Masters of the Thames at the Vets Head of the River Race

As over 200 crews prepare for the Vets Head of the River, we talk to Pengwern Boat Club about their preparation for the event which begins at 10.30am on Sunday


Pengwern's mixed masters crew with Rosie Manger in the two seat (c) BigBlade

Nearly 2,000 competitors are competing in the Vets Head of the River on Sunday, the day after the Boat Race, showcasing the very best of masters rowing. Taking place on the Tideway in the reverse direction of the Boat Race, this year’s head race comprises 218 crews from around the UK and several from overseas, with each racing a lung-busting time trial from Mortlake to Putney.

Located in central Shrewsbury on a picturesque stretch of the Severn, Pengwern Boat Club has two crews competing in London on Sunday, including a mixed Masters D-F eight with masters world champion Rosie Manger on board. Their second crew is a Masters H with two members who are over 80 years old!

Manger said: “The Vets Head is the highlight of our winter training. There is nothing quite like the spectacle of racing amongst hundreds of eights on this famous stretch of river and, unusually this year, the Boat Race is the day before and will be fresh in everyone’s minds.

“I love ticking off the landmarks as we go down the course, especially rowing through beautiful Hammersmith Bridge and knowing that two-thirds of the course is gone.”

Vets Head crews race in different age categories, from A to H, according to the average ages of the eight rowers.

With an average age of 58 years, Manger’s crew includes cox Glen Johnston, Fleur Joyce, Paul Marshall, Mark Goode, Paul Preece, Malcolm Sebastian, Jane King and stroke Jinny Price-Owen and most were in the Pengwern crew that won their category in the 2015 and 2016 Vets Head.

The Vets Head is the highlight of our winter training. There is nothing quite like the spectacle of hundreds of eights on this famous stretch of river

But like many other crews around the country, their training has been affected by the snow and they have relied on their core winter fitness training – regular sessions on the indoor rowing machines.

Manger said: “The crew has, as always, trained hard both on and off the water, though we have been perhaps more affected by snow than in previous years. Our beautiful boathouse in Shrewsbury is difficult to reach in the snow but we don the wellies and slip and slide our way down.

“One of the crew is at RAF Benson all week, and only once did the bad weather stop him getting to us at the weekend. We are lucky to have a wonderful 6km stretch of the River Severn to row on.”

The crew is one of only 24 mixed crews racing on Sunday with 11 crews in their D-F age category.

“I love racing in a mixed eight,” said Manger. “The women in our crew race in smaller boats in the summer, fours and pairs, and we all look forward to the feeling of power and skill that comes with the people we have in our mixed boat. It just works, mainly perhaps because we have respect for each other. Also there is a lot of friendly banter which helps during cold, wet training outings.

“As rowers know, it takes more than nine people to get an eight to competitions. This year so many people, young and old, have helped by sitting in and lending their time – it is a real club effort for which we are very grateful.”

With 189 crews ahead of them in the starting order, Pengwern will have to wait in the marshalling area for a while.

Once the racing starts, Manger’s top tip is “to really attack the first part of the course, keeping the rating high for at least the first minute before very deliberately lengthening and settling into a great rhythm”.

“Don’t hold back!”

Look out for the Vets Head results here