It was a sucker punch after flooding in October 2019 and, last month, the water was back again

As if COVID-19 wasn’t enough, clubs around the country have also been affected by flooding. Toby Bryant finds out more

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Runcorn rowers check the boats (c) Andy Butterworth

Last month’s flooding hit several rowing clubs across the country. Toby Bryant speaks to club members about their clubs’ damages, repairs and crisis management in the middle of a pandemic.

Ross Rowing Club

In February 2020, 900 millilitres of water flooded Ross Rowing Club (RRC), which sits on the River Wye between Hereford and Monmouth.

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It was a sucker punch after flooding in October 2019 and, last month, the water was back again.

Built in 1975/76, the clubhouse couldn’t be elevated any further due to planners and, in recent years, RRC has endured significant damage from floods. Surrounded by the river at the front and a stream at the back, rising water levels can easily spell danger. Luckily, past experiences meant that Facilities Director Torsten Pope knew what to expect when warned of last month’s flooding.

“With COVID, you can’t have lots of people helping, but we managed with a small team to move the boats around in the boathouse and corridor so they didn’t get crushed,” Torsten said.

“We cleared out the boathouse too, so stuff wasn’t lying around on the floor, such as boat bags and river bags, as it all just gets washed around.”

Having flooded on Friday lunchtime, Torsten managed to be back on RRC premises on Sunday morning to return the boat back to the boathouse, relieved that any serious further damage had been prevented.

Currently, the club is undergoing post-flood refurbishment to bounce back. A review of insurance policy after previous floods saw their excess bumped up to £20,000 to help the process. The club is working with builders to make the clubhouse more resilient to avoid having to make further insurance claims.

Over the past year, the addition of shower blocks and toilet trailers has allowed Ross to welcome campers and keep a much-needed income for the club. Further development of these camping facilities are very much part of the club’s strategy.

Optimism has become a driving factor for Torsten and his team who, despite enduring floods over and over again, keep looking to the club’s future.

“Eventually, we’re going to come out of this brilliantly,” Torsten said, picturing RRC with all developments complete. “It’s going to be absolutely fantastic. We’re going to have, in effect, a new club!”

Runcorn Rowing Club

Earlier this month, on the River Weaver in Cheshire, “exceptionally high river levels” were registered by The Environment Agency. For clubs such as Runcorn Rowing Club (RRC), the Weaver’s ability to flood had caused problems before.

After seeing a couple of photos taken by a member this month, Club Captain George Perrin said: “At first you think, look at all that water! Then you think, hang on, is it serious?”

“Northwich member, Dave Street, gave me a call and said the police had asked to borrow the launches”

A quick decision saw the boats safely moved to a compound and locked up. As a result, George thinks the majority of the damage will relate to mud and silt, although a full check won’t be possible until the premises open fully after lockdown.

“We reckon the drains at Northwich overflowed and that there will be foul sewage rather than just river silt,” George said. “We’ve treated it as such anyway, wearing gloves and protective gear with the cleaning we’ve been able to do so far.”

Not the only ones affected, The Press Association reported over 400 flooded homes in the area after Storm Christoph, with Runcorn rowers aiding the community effort by lending their launch to emergency services.

“Northwich member, Dave Street, gave me a call and said the police had asked to borrow the launches,” George said. “We said yes, of course.”

The flooding setback for RRC comes as they launch plans to build a two million pound community facility. Submitting the planning application in the coming days, the club has launched a crowdfunder online, which you can support here.

“We’ve decided to go large,” George added. “Achieving it is like winning a gold medal, but you’ve got to set your sights high. It’s specific, timely and achievable – it’s going to be a terrific endeavour. It could be something really special!”

Bewdley Rowing Club

Bewdley Rowing Club (BRC) sits on the River Severn and is familiar to flooding problems. Last year temporary barriers “over-toppled”, as Kat Carlyle recalled. This year, they collapsed completely.

Living a few minutes from the boathouse, Kat has become the club’s port of call when the river rises. Earlier this month, water levels reached a worrying 5.4 metres, putting the club at risk of flooding once again.

“Luckily, all the boats we’ve looked at seem okay, even though they were all submerged,” Kat said. “We had a bit of forewarning that it was coming, so a couple of members managed to prevent anything floating away. So, everything is going to be ‘damaged’ with flood water, rather than physically broken we hope.”

Access was affected more than anything, although because the club is closed [due to lockdown], it’s not really been a problem – last year it was a huge issue.”

Lockdown, although frustrating for members, may also favour the club in its recovery from flooding. “The way the boathouse is, although it was flooded, it’s probably better off drying out and then being brushed out – rather than getting it all wet again,” Kat said.

Being so close to the river, Kat also found herself left stranded due to the flooding.

“The barriers collapsed right outside my house,” she added. “We were stuck in from Friday evening until Monday lunchtime… not that you can go anywhere at the minute anyway!”

Maidenhead Rowing Club

Clubs on the River Thames have also been affected by flooding. Jim Hotchin, coach at Maidenhead Rowing Club, estimated that the river was at its highest for at least 10 years with water just inches from the boathouse doors.

He said: “All have been on standby to move boats from the floor-level racks, inside the clubhouse, onto trailers in the car park, in the event that water levels came any higher!

“This level is largely due to repairs to the Jubilee Flood Relief Channel further downstream. Fortunately, the amount going down the Jubilee has now increased, reducing the flow through the Maidenhead stretch.

Club members who live nearby have been keeping an eye on the place during lockdown, making sure all is safe with regular daily visits and updates on the flow in the Thames.

Jim said: “The only issues we have seen are a launch belonging to Claires Court School sinking. Coaches from the school managed to get the boat out and drain it. After some attention from a local engineer, the engine fired up okay!

“The mooring lines of one of our RS Cats came adrift one evening, spotted by an eagle-eyed member cycling past. Fortunately, the security cable attached to the stern of the boat kept us from disaster! Again, the locals came to the rescue and armed with rope, wellies, buoyancy aids and torches managed to recover the boat and get it securely tied up.”

Reflecting on the last fortnight, he added: “We have been incredibly fortunate compared to a number of clubs who have water in their boathouses.”

If your club has been hit by floods or needs support then please let us know by contacting our club support team here. You might also find this article with funding advice helpful. 

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