Sidmouth Gig Club makes Cornish bow

THE last flush of summer saw Sidmouth’s rowing gig Alma leave the valley to make her debut on the Cornish Pilot Gig scene.

Ladies rowing Captain Lynn Bagwell and her eager crew of 4 men and 2 ladies, handpicked for their brawn and beauty, made the long trek to the picturesque Helford estuary to compete in the renowned Head of the River race, writes James Hutchings.

The race runs from the mouth of the river near Durgan and follows the meandering course to Gweek, passing by tree lined banks and quiet tributaries epitomised by Daphne Du Maurier in her novel.

There was an air of excitement and apprehension as the crew assembled on the small sandy beach at Helford passage, already packed full with colourful gigs and crews from all over Cornwall and beyond.

A race of four and a half miles would be by far and away the longest row that anyone from Sidmouth had undertaken, so it was a step into the unknown regarding stamina and pacing.

A lively atmosphere prevailed as the several hundred competitors and supporters awaited the launch. Crews started at intervals based on a predetermined handicap, intended to enable teams to cross the finish on mass.

Unfortunately, an unavoidable delay saw Alma late on the water and catch up was the order of the day from the start. Cox James Hutchings first task was to curb the enthusiasm of the crew who set off with great gusto in pursuit of the opposition.

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Initially rowing into a gusty wind and sea, the gig really started to shift as she crossed the start line and headed upstream. Ruth Pearson set a steady but challenging rate at Stroke which was ably matched by Paul Beerling at 5.

Early smiles were gradually replaced with steely determination and beads of sweat as the Cox consulted the chart and confirmed the half way point some 20 minutes into the race.

By this stage the opposition were fast disappearing round the bends in the river but far from losing heart Alma’s crew dug deep into their previously untapped reserves, Neil Ryder and Andy Vanstone led by example bending to their oars in the powerhouse positions at 3 and 4.

As the river twisted and shallowed in the headwaters it also became a race against the tide, the priority being to reach the finish before it dried out to mud. The closing 20 minutes flashed by as aches and blisters were suppressed and the crew sensed the finish.

Lynn Bagwell and Simon Greenslade in the bow lifted the spirits with a final witty quip and a last hefty catch saw Alma surge across the line. After reciprocating the traditional cheer with the opposition, the crew drew much needed breath and reflected on a deep sense of achievement.

Following a short wait Alma came ashore and, with the aid of a highly organised Helford gig club, was soon delivered to the club house. The host’s hospitality was superb and Sidmouth were made very welcome gaining many new acquaintances at the prize giving.

The winning gig from Falmouth completed the course in 33 minutes and Alma’s crew achieved a creditable time of 43 minutes. Putting the distance into perspective this was equivalent to rowing from Sidmouth to Beer Head without resting.

Finally thanks to Lynn Bagwell for organising the crew and towing Alma to Cornwall for what hopefully will become a regular event in the Sidmouth Gig Club calendar.

The Gig Club is always keen to welcome new members and currently meet at the Port Royal Club on Friday evenings for a 7.30pm social and Sunday mornings at 10am for rowing, weather permitting.

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