The Royal Belfast Academical Institution

Rowing Winter Report

It has been a very interesting few months for the RBAI Rowing Club. The season started with a change in coaching as Mr Roy took over as lead senior coach, with Mr Warnock moving to lead junior coach. Adding to this, the fact that 17 beginners joine
21-December-23
Rowing Winter Report

Mr Warnock presenting the Larmor Trophy to the winning Inter-House beginner crew

It has been a very interesting few months for the RBAI Rowing Club. The season started with a change in coaching as Mr Roy took over as lead senior coach, with Mr Warnock moving to lead junior coach. Adding to this, the fact that 17 beginners joined the Club in September led to much energising of the squads. From there it was down to training, with lots of km on the indoor rowing machines, weights sessions, paddles on the Lagan, circuits and the odd run thrown in for fun.

Racing has been sparse over the winter months in recent years, with few events on the calendar and even fewer actually taking place, due to the regular inclement weather, but this season was to buck that trend.

Before the half-term break the senior squad travelled to Coleraine to compete in Bann Head. The course is a relatively straight 3km, with the odd bend in there to test the steerers, but plenty of flow to test the rowers. The weather was kind on the day and made racing conditions very pleasant.

With some of the squad unavailable for the trip, the crews racing were a J18 4x- (Morrow, Edgar-Wilson, Gilchrist, McCracken) and a J16 2x (Houston, Boal). Both crews raced well over the unfamiliar water, with the quad finishing 2nd to Bann in their category, 20 seconds behind. The double went one better though and finished top of the five crews in their category, almost one minute ahead of their nearest rivals!!

After the half-term break there was an unusual amount of racing. This is normally a lean period in racing, allowing for lots of training mileage, but the opportunity to race at home couldn’t be passed-up, leading to three races in five weekends on the Lagan.

The first of the three events was Lagan Autumn Head. The Club put out a number of crews for this event and achieved some promising results. The J18 4+ (Mawhinney, Nutt, Keys, Grant, Moore) unfortunately had no opposition in their category, but showed up well against the other competing coxed fours, by finishing 2nd, behind Queen’s, but ahead of BRC. The J18 2x (Morrow, Gilchrist) had to boat with a last-minute substitution, which understandably upset their race plans and left them with an unrepresentative result. The J16 2x (Houston, Boal) had another strong showing, coming 2nd in their category. The J15 4x+ (Harris, Johnston, Anderson, Zingi, Mercer) had a very promising race and were well within the pack of their event, but a late clash with another boat cost them valuable time in a tight field, leading to them finishing 4th in their category. The event featured a second race, from the SSE arena to Stranmillis, over 4km of racing. The J18 4x- (Morrow, Houston, McCracken, Boal) took on this challenge and raced well, given their endeavours earlier in the day. They put in a solid row but sadly ended 5th in their category.

The next event was the inaugural Queen’s Boat Club Head of the River. This featured two races, covering the same short course as the first of the Lagan Autumn Heads. The first race involved a couple of RBAI J16 2x’s (Houston/Boal & Gilchrist/McCracken). Both raced well and closely, coming 3rd and 4th in their category. For the first time in a long while there was a J18 2- racing for the School (Nutt/Keys). They raced very well in a notably difficult boat class, winning their category and finishing within reach of some significantly more experienced pairs. Showing the focus on small boats, there were three J18 1x’s racing for RBAI (Grant, Morrow & Moore). They all did very well in tricky conditions for sculling, with Grant and Morrow separated by just over 1 second, and just over 30 seconds off the division winner. In the second race the J18 4x- (Morrow, Houston, McCracken, Boal) possibly suffered from their previous exertions, coming home 3rd in their category. The J18 4+ (Grant, Keys, Nutt, Gilchrist, Moore) rowed unopposed, but performed solidly to finish around 30 seconds off the quad.

The last official race before the Christmas break was the annual Festive Head, where crews are encouraged to embrace a more liberal approach to the usual rigid rules concerning racing uniforms. This leads to a variety of interesting crew outfits, with the RBAI contingent joining in the spirit. For the first time this season the senior squad combined to put out a J18 8+ (Grant, Keys, Nutt, Morrow, McCracken, Gilchrist, Houston, Boal, Mercer) which put in a solid performance against a wide variety of 8’s. The junior squad raced in a J16 4x+ (Johnston, Zingi, Edgar-Wilson, Harris, Moore), putting in a very strong, mature performance, being the first coxed quad home. There was also the inclusion of an Old Boys’ 8 (Hetherington H, Hetherington H, Drennan, Lowry, Whiteside, Mallon, Marron, George, Robinson), which put in a fine performance to come home second of the eights racing and finish 5th overall. It was great to see so many Old Boys willing to come down, support their Club and compete. It was a fantastic indicator of the way in which Rowing can stay with you once you have finished your time at Inst and raises the hope of an annual School boy-Old Boy race in the near future.

Well done also to Rory McElhinney, now rowing with the Rowing Ireland junior development squad, who performed very well in his winter racing, finishing first in the J18 1x at Queen’s Head. A good indicator of the high level he is performing at, and we wish him well for his involvement in the Rowing Ireland trials process over the coming months.

It may be hard to believe that any more racing could be squeezed into the winter months, but with such a sizeable beginner squad Mr Warnock was able to resurrect the Inter-House fours competition, not raced for over 20 years. Each crew competed in a coxed quad (ably steered by a senior) in a semi-final then an appropriate final, along the boathouse straight. The racing was very exciting for those watching on, with the combined Dill-Stevenson crew (McAteer, Lee, Hogg, Skillen) coming out on top in the final ahead of the all-Pirrie crew (Dunne, Thompson, Grain, Jeannerod). The small final featured a win for the all-Jones outfit (Douglas, Harbinson, Burgess, Beaney), after some interesting manoeuvres approaching the start-line in their heat, over the Larmor-Kelvin crew (Meas, Scholes, Bourke, Cheuk). Well done to all the boys for demonstrating some very healthy competition and a big thanks to the seniors (Hanna, Moore, Mawhinney) who gave up their time to help with the coxing duties.

Alongside all this racing, the boys also showed their capabilities off the water, with a number of the rowers competing in the Run in the Dark in support of ex-Inst rower Mark Pollock. Everyone who participated enjoyed the atmosphere of the run, based at Stormont, but a special mention must go to Guy Morrow, who finished in the top 5 in the 5km distance, in under 20 minutes. This was a very impressive result, given the number of competitors, quality of the field and the toughness of the course.

As you can see it has been a very busy year so far for the rowers, and this does not even mention the training sessions they do six days a week to allow them to race to a high level. A big thank you must go out to the team of coaches who work very tirelessly to ensure the boys are trained in a healthy and safe environment, to Mr Roy and his coaches Mr Boyce, Mr Morrow, Mr McCracken, and to Mr Warnock and his coaches Mr Houston and Mr McElhinney. And a special mention to those who have also helped the Club, including Mr Tinneny for towing the trailer, and Mrs Gallaher, Mrs Morrow, Mrs McCracken and Mrs Edgar-Wilson for their help in organising refreshments at the festive head, which made the environment so warm and welcoming.

I hope everyone has a lovely, relaxing Christmas break, with plenty of time to recharge their batteries in preparation for an exciting regatta season ahead.

Yours in Rowing,

Steven Archibald

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Rory McElhinney, pennant winner, J18 1x, Queen’s Head of the River

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J18 2-, pennant winners, Queen’s Head of the river

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