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Head of the Dart

Five Get Lost in Devon

I have, for many years, been a big fan of Enid Blyton and still read her work avidly. The five in question were Aba Carboo, Ben Bridger, Caroline Matthews, Paul Dubois (PTRC) and me (David Best). We went to Devon for the Head of the Dart, a fifteen-kilometre race down a beautiful river. We didn’t actually get lost in Devon, but nearly did on several occasions and anyway Enid employs a similar degree of artistic licence in the titles of her books.

The first time that we nearly got lost was navigating the three miles from Dartington Hall, where we stayed, to Dart Totnes Rowing Club towing a trailer with a car with a slightly tetchy satnav. We arrived at DTARC just in time for a very thorough briefing on the course. There are extremely tight bends, dead-end creeks, moored boats that if you get the wrong side of you can get back into the channel, two ferries that don’t stop but have been warned that a race is taking place so give a blast on their horn, reed beds and shallows. The three single scullers did not seem perturbed, so what could possibly go wrong if there were two of us in the boat?

It was a race of two halves - one wet and the other wetter. We started in a light drizzle. We passed four boats within the first 1.5 kilometres and then reached a series of three 180-degree bends. I negotiated these successfully and was keeping in the very strong stream. I began to relax. We managed to avoid the first two dead-end creeks and Ben complimented me on my steering. I relaxed further. It was a very overcast day and the mud banks merged into the sky and water in that split-second that you turn around when bow steering. Despite that, we did not run aground and Ben again complimented me on my steering. The Dart broadened out at Dittisham, at about halfway down the course. We now came to the moored boats. They were on each side of the channel, but as you are not on a straight river all you can see when you turn around in an instant is boats right across the river. In the back of my mind I had the instructions from the briefing not to get the wrong side of them. We were closing fast on a Moody 38 yacht. I turned around again and we were almost on it. Quick thinking was called for. I chose to execute a barrel roll to avoid damage to the Athens and/or the yacht. This manoeuvre is not recommended for the faint-hearted, but the results were instantaneous.

I rose to the surface first and turned around to locate my stroke man. His mouth opened wide as his head broke the surface of the water but no sound came from it. I am not sure whether it was shock, anger or both. I instantly reassured him by telling him to keep hold of the boat whilst I got into it. I got in and Ben followed. We were now upright in the boat but it was full of water. A very helpful couple travelling to their yacht in a tender asked if they could help. Ben asked if either of them could bow steer a double. They looked slightly perplexed at that question so I asked them if they had a bailer. After several minutes searching they found one and we set to work. As we were bailing the boat they cruised around salvaging trainers etc that had fallen out of the boat. After what seemed an age we had got rid of most of the water in the boat and continued to the finish. We overtook some singles and caught up with a double that we had passed at the start.

Despite the delay, we finished 70th out of 137. We celebrated with fish and chips at the Rockfish restaurant before loading the trailer and driving back to London. We all agreed that we would be back next year and that we would spend the Sunday there as well. Ben is looking for a different bow steersman and I will be in my single. DB

Both Aba and Caroline raced the Women's Masters singles category, finishing 77th and 78th respectively. Paul, in Masters singles, was 85th.

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