The RAF made it 3 back-to-back Inter Services Sprint victories in front of a peer group of all the top Sprint Clubs in the Country during the National Regatta in Nottingham. The day before, 5 newcomers to the RAF team battled hard with the seasoned veterans of RAFCA over gruelling courses of 6 and 12 miles involving a mass start sprint, portages (running with a kayak), miles of tactical racing and the inevitable sprint to the finish line. Despite individual victories by Sgt Dave Duff and SAC Lenny Clark in the men’s doubles event and Gp Capt Clare Sharp in the ladies singles, the Army won by the narrowest of margins.
Saturday morning saw the start of 2 days of sprinting over distances ranging from 200m to 1000m in single, doubles and 4 man kayaks. Compared with the marathon, the distances are short, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Here’s a personal account of what it feels like as a paddler.
Looking down the regatta course you can barely see the finishing line on a 1000m sprint. The starter calls forward the competitors into the start buckets and the apprehension builds. Across the loudspeaker the starter gives the ‘ready’ call and within seconds the buckets drop and all 9 lanes erupt in a maelstrom of water spray as we attempt to accelerate our kayaks off the line as quickly as possible. Within 100m everyone is trying to reduce their stroke rate to pull ‘long and hard’. The 750m marker comes up and you question whether you have set the right pace. 500m comes and you now begin to wonder who is going to break first; you’re feeling it might be you. Those that have gone off to quickly start to crack, you sense vulnerability but stick to your game plan. 250m to go, 1 minute of pain remaining. Your lungs are bursting, lactic is building in your muscles and your mouth feels like the Gobi dessert. 100m left and you are praying that you can sustain that last burst of energy that will get you over the line. And then it is all over, you nearly fall out of the boat with the weight of exertion.
Each of the male competitors is only allowed to race twice on each day of competition, which means that you need around 12 good paddlers for the team. For the ladies it’s tougher. They can compete in each event which means they get to race 3 times each day, or occasionally if the regatta programme dictates they may be lucky enough to do 4 races in a single day! Again the newcomers joined ranks with the stalwarts of the team and as the weekend progressed everyone paddled above and beyond expectation. Individual victories kept coming, backed up by consistent performances across the team. Gp Capt Clare Sharp’s months of training brought victory in the individual 200m and 500m events and she teamed up with Plt Off Ellie Walker to take the 500m doubles title. Sqn Ldr Sarah Richter and Sgt Karen Martin joined them in the K4 to take the 200m victory. In the men’s racing the team captain, Sgt Dave Duff, took both the 1000m and 500m singles titles, a feat he hasn’t achieved for several years. Sgt Jason Smith and SAC John Astbury teamed up to also take the doubles 1000m victory; Astbury’s first major title in Inter Service competition.
Overall the immense team effort saw the RAF take a comfortable victory over the Army with a 21 point margin and the RN in third place. As ever, the organisational team at the Nottingham Regatta were fantastic and all of the 3 Services remain enormously grateful for the opportunity to hold the competition on such a prestigious stage.