Fresh from taking two pennants at Pairs Head and a flurry of 5k PBs, five crews from the new Performance Squads started Fours Head this year feeling buoyant and determined: two coxless fours from the women's squad, one coxless and two coxed fours from the men's squad, with the men's Intermediate 4+ featuring a guest cox appearance from Erin Wysocki-Jones, who swapped her Leander and GB colours for Putney Town's dark blue and white.
It was a remarkable return to the track for the women’s top four, who competed in the same combination as 2017 and all of whom were back and ready to do battle once again. The women's second four showcased the strength of the squad's new talent as three quarters of the crew were new members this year.
The pennant winning start to 18/19 was maintained with the men's Challenge 4- winning their event in an unchanged line-up from July's Henley Royal Regatta - a first Fours Head pennant in A Very Long Time (President Geoff cannot recall the last one...), with the women's top four and the men's Intermediate 4+ both placing well in their events.
Conditions were fine for the first half of the course with favourable tail-winds on the Barnes stretch, but after Hammersmith Bridge and moving into Harrods the water really starting to chop up thanks to the strong southerly winds, a change which proved to be a decisive factor in the day's results.
The men's coxless four's steers, Sam Diserens, explained how the crew "had discussed how to handle these conditions and we stepped out together as a crew, dropping the rate by two but pressing the legs and maintaining the boat speed. At this point we really started to gain on the Upper Thames crew ahead."
After some "close interaction between the two fours" around Barn Elms, the PTRC crew moved away from the Upper Thames they had overtaken and took the race home. If the "close interaction" hadn't been drama enough, more unfolded later. The result was initially a very satisfying 2nd in category, 20s behind a blazing fast crew from Thames RC. But later it became clear that Thames had been relegated to racing for time only, having raced with crew members ineligible for the Challenge event and so elevating Putney Town to an immensely satisfying and convincing first place.
The two men's coxed fours had developed a strong rivalry in training in the race to see who would come out on top: the heavies or the lighties. In the end the the light four came out on top by 10 seconds finishing 12th out of 24 in Intermediate 4+ , with the heavy-weight crew coming 10th of 12 in Challenge 4+.
Shortly after the men's crews, the women's top four went off strong, striking a powerful 34. Making quick progress, they reached Hammersmith in first place, ahead of the eventual winners. Coming past Harrods Wall, the girls were blasted by the conditions and lost critical seconds adjusting.
The second four were dealt a difficult hand as they were crashed into by an opposing crew coming through Barnes Bridge, losing 20 seconds. Undeterred, they pulled it back together to result in a strong and persuasive finish. The squad has learnt lessons from fours head and are determined to keep making progress as they take on the remaining winter season.
Challenge 4+ winners: Alex Duncomb, Sam Russell, Jamie Diserens and Sam Diserens (steers)
Crew Time Category position
4- Challenge 20:08.0 1st / 10 entries
4+ Challenge 22:17.5 10th / 12
W4- Challenge 22:41.3 4th / 13
W4- Challenge 24:07.8 12th / 13
4+ Intermediate 22:06.2 12th / 24