By DEAN NEAL(edited for clarity, apostrophes and at some points translation from "Deano" to English by PBR)
The Leschenault inlet: Famous in the rowing community for its tight, three-lane dog-leg almost-1000m course, razor-sharp rocks, exquisite side-wash and shallow sections.
This was, over the weekend of August 16 and 17, for the most part a happy hunting ground for the Westies crew that turned up and turned on.
It was the strongest results from a WARC men’s squad for quite some time… by which we mean years. Let’s face it… in recent seasons, it's easy to generalise that the Westies women have brought home the bacon(!) at various pennant regattas compared to the blokes.
(We are excluding seniors here, as frankly – they deliver for the club and repeatedly so. One of the great testaments of our club is the opportunity for us mere rowing ‘mortals’ to row with the very best rowers in our club. Wakeford, Butz, Sam.)
Not only do they enjoy rowing ‘with’ us, but also the likes of Amy Walters, Janelle Austin and Darryl Salisbury were happy to strap into the Coxswain seats at Bunbury, last weekend.
That sort of guidance and experience in the stern of our boat/s should never be taken lightly…
Maybe it’s this sort of in-boat access that is now beginning to deliver the ‘bacon’ of almost Janelle Austin’s sized bacon-blissed proportions!
Whilst the ladies once again had a very strong showing at Bunbury Saturday, it was a day where the WARC Men from development, intermediates and upwards probably – to steal a line from the Bunbury Rowing Club motto – began to as a collective, ‘pull their weight’.
No doubt the influx of fresh man-flesh from all corners of the compass, into the club rank-and-file for this season has not hurt, either.
Tim Budge waltzed into Westies with a desire to sharpen up his fitness and the minute he stepped onto the erg for the first time in years and cranked 1:50 splits without even trying, you knew he was going to be a great addition to our club – and not just as a gun rower. Tim is a top bloke with the Westies mojo and camaraderie firmly etched-into his psyche.
Since then, Tim has slotted into some Senior boat combinations and that included a strong win the ‘A’ Four at Bunbury… that has now instantly seen his ROMS score reflect more accurately his talents with an oar.
Matt Cronin is a quietly spoken rower who has ventured to the left-coast (like many) for work reasons. On the weekend Matt showed his experience and slide control to strike some great wins, results and a cool temperament to boot.
The fact he enjoyed his row to a fast finishing second place in the Mens D8 “Because it was a good race…a close race and the boat just got better and better the further we went,” shows us all that Matty has the Westies mantra well and truly intact.
Kevin Wall is another fresh face who will undoubtedly deserve a blog entry on his own at some stage soon. Saving drowning souls in his native Ireland last year whilst out training in his Single Scull, rowing nationally for Paralympic dreams and tons more is what Kev brings to the WARC table. What he took out of Bunbury was a strong and popular win in his D Double Scull race with Peter Klemm.
Speaking of D-Grade doubles… the word is out. Steve Harman can twirl two-oars LIKE A BOSS. His win with Jono Ashby was comfortably the best time of any of the 24 competitors across 6-races for the D-Doubles.
Whilst the men hauled it with eight glasses for the day, the six-glasses for the ladies showed they were far from slouches.
With Deanne Sammut taking ill on the morning of the regatta, it was left to some others in the women’s squad to pick up the slack…and that they did.
Suz Neal ended up rowing several races on the day, as did Kirsty Augustson, Janelle Austin, Bella Lie, Evelyn Doernberg and others.
Suz was particularly inspiring to several within Westies, where despite some deep cuts to her feet courtesy of those infamous bunno rocks early in the day – she got to business, stroking several boats – including one to victory via the D Coxed Four.
Bella was rewarded with a great win in the E Grade Four and the development girls this year continue to impress with strong race results every-damn-where!
A great day was then rewarded with a great evening, where the host club Bunbury put on a great spread of food and ale in the right proportions.
Many at Westies partied until the wee hours…
… oh yes, Eaton.
“Welcome to the Eaton Hangover Head Race,” chimed the starters as a collection of crews was assembled on the start-line for a 5km-jaundiced jaunt down the Collie river.
Not only is Matt Cochran impervious to pain and lactic acidosis, the man we affectionately dub the ‘Bear’ can also win races hung-over and sleep-deprived! A similarly ‘fatigued’ Nick Wakeford accompanied Cochran to a commanding win via the Mens Coxless Pair.
Whilst elite rowers can mask such fatigue, others cannot.
Enter – Dean Neal and Jimmy O’Regan.
Neal was far from fresh and fabulous entering Eaton after a night out, however Jimmy O was reeling from a bare minimum of hours slept before stepping into rowing’s most demanding boat to row: The Coxless pair.
Not the perfect preparation – aside from the minimal seat time the combination have had.
In being fair, Neal and O’Regan were happy with their first 2k…
….but Eaton is a 5km journey.
Form faltered and then as Jimmy had to deal with a nasty blood blister developing – he decided to pull a ‘Hamish Bond’ and splash his hand mid-stroke…three times.
Now Hamish Bond (Kiwi Pair fame) could row a pair sub 1:37 split all day long, where for O’Regan – 1:37 probably denoted the volume of 1 hour and 37 minutes total sleep he had enjoyed the previous night!
Thankfully all said and done, the boys made it home – mostly intact.
The other standout row of Eaton was Janelle Austin in her trusty single. Nel is amazing - an inspiration on and off the water at Westies, and did her reputation no harm (with no broken arm/s!) meandering down the pleasing and picturesque Collie River.
Her time of 19:46 was good enough to have her row quicker than the Women's Coxed Four, Mixed Coxed Four, Mixed Coxed Quad, Men's Double Sculls, Women's Coxed Quad and the Mixed Coxed Eight – is testament to her will to win…and beyond that, perform to the outer limits of her ample potential!
With just one more pennant regatta left before the State Masters and then the big one – the WA Championships… the traditional WARC approach of stalking through the regatta season, before striking at the Championships – is looking VERY promising.
But that’s another blog, for another day...