They call it the Nutters Head for a reason. The Championship Course is tough enough in an eight but covering the 4.25 miles from Mortlake to Putney in a single is a special kind of torture.

Still, over 500 people have entered for this year’s Vesta Scullers Head and a good number are likely to actually brave the grotty conditions, despite a stream running so quickly that getting up to the start could well take an hour or more. 

Leading names include Australian Olympian Pete Hardcastle – now head coach at London RC – going off first and Westminster schoolboy Sam Meijer (not his evil twin brother Seb, who got a mention in early versions of the last Rowlup) bidding to continue the form that extended to him winning the first set of GB junior trials last weekend. Wingfields winner Tim Richards and GB’s Olympic spare Adam Freeman-Pask – both lightweights – are among the new entries.

Among the women, GB lightweight Brianna Stubbs will be one to watch among the new entries, although the top of the field is not very deep. As Vesta RC chairman Chris Harrison pointed out, just two of the top 25 female finishers from the first set of GB senior trials (which don’t even include current squad members) will take part.

The Scullers Head was moved from April to December 12 years ago in order to allow GB squad members to race. Appearances have been exceptions rather than the rule, though. The squads are both currently on training camps abroad – heavy men at altitude in Sierra Nevada; women and lightweights on a cycling camp in Mallorca – but even the next tier don’t seem to be getting involved. 

If you’re a decent sculler who isn’t racing, why not? Is it at the wrong time of year? Does it clash with your other training commitments? Is it just too darned long and nasty? Use the comment section below or tweet using the hashtag #TheRowlup

Tideway yellow flag conditions (of which more shortly) could see the field cut down, and the Scullers Head said in a statement on Wednesday: “If you feel the river conditions or indeed the weather will be beyond your ability as a sculler, please email [us] ... to withdraw and a full refund will be given.” 

One group hoping for a green flag are the six Para-rowers, competing in a class included in a major head race in the UK for the first time. I had a chance recently to chat to Claire Connon, who is hoping to go off 556, racing in the trunk-and-arms category, having lobbied several major events to up their game on inclusion of rowers with disabilities. She and her rivals also missed out when the British Rowing Championships were hit by bad weather last month.


Wingfields winners

While we’re still on sculling, this year’s Wingfield Sculls - for the Amateur Championship of the Thames and Great Britain – were of a slightly lower key than usual but both winners did so in dominant fashion. Mel Wilson took the women’s title a week before beating her former doubles partner Katherine Grainger in the first set of GB trials, then another Imperial sculler, Tim Richards, won the men’s race.

There is an excellent photo report on the Hear the Boat Sing website.


GB rowers do it indoors

One place you will be able to see the GB squad this year is at the relaunched British Rowing Indoor Championships. Entries to the 8 February event in the Olympic Velodrome opened this week, heralding the first time in a generation that many of the national team have done their erging in public. 

We’re guessing this video is from 2001, when a fresh-faced Matthew Pinsent came from behind to pip James Cracknell by 0.1 seconds - the smallest ever margin of victory – in a time of 5:47.5. 

Meanwhile wild rumour has it that Stan Louloudis of the GB eight hit a score of 14:54 for 5k on a dynamic Concept 2 whilst training with Oxford. The official world record for the distance is 14:58.3, set on a static erg by New Zealand’s Rob Waddell in 2008.

Perhaps that will give his GB buddies in Sierra Nevada something to focus on. It can be easy to go a little doolally at altitude.


Tideway flies the flag

The days of clubs tearing down to the Tideway when their own stretches were on red boards look to be over. No sooner had the upriver Environment Agency raised their caution levels because of increased flow than the Port of London Authority did the same, advising “Beginners, Novices, Younger Junior (J15's and younger), or Any weaker crews, and those that do not usually navigate on the tidal section of the river Thames not to go afloat on the Ebb Tide.” 

The Tideway flag system was only brought in last February, after a series of accidents in very strong stream. After lobbying from the Thames Regional Rowing Council, PLA rules have been softened slightly this winter to preclude only younger juniors from boating on yellow. Last year, recent winners of novice pots were officially allowed to take to the water while some of the best crews in the country were stopped because they were juniors.

There are also suggestions – so far not officially published – that the TRRC’s penalty points system will be more rigorously enforced in the near future. For example, you may be punished for steering off course onto the wrong side of the river, whether into the path of an on-coming boat or not. If you have views, please let us hear them.


State of flux 

What's this? State schools suggesting they can beat their older and richer rivals at Henley Royal Regatta? Mossbourne Academy in Hackney have just that aim and have been making plenty of noise about it, inviting applications for extra places based on pupils’ potential to become elite rowers

Rowing in state schools is nothing new. The Windsor Boys School has the highest profile, having at one point won the Fawley Challenge Cup for junior quads at Henley five successive times from 1994-98.

One member of the state school rowing fraternity is under particular threat at the moment, though: Tiffin School in Kingston may decide to drop the sport in a few months' time when the board of governors meet to decide on budget cuts. The school boat club have outlined in a document online just how important the sport is for many of its pupils, and have received lots of support too.


Bumper birthday

Best way to celebrate your 50th birthday? How about getting 17 of your closest friends together for a paddle? It must be even more fun if between them your friends boast 114 Olympic or World Championship appearances, and 50 Olympic or Worlds medals between them (H/T David Biddulph).  






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