This was a bit of a strange season for the Senior Boys! The decision at the start of the season to combine the 5th form group with what was a very small group of L6 and 6th Form, seemed at the time the sensible option. The fifth form boys, though very young had always exuded a lot of potential, displaying a fair amount of natural athleticism, strength and co-ordination. Despite some inspirational coaching from GB VIII heavyweight Alex Partridge, a disappointing 48'th place at the Schools' Head, followed by 304'th in the Head of the River, were the lowest finishing spots for many years. With these results and the rate of progress being displayed, it quickly became apparent we were always going to struggle to be competitive at 1st VIII level. Nick Sanders' absence due to illness was a huge blow to the squad as well as to himself and his strength, experience and particularly the added maturity he would have added to the eight, were sorely missed. Yu-kei Lee, who was always hampered by sheer size, was also well over-age, but nevertheless was always there to sub in and give of his best. Also to be fair, the fifth form had never really got anywhere near fulfilling their promise at J15 level the year before, so to expect seven of them to suddenly produce great things at 1st VIII level was perhaps unrealistic!
I was particularly apprehensive about going with such a young squad to Nantes for the annual training camp and as expected there were to be plenty of disappointments on the water. However, with JMB's usual impeccable organisation, Dee Clarke's superb culinary (and medical skills!), Mike Smith's laid back, no nonsense approach and John Cameron's long suffering patience as the staff/student go-between, we ended up having a really enjoyable and worthwhile trip. The outings in Nantes led to some very difficult decisions, including one of the hardest I have ever had to make - drop the idea of any Senior crew boat for National Schools and go for a J16 crew instead. This meant that both Will Quayle (captain) and Piers Boileau-Goad, would miss out on competing at National Schools Regatta in their final year at Monkton. This to an outsider may not mean very much, but to the boys themselves was pretty devastating to say the least. Nevertheless they took this very much in their stride and certainly without complaint. Thankfully in many ways this course of action turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The switch to sculling provided lots of enjoyment and unexpected success and after a convincing win in Novice 2x at Coate Water Regatta we made the decision to enter the double for National Schools. Getting through to the semi-final of Championship Double Sculls was incredibly pleasing and hugely deserved by both boys. A solid 4th place for the J16 VIII in their final also provided a satisfying conclusion to the first half of the Summer Term.
Following National Schools, the aim had always been to select the fastest Eight and enter it for the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at Henley. Having repeatedly told the boys that the rowing in smaller boats during the first half of term would be good technical training for the eventual eight, the first outing of the Henley crew was absolutely shocking! The J14's could have displayed greater cohesion and timing than our supposed flagship. I was so depressed I asked JMB to take them the next day. Unfortunately this outing was just as horrendous and the thought of scratching the crew from Henley 2003 became an exceedingly attractive proposition! Thankfully though as examinations receded, concentration, ability and morale increased significantly and the boat made big improvements over the remaining weeks. Nevertheless, despite looking at the splits from all angles and taking lots of factors into consideration, times remained agonisingly slow! Even so the crew set off for Henley in good spirits and with a good deal of focus and commitment to the task in hand. With Sarah giving her absolute all in the coxes seat, the crew were really fired up and certainly rowed as well as they had done at any time during the year. Unfortunately however, the hoped-for magic once again did not materialise and although a competent performance, we were still 16 seconds or so off the qualifying pace.
It was unfortunate that circumstances dictated too high a number jumping in at the deep end this season, but I hope that their experiences in the 1st VIII were positive rather than negative. I look forward to seeing how they develop in future years.