Fuel in Scooby…Ignore

That’s it, all set for another pilgrimage to the soggy North where men are men and sheep are free. What could possibly go wrong? The forecast was good, the journey up the M6 relatively uneventful, the locals as pleased as ever to see us, fish and chips successfully purchased, and most tents pitched before dark. All the lessons learned from camping in previous years had obviously been worthwhile. First prize for arriving in style this year must go to Andrea, walking onto the campsite with nothing more than a small suitcase, a Tesco bag, and a device for warding off inquisitive Bears, (which is apparently essential in the Colonies). Skinner was all set to proudly show off his new upmarket Camper Van with all mod cons but a very rare thing happened, namely Skinner being lost for words, due to the arrival of an even bigger mobile gin palace driven by Vic and probably needing planning permission. As a bonus, and a sure sign that Club Captain is going soft now he is a married man, we were all awarded the luxury of a late start on the Saturday morning, with boat rigging at 8am rather than the seemingly customary 6am.

Did I say ‘rigging’ at 8am? Perhaps that is a misnomer, because in order to rig a boat you need to have some riggers. Now, I’m by no means suggesting that in the area of technical matters involving nuts and bolts the female of the species is anything less than equally competent as the male, but on this particular occasion the ladies of the club seemed to be having difficulty in assembling ‘Dame Janet’, primarily due to the total absence of any riggers. It was not that they had been lost enroute, it was just that they had been tidied away ever so neatly in the boathouse and therefore not put on the trailer in the first place! (No names, no pack drill…..)

It is a credit to the club that this unfortunate discovery was met with typical stoicism, since we are now highly experienced at dealing with schoolboy rigging errors, and even when all the equipment is complete the Captain no longer rises to ‘wind ups’ if you suggest the seats etc have been forgotten. There was also a noticeable lack of sniggering from the men until they had successfully constructed their own Eight and confirmed that the centre joining bolts were actually in the toolkit rather than back at Loughborough.

Various alternative proposals were thereby considered, including using the shell as a dragon boat, or returning to collect the riggers; unfortunately (unlike in previous years) the omission had not been discovered until after everyone had completed their journey to Coniston. Sadly, it was a much reduced fleet that put to sea, with Vic leading her landlocked crew on a jolly hike up the ‘Old Man’ instead.
Not that they missed much: one unfortunate effect of having warm dry weather was the southerly wind that produced it, resulting in a stiff swell quickly building up along the length of the lake and making any serious effort to row or to coach all but useless. Eighteen kilometers and more than two hours later, a somewhat muted group of oarsmen waded ashore, glad to get out of the stiff breeze and the fearsome ‘encouragement’ from Senior Coxwain Hepworth, who (quite rightly) was taking no prisoners that day! A state of shock was also apparent; had we really heard Charlie correctly when he said Nick and Skinner had good technique?!

Rowing in the afternoon was also looking doubtful, and it was hoped the wind might drop a little in the evening, so a pleasant lunchtime was spent by all with time to sit and chat in the sun, listening to the comforting sizzle of the barbecue (or was that actually Ginger Dave’s skin just starting to fry?) Our newest honorary member ‘Baby Chas’ was also passed around by proud father Coach Charlie, amidst much cooing from the ladies alongside debate as to whether a 3 month old could act as a cox tomorrow. But the problem still remained of how were the ladies to row as an eight, which was of course the very reason for the training camp. Not to worry, a plan was hatched using all the usual cunning of the female mind to ensnare a poor defenceless man into meeting their every need: cue Sandra’s ‘friend’ Tim, who had probably just settled down for a weekend of peace and quiet watching the FA Cup final with a few close male friends and a couple of beers, but who suddenly found himself on the end of one of those phonecalls in which the word ‘reply’ does not contain the letters N.O.! But Chivalry, True Love and (more probably) Fear of what Sandra would do to him if he said no, leapt to the fore so before he had time to think poor old Tim found himself being guided by phone into how to enter the Loughborough boathouse via numerous security devices and search for hidden objects (you know, just like on ‘the Crystal Maze’) before leaping onto his white stallion and riding 180 miles to deliver the goods to his damsel in distress (not to mention the eight other ladies who were visibly going weak at the knees). Job done, and with a pressing need to return to Loughborough ostensibly to look after an elderly hound but actually to avoid the clutches of so many ladies crowing ‘oooh young man…’ he turned and was gone in a flash. Thanks Tim, it was genuinely appreciated by everyone, and you need never know that the weather was too rough to go rowing that evening anyway so it was all in vain………

Of course not everyone just sat around lazily for the rest of the day: for Andrea and Dave it was an opportunity to continue on their earlier two outings in a double by cycling uphill and taking various other strenuous exercises for the remainder of the afternoon, (please be gentle with him, Andrea!) but even this paled into insignificance compared to Vic’s partner Andrew who had spent the day cycling (literally) round the Lake District clocking up 140 miles in spite of the strong winds. I guess that’s what it takes to avoid being press-ganged into coxing the Masters Eight, whose normal cox Mike had cunningly found an excuse to miss the training camp by arranging a beery weekend in Holland under the pretext of ‘work’! (Funny how that seems to happen every year…). At least Mike graciously volunteered Jen to cook supper for 40 at the Sailing Club in the evening, which with Sandra as a superb joint Chef made for a wonderful meal and so we pretended not even to notice that the garlic bread was, shall we say, ‘crispy’! Thanks to everyone (and there were many) who helped with preparing, cooking, and washing up.

Sunday morning saw an earlier start, hopefully to take advantage of smoother water before the wind got up, but it brought the usual problems associated with this type of rowing: what to do with all the liquid that had been consumed the night before when you are stuck at the top end of the lake! Club Captain took the lead by leaping ashore and doing the decent thing behind a tree, Jerry was able to use his incredible flexibility to span the 12 inches between seat and gunwale (measure the boat if you don’t believe), but unfortunately Jen was deceived by the clarity of water and in her own haste to reach dry land (on instruction once again by Gill ‘The Drowner’ Hepworth) she jumped out into a depth of 4 feet whilst forgetting that her legs are not quite that long when she is not wearing stilettos. Sadly, a soggy outcome was inevitable but relief was apparent!

All too soon, time to pack up and join the traffic jam heading South, but not before Vicky had shown us how easy it is to be masterful with a goat, and Nick had repaired the puncture to his very expensive tyres on his very expensive car (this time it wasn’t a screwdriver, but it may have been a tent peg wielded by a camper suffering from an extreme case of B&B envy). With all the ‘canoes’ (£1 launch fee) loaded back on to the trailer, it was just a question of saying goodbye to this beautiful part of the world and hoping for calm water next year. Now, why is it that no other Clubs go to Coniston for their training camps…..? One thing is for sure: they are missing out on something special – and that’s even without any rowing!

Thanks are also due to Stewart for driving the launch, and to everyone else who helped organise or participate in the weekend – sorry if you didn’t get a mention, you obviously kept your misdemeanours out of public view!