the hosts, Deal, had it in the bag.

Coming off the start they moved quickly ahead of Itchen Imperial with BTC, Bexhill and Christchurch contesting third place. BTC, having difficulty coming to terms with the now awful conditions on the outside of the course, were still in with a shout but Bideford Blues on the inside were more interested in just staying afloat.

As they came through the pier, Deal were three lengths up on Itchen Imperial and had moved inshore to cover their progress. With Bexhill also moving across to come along side of Itchen to take second place, it looked as though Deal had a clear run for the line.

Itchen Imperial mounted another charge, but with these three now bunching on the inside of the course, there seemed little room for Itchen Imperial to manoeuvre.

However, Deal suddenly came to a dramatic and shuddering stop as they crash into a wall of water, pushing their boat off course. Itchen Imperial were soon alongside, and another effort and Paul Joyce (Bow), Luke Williams (2), Mark Wardell (3) Tom Foad (Stk) Robyn McGregor-Ritchie (Cox) sent them clear leaders.

Bexhill also passed the foundering Deal crew with 200 metres to go as, extending their lead with every stroke, Itchen Imperial crossed the line four lengths clear – Deal limping home in third.

Winning The Bideford Bowl for the first time after 57 years of trying is a tremendous achievement for Itchen Imperial RC and especially pleasing for Club Captain Chris Foad to see his youngest son, Tom, stroke the boat home to share the limelight with his older brother – Olympic Medal winner James who watched from the shore.

In the events that were completed, racing was as keen as ever and earlier the Veteran Coxed Fours Championship saw Coalporters, Poole and Folkestone well matched from the start, with Poole looking very determined as they pulled a length clear, then Folkestone took their turn at the front as the lead swung between them.

But it was the Coalporters with Russell Quinton (Bow), Andy Williams (2), Ian Williams (3), Rob Williams (Stk) Sam Williams (Cox) who came through the pier arches in the lead with their supporters hanging over the pier rails cheering them on.

Lifting their rate, Coalporters surged ahead – Poole now a spent force on the inside of the course and Folkestone on the outside giving up the chase with 200 metres to go.

This left this Coalporters to cross the line four lengths clear, punching the air in victory salute.

The Men’s Junior Coxed Fours Championship was much less frenetic affair, with Ryde in control from the start with Herne Bay, Bexhill and Lymington jostling for places. At the pier, Ryde – with Stephen Edwards (Bow), Adam Edwards (2), Ollie Gove (3)  James Cleary (Stk) Sam Brading (Cox) – were sitting tall with a 2½ lengths lead, watching Herne Bay and Bexhill still contesting for second place with Lymington hanging on.

Ryde extended their lead to nearly four lengths taking Herne Bay with them and Lymington, now passing a fading Bexhill, moved into third place. They crossed the line in the same formation, with the jubilant Ryde completing a brilliant season as South Coast Champions.

The Ladies Senior Coxed Fours Championship followed a similar pattern, this time with Shoreham setting the standard in the worsening conditions. Quickly off the start, followed by Bexhill and Christchurch, there was little to choose between them and Itchen Imperial, slower to get into their stride in fourth place.

As they came through the pier, Shoreham’s Sally Hills (Bow), Gemma Stoner (2), Sarah Povey (3), Sarah Bareham (Stk), Becky Povey (Cox) held a length lead over Bexhill and Christchurch.

With the pressure mounting, Christchurch moved ahead of Bexhill taking the improving Itchen Imperial with them, but Shoreham remained in the driving seat, looking back, maintaining their balance as the boat got tossed about, knowing that the twist of a wave could end it all.

Itchen moved into second place in an epic battle with Christchurch but couldn’t close on Shoreham who crossed the line 1½ lengths ahead of Christchurch who themselves finished just half a length clear of Itchen Imperial.

But, ultimately, the day ended in disappointment for contestants in the Ladies Junior Fours Championship and the Men’s Junior Senior Championship, who never got to race. Crews in the Open Events suffered similar fates, with only the Men’s Open Veteran Coxed Fours, which was won by Herne Bay, and the Ladies Open Junior Fours, won by Coalporters, successfully completed.

John Bailey

For a closer look at the action from a frenetic day of racing at the 2013 South Coast Championships, see Naomi Baker’s photo gallery at http://naomibkr.wix.com.

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