LAST week proved to be a momentous one for Stratford Boat Club junior squads who made a staggered return to the water and river rowing.
Last Thursday evening the J15 squad were out for the first time in four months, with half the squad going out in single sculls.
To enable the young athletes to get out on the water, each squad – normally up to 12 rowers – has had to be divided in two so group size complies with British Rowing’s and the Government’s regulations of a maximum of six people, five athletes and a coach.
Permission had to be gained from parents so that athletes could ‘bubble’ in groups of six not normally in their household group.
Halving the size of each squad has meant a doubling of outings per week – putting increased strain on the provision of safety cover and coaching supervision.
All safety launch drivers have to wear masks, gloves and an apron as well as their life jacket and carry a spare mask for anyone they may have to rescue from the river. Fortunately, such incidents are very rare!
Before rowing, each athlete has to sanitise the trestle on which the boat sits and then sanitise the boat and blades, paying special attention to the touch points such as the gates (rowlocks), blade (oar) handles seats and shoes.
After rowing, the same protocol has to be observed before putting the boat away. All rowers also ‘social distance’ whilst on the bank and arrive and leave the club without the usual socialising.
Steve Wellstead, junior co-ordinator and J13 Coach, commented: “The logistics of getting our junior rowers back on to the water have been considerable – doubling the amount of outings, increased coach supervision time, increased safety and the provision of sanitising equipment.
“However, seeing the joy on the faces of the juniors as they got back to rowing was worth all the hassle!
“We are very grateful to our senior management team and coaches for working out the system to get the juniors back on the river.
“It has also been pleasing to see that lockdown work and home exercising has kept up the athletes’ fitness levels. All we have to do now is revisit our balance and rowing technique!”
The club’s adult rowers have been on the water for sometime but only rowing in singles or household doubles or pairs as crew boat rowing in fours, quads, eights or octos is still not allowed for the moment.
Stratford Boat Club’s adaptive squad is also beginning to return to the water with the help of household members.
The next steps for the club’s slow reopening will be to get the indoor facilities such as the gym opened.
It is unlikely there will be any national or regional competitions and regattas for the foreseeable future, but it is hoped there may be some very local invitation events with just a very few clubs and athletes competing.