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Blacker Bulletin

February 28, 2010 in John Blacker Society

The Rowing Year so Far
Jack Devlin, President

I was once told by a coach that what he most wanted in a rower was enthusiasm, with this anything was possible. If he was right, then the men’s and women’s squads look set to do very well this year. Last term’s training was intense, and now we are two days away from the start of Torpids: the whole boat club is full of anticipation and excitement – not least to see how the weather and river conditions will impact on chances of the races going ahead.

Last term was marked by novice training, and the boat club’s newest members surprised us all by their keenness, arranging extra sessions for themselves, subbing into the senior boat outings and pushing themselves hard during painful ergos. Much of the credit for this must go to the captains, vice captains and coaches, in particular the men’s captain Eddie Jacobs, who set a tremendous example for the novices to follow, and created an highly effective training programme.

Sadly, Christchurch regatta was once again cancelled after the first day, denying the novices the chance to show quite how good they were. The first day results boded well, Balliol men’s A beating Keble C, Balliol men’s B beating Pembroke A in a nail-biting finish and Balliol men’s C loosing narrowly to Jesus B. On the women’s side, Balliol A beat St John’s A and Balliol B being unable to race because of failing light. It seems however that both sides of the boat club have remembered the positive aspects of Michaelmas term’s rowing, and have channelled the frustration of the denied races into training for Torpids, where all crews look to do well if given the opportunity to race.

Both the men’s and women’s squads have worked hard both in Michaelmas and Hilary to keep up their own levels of enthusiasm and laid the foundations for a strong performance in the summer. For the women’s squad, the thought of headship in summer eights, just a single tantalising bump away, has acted as a strong motivation, but no one is complacent about the work still needs to be done. In particular, it has been important to add novice and less experienced rowers to the core of experienced athletes this term. Similarly, the men’s top boat has also shown a promising beginnings. Under the capable command of Alan Sinclair, our new coach, our fitness has increased and the technical basics have become well established. We now need test our strength during Torpids and see what we can accomplish.

We hope that everyone will follow along with our Torpids accomplishments this week, either via our website, or from the bank of the River!

In Pursuit of Headship
Elizabeth Mumford, Women’s Captain

After my first term as BCWBC captain I found myself both physically and mentally exhausted, but overall really pleased with the progress that the girls made in Michaelmas. Despite some early setbacks then I think all would agree that last term has laid some strong foundations for our Headship campaign next summer, and that we have been able to build confidently on this experience this term.

After a strong recruitment drive for new rowers at the start of Michaelmas we easily filled two novice boats. The girls were all dedicated and enthusiastic which made them a pleasure to work with. Unfortunately a large number of the squad were hit by ‘Swine ‘09’, considerably depleting numbers at the gym and the river. I would especially like to thank Joanna Williamson, Katie Jones and both the Vice Captains for keeping things going whilst I was bed-bound. Thankfully after the initial wave of illness we were all able to return to training with renewed vigour to catch up on lost time and retain our reputation of one of the strongest novice colleges.

In 6th week of that term we entered both novice crews and a senior boat into Nephthys Head and Regatta, organised by OULRC. It came as no surprise that Balliol were the proud winners of the trophy for best overall performance (beating the closest college, Exeter, by 6 points), confirming that all our hard work training had been worthwhile. The women’s novice A boat came 2nd in the head race and reached the quarter finals of the regatta, showing great promise for Christchurch Regatta in 7th week while he B boat managed to beat an A boat from another college in the Head race even though several of its members has already raced that day. The women’s senior boat also did well; despite a disappointingly low turn out of competitors we were still proud by the extent to which we won the regatta (several lengths over a very short course). This was helped along, I’m sure, by our cox Alice’s call to imagine ourselves at the Head of the River on the last day of Summer VIIIs. In Christchurch Regatta a week later, the A boat beat St Johns easily in their first race, but the Regatta was cancelled later that day, denying them the chance to race again, and sadly, denying the B’s the opportunity to test their strength at all. However, we remain confident that both crews could have easily defeated many others we saw on the river, and on the whole it was a strengthening experience. Needless to say we all thoroughly enjoyed Christchurch Dinner held after the last day of the planned regatta in honour of our newest members.

