Thursday, 07 July 2022

Return of ‘Dad’s Army’ crew

A ROWER from Remenham who became the oldest person to win a race at last year’s Henley Royal Regatta is trying to repeat the feat.

Peter Jacobs was aged 59 when his Upper Thames B crew overcame Northwich Rowing Club in the heats of the Thames Challenge Cup, having come through qualifying the previous week.

His eight also included Adam Rennie, Peter Lowