Gentlemen, ladies and Amateurs of the rowing world i feel that it is time to return to my previous musings on Pothunting. Everyone who has spent a little time in competitive rowing understands more or less what a Pothunt is, but it is time to clarify, to subdivide, to praise, and where necessary, to condemn, the practise of the Pothunter.
Based on many years of careful research I have subdivided Pothunting into three categories. Two noble and one, less than noble.
The Consolation Pothunt
The Consolation Pothunt is one of the more important reasons that British rowing is the thriving, enthusiastic, amateur sport that it is. Any threat to the Consolation Pothunt must be treated as a threat to rowing in Great Britain itself. The CP starts as soon a Henley Royal Regatta closes its doors, and for many it starts nine days earlier as the results of Qualifiers are posted, condemning an ever greater number of rowers to the disappointment striving and sweating for a year only to be denied entry, yet again to the Royal Regatta. At this point, and until the first, slowly shortening days of September rowing and racing becomes fun again. Even the most serious rowers can go somewhere that is not a 2k rowing ditch or the Henley Reach. People now get to race for the sheer joy of competition, and the clattering chaos of pushing a boat through the water.
The Consolation Pothunt allows every rower, regardless of the the success of their May to June campaign, to chase, and often achieve, victory. It removes the sting of disappointment that comes from being brutalized by schoolboys at Wallingford, or trounced by Amazonian freshers at Holme Pierrepont. The CP lets the glorious, imperfect amateurs of the British rowing community believe that they can be great, that with just a bit more training, with a few lineup changes, that next year will be different, that victory on the greatest stages is within their reach*. And the truth is, for some, it may well be. For others the spark of joy from beating the oppo off the line at Peterborough, or steering a perfect line past the reeds of St Neots, or surviving the wake of a passing gin palace at Henley T&V, keeps them in the sport and away from the siren call of Crossfit, Parkrun** or Triathlon***.
And these experiences all pale into comparison compared to those rowers blessed enough to chase one another, from one regatta to the next, up and down the glorious colours, shades and water found amongst the bends and straights of the Severn and Avon Rivers. Hereford, Bridgnorth, Ironbridge, Bewdley, SUponA, and Bristol Avon have all shown that the finest days, and the best racing can usually be found at the smallest, and prettiest of venues.
This is the Consolation Pothunt, this is where the boys from the engine room daintily pick their way to victory in the pair, and the girls from the eight, famed for their dressage rowing, thug their way down the river in a clatter’n’bang coxed four. This is the Consolation Pothunt and it is the heart and soul of club rowing in this country.
*it has been argued by some less than kinds souls that all of Masters Rowing is a Consolation Pothunt. They are probably right, and it is no less fun for it.
** in the same way that some have suggested it is okay to “punch a nazi” in a preemptive act of self defense, I feel it is entirely fair to guide your dog (possibly even your child) to defecate on Parkrun routes if they happen to pass within the view of your club’s rowing route. Parkrun will steal your rowers, and everything must be done to discourage them.
***like Parkrun, only for people with more money than aerobic capacity. Triathlon is the enemy of rowing club membership secretaries everywhere.
The Shameless Pothunt
There are those who can quite rightly be described as national rowing treasures. Broad of shoulder, deep of lung and strong of thigh, they have inspired us all with their indefatigable nature and their feats of power, endurance and skill. And, thanks to various oddities of both the historical and current points and scoring systems, despite their Olympic gongs, they can turn up and race mere mortals such as you and I. Their victory is almost certain, but everyone is happy enough to let them play, sometimes in pursuit of their first ever win in a sculling boat outside of national trials (step forward Mr G. Searle and his magnificent demolition of the field in Senior 1x at Henley Town and Vistors in 1994. Recently the Almighty Cracknell has been seen beating eights at The Boston Marathon).
Currently the bigger Masters races, particularly Vet’s Head are favored locations for the old warhorses to come out and stamp their hooves and shake their thinning manes. Yes, they may be robbing victory from a group of hardy amateurs, and yes, a purist such as myself cringes at the sight of lifelong Leander and Cambridge men squeezing their increasingly generously proportioned frames into Molsey or Tideway lycra, but these appearances breath life into such events, and allow a standard to be set so that mortals can aim their ambitions higher.
The Shameless Pothunt gives us all belief in the level playing field of this sport. All rivers are one river eventually, and we all row the same water, no matter how well.
The Shameful Pothunt
If I am honest the Shameful Pothunt is the dark and rotting heart of this otherwise joyous (for me at least) piece of writing. The Shameful Pothunt is a hard lesson for any collective of amateur oarsmen or women. It teaches them that no matter how hard they train, no matter how well they feel they may be going, there is some bastard out there who is better than you, younger than you, and can probably wear pink lycra and get away with it. Unlike the Consolation Pothunt, the Shameful Pothunt takes place in the dying days of Spring, and the fine and blustery early reaches of Summer, exclusively before the sturm und drang of Marlowe and HRR.
This is when the boys and girls from the World Class Start and elite programs emerge from their winter seclusion on the ergo. With flat stomachs, chisled quads, and hollowed out souls they take to the water to crush the sorry unfortunates who so recently thought that a mere 50+km a week on the ergo would make them fit and help them move the boat. Found disproportionately in the smaller boats, the double and the four especially, they stalk around the smaller regattas of London and all points West like the Nazgul in the Shire. Their goal is to collect enough PRI points to be considered for the more senior events at HRR; and to crush the spirit of enough other rowers that they feel better about having the social life of a full time athlete and the pay packet of a Costa barista on a zero-hours contract.
Sometimes, when I finally cross the finish line after them, and when I am sure that I won’t cry, I like to shout and tell them how much money part-time footballers in National League South make on two training sessions and one away match a week. Its about £10k a year on top of whatever full time job they have.
The truth is that it is not really these leviathan young athlete’s fault. They are driven to this by their coaches. They gain little joy from what is effectively a series of competitive training intervals from a fixed stake boat. Their final goal is something different and something greater than that of those they are racing. Their coaches have sent them here to sit in the boat and pull hard, and, trained by many long hours of unquestioning obedience, they do so. HRR pre-qualification and American college scholarships are the prize and the ambitions and enjoyment of amateur rowers in this country are the collateral damage.
Whilst the Consolation and Shameless Pothunts unite us as rowers, under one banner, and as one sport, the Shameless Pothunt divides us into two camps, the ruddy cheeked amateurs, and the increasingly massive, increasingly anonymous and increasingly remote semi-professionals.
So I make this appeal to the professional coaches of young rowers in this country – Send your elongated, aerobically exceptional charges to race, let them prove their worth, but restrict them to the geometrically precise multi-lane 2km rowing ditches of Britain and the Continent. Leave us, the try hard amateurs to enjoy our oddly shaped stretches of water both before and after Henley, and don’t use our ambitions as the fuel for your career