Special thanks for Michaelmas term must be directed towards the two vice captains, Kirsty Duffy and Anja Hayen, without whom the novice training programme would not have existed. With the foundation they laid together with coach Christina Schönbach, the novice squad was the strongest and most technical the college has seen for many years, and it has been wonderful to be joined in the First Women’s Torpid by a few of the strongest and keenest of them, coached again this year by Nick Bevan. Both the first and second Torpid have been training very hard this term – the usual early-Hilary river conditions have forced us into the gym to attain ever-higher fitness levels. Thanks to techniques learnt at a GB rowing workshop attended in Michaelmas (led by GB Olympic coach, Steve Gunn), the time has been well spent, and everyone was delighted to see the results when we once again were on the river in fourth week. Having had only three outings, the Firsts competed in Bedford Head Race on February 14th, performing very well in spite of the lack of water time, and the whole crew is now incredibly excited to do even better in Torpids. Similarly, the seconds – coached by Chris Cooper – have been putting in the time and effort of many first boats, and look well placed to do strongly this week where they are in position to become the top second boat on the river. We cannot wait to test our strength as a club come Torpids, when we’ll also be joined by a Third women’s boat, consisting largely of older rowers who have not been able to do consistent training this term – we expect to once again come top of the Bumps charts and to use the experience as good practice for Summer Eights!

This rowing year has also offered us another fun and exhilarating experience, when on the 21st of November six of the first ever women’s 1st VIII and their cox returned to the boathouse as part of the celebrations for 30 years of women at Balliol. The rowers were Rebecca Hardy, Cressida Dick, Catherine Milsum, Margaret Quinn, Jane Edmondson and Susan Harnett. Debbie, the cox, was bank-riding. I’m told that many of them were worried that they would have forgotten how to row and there was much talk of us capsizing the boat. Within the first few strokes, however, it was clear that their rowing technique had survived the test of time and certainly made myself and the other senior girl in the boat sit up and pay extra attention to our technique for fear of being shown up! I think it’s fair to say that both current and slightly older rowers had a lovely time, and over champagne in the boathouse afterwards we compared notes on how rowing at Balliol had changed. It was almost inconceivable for us current rowers to imagine life without the ergo rowing machine, although it’s clear that all the extra water time before river restrictions made for a more technical crew – it also transpired that one thing that hasn’t changed is BCWBC’s tradition of winning multiple blades. There was also much talk of trying to recreate the ‘vintage’ BCBC kit! Thank you to Anna Lewis for organising the morning and here’s to the next 30 years of women’s rowing at Balliol: we hope to organize a similar even in Trinity, when more former BCWBC rowers return.

The club is also proud to keep up our tradition of supporting the University squads: as of September, Nehaal Bajwa has been trialling with OUWLRC, while both Jo Williamson and Christina Schönbach have returned to OUWBC this term to compete in another. They are all looking well-placed for Henley, and I will keep you posted on their progress!

New Days of Great Promise
Edward Jacobs, Men’s Captain

This year’s new blood is not to be underestimated. This is a lesson I was taught time and time again by the men’s novices in Michaelmas term. With more keen oarsmen than seats available at Christchurch Regatta, across the squad we witnessed the kind of determination that is essential to any blade-winning crew.
Under the auspices of Rob Ryan, the top two crews, ‘Red’ and ‘Blue’ used each outing as a chance to prove themselves the faster over 750m , and organising extra afternoon outings in IVs and VIIIs with the hopes of claiming the title ‘A Boat’ for Christchurch. We found that this competitiveness has inspired some spectacular performances across the club, and places us well for the entire year. While the novice land-training programme was run on a voluntary basis during Michaelmas, it would have been hard for an outsider to tell: every week I introduced another circuits or erg session; every week there were some asking for more! The most promising newcomers were taken to Wallingford to see how the senior crew train, and I am pleased to say that many have joined the top boat for Torpids.

While the Red, Blue, and Green crews were all ultimately robbed of the chance to prove themselves at Christchurch, the overall Michaelmas experience seems to have spurred many on to continuing training in earnest this term, and we have been able to enter four men’s crews for Torpids, and cannot wait to see what they can do.

The senior squad did not get the gentle Michaelmas term they might have expected and have the top boat has certainly had to work hard this term. My call for a coach to help us back to the Head of the River was answered by Alan Sinclair of Leander, six year crewmate of previous coach Colin Williamson and formerly Head Coach at Pembroke. Such prizes as the Headship do not come easily though, and our training has been as intense as in any Trinity term. Those of us who let our fitness drop over the summer holidays had plenty of time to think about our errors as we slowly but surely clawed it back through hours of hard ergs, runs, and circuit sessions, and the mistake was not repeated over Christmas, and we are well-posed to bump confidently in this week’s races.

My Friend Trevor

February 27, 2010 in John Blacker Society, Web Officer's Blog

The Trevor Gallaher

Victor Christou naming the Trevor Gallaher

In his will the late Trevor Gallaher (1947), who died in 2001, left over £14,000 towards the purchase of a new boat for the Men’s 1st VIII. A boat was ordered from the world class German boat makers Empacher in early summer 2003 to replace the eight year old Aylings ‘King Olav.’

‘Trevor’s’ first foray into Oxford rowing, wasn’t all that successful. The 2003 1st VIII were bumped on four consecutive days to end up ninth in Division 1. After a brief retirement for Torpids 2004, the boat was used full time for both training and racing by the 1st VIII from Eights 2005 until Torpids 2009. During this period Trevor was bumped only once more in the Torpids of 2009 and chalked up a magnificent 23 bumps in total.
I joined Balliol in 2003, having never rowed before. After an initial year in the 2nd VIII, I found myself slung into the 1st VIII at six (behind a US Navy Lightweight and a St. Paul’s school boy) for Torpids 2005. That term was the term where I learnt to row and the term where the Trevor Gallaher saw its first real success. We achieved blades, moving up five places and bumping within 30 seconds on three of the days.

The next four two years saw steady success for the Trevor Gallaher. Two bumps in VIIIs 2005, three in Torpids 2006 (very nearly four) and one in VIIIs 2006. My most lasting memory of those two years was our bump that never was against Pembroke, right outside their boathouse in VIIIs 2006.

Bump On Pembroke

The bump that never was.

The following year was a more sedate affair. Most of our top oarsmen had left or otherwise decided not to row, Torpids was cancelled and so we headed into Summer VIIIs 2007 with probably the least experienced, and race prepared crew, I have ever rowed in. However, we held our own and more, thanks to a big Australian and a German with a penchant for snapping oars. After a nervy first day it turned out that we weren’t in fact that bad! We came very close to bumping Pembroke on all of the following three days. Despite the lack of any bumps, everyone in the VIII felt that we had overcome the odds in a boat that was clearly capable of more.

And then came 2008, almost certainly the Trevor Gallaher’s most successful year. We headed into Torpids with the usual nerves but in the knowledge that we had a strong crew. We ended the week, having rowed five times, moving up seven places and into Division 1. The crew was strengthened further for Summer VIIIs with the return of two lightweights from the University squad. I won’t dwell on the events of that week; suffice to say it wouldn’t have been possible with our now trustworthy boat.

Henley Royal Regatta 2008

The Trevor Gallaher at Henley Royal Regatta 2008

As well as success in bumps, the Trevor Gallaher has brought the boatclub other successes. It has competed in the Eights Head of the River, finishing ~150th, won at numerous regattas including Chiswick, Bedford and Marlow, and reached the second day of Henley Royal Regatta.
In summer 2009, the Trevor Gallaher was replaced as the men’s newest boat by the generous gift of the ‘Beeland Rogers’ from Jim Rogers. The new boat is also an Empacher and has already seen success, sadly not in Oxford competitions as yet however.

This year has seen a new look to the men’s boat club; an exodus of experienced and talented rowers and an influx of novices. This has naturally led to the question of what to do with the two high quality boats we have in our possession: do you trust novices to row in a boat which is such a valuable asset?

I remember back to those miserable early morning outings in my first year, rowing in a boat that creaked and groaned and felt like it would fall apart with every stroke (and sometimes did). This year’s 2nd VIII have no such worries. They are now rowing in the Trevor Gallaher, coached by me. After so many happy memories inside the boat it is refreshing to take an outside view with a new generation of Balliol rowers. I don’t know if I’m worse at rowing or coaching (hopefully the former) but I trust that the Trevor Gallaher will bring the 2nd VIII as much success as it has previously the 1st VIII.

Chris Wright (2003)

On the way to Headship

Coming past the boathouses on Saturday of VIIIs 2008

Facebook Integration

February 3, 2010 in Web Officer's Blog

I’ve started to do a bit of Facebook integration with the website. The galleries now contain all the photo albums posted on the Balliol College boat Club fan page. This makes it incredibly easy now for anyone with a Facebook account to share upload photos and for them to appear here.

I’m still working on some other features, but it’s all a bit experimental for now.