Wallingford Head is 4,500m of winter 'fun racing' that takes part on the Oxfordshire stretch of Wallingford RC, Oxford Uni and Oxford Brookes Uni. The race is completed upstream, against the flow of the water. This is the article that you will need to get you and your crew down the course safely and in the fastest way possible. As this article is in our "advanced" series, if you are a younger junior, or less experienced cox, you don't have to take any of these tips literally. Use your common sense of what's within your and your boats capabilities before all else.
Boating and Warmup
Boating primarily takes place at the very top of the river next to the town bridge, with other boating locations along the course such as OUBC and OBUBC. This means that your crew have a considerable warmup to the start line, however at the end of the race you have a very short paddle back in. Stick to the right hand side of the bank the whole way downstream towards the start line, watch out for overhanging or part-submerged trees. Although these should all be marked with visible buoys, as this is not in the racing line, the teams clearing the river will most likely give less attention to this part, stay aware.
As you pass the start line you will enter the narrows towards the Brunel Rail Bridge. This is a very tight section of the river, if required in larger boats, have your bowman watch out for obstacles or stopped crews through here. After passing under the central arch of the bridge towards the marshalling zone you will be directed to your holding point.
After paddling through the narrows, hug the right hand bank all the way round the bend approaching the start line. You should be tight into the bank at this point, allowing yourself to wind up the rate without having to use the rudder at the same point. Winding up into the start, hug the first half of the next corner, keeping the blades as close as possible to the bushes, taking the shortest line possible. With high stream levels you would usually follow this corner all the way round, however if the stream is still relatively under control, you can allow yourself to move into the middle and cut the next bend, staying on the right side of the buoy lines if there are any around.
1000 metres in you will reach the start of the S-Bends. These are a set of corners, that if you are in a straight line focused boat, can be difficult to steer cleanly. There will be a buoy line down the centre of these corners, make sure you keep your hull to the right side of these buoys. Be prepared to require pressure steering round these bends by lightening off one side, you can also pass your blades over the buoys as long as the hull doesn't cross to the left side.
1.6km into the race the S-Bends will end, leading onto the 900 metre Brookes Straight, containing the high-performance centre of Oxford Brookes Uni BC. This is the easiest section of the course the steer, with the stretch being pretty straight, with a small number of obstacles on the course, this stretch is the section to capitalise on an opponents poor line through the S-Bends. The half-way point of the race is just before the Brookes pontoons on your left hand side.
Brookes to Road Bridge
As you come out of the Brookes straight, theres a constant right hand bend leading towards Carmel College and the Road Bridge. Hold tight into the corner, however the bend is not consistent so make sure you hold the tree line, not constant on the rudder. During this bend, one of the AllMarkOne photographers will be stationed, look good for the snaps!
Hold a straight line towards Carmel College (an old boathouse on the right hand side).
Move into the centre of the river coming round the corner towards the road bridge, normal river traffic is still active and Brookes crews will likely be paddling back to their boathouse at this point, make sure you don't cut the corner. This is the marker of roughly 1000m to go. Leaving the bend you will go under he road bridge, where another AllMarkOne photographer will be based. Shift back to the right hand station, however less well-kept overhanging trees at his point can be a possible danger.
Out of the road bridge, stick right and hug the bank round the final bend. Although it seems perfect to straighten out and "bomb it for the finish", do not do this. Hold the corner and hug the bank past the moored boats on your right hand side, this section is very well sheltered from the oncoming flow and will allow you to hold boat speed and increase rate into the finish. The finish line is on the second set of pontoons at OUBC Boathouse on your left hand side, however Wallingford RC are usually pretty good with signposting this with big checkered finish flags. Continue paddling after the finish, this area can get tight and messy if crews stop rowing immediately.
The instructions state that all overtaking crews have priority of the 'least-slow' water. This means that all slower crews should move into the centre of the river, allowing the faster boat to pass up the inside.
If you have other questions regarding marshalling or the course the Competitors Instructions are linked here
The course map can be found here
Any questions on the specifics of this article, dm us on instagram or leave us a comment below!
Have fun racing and make sure you check out the photographs after the event at allmarkstore.co.uk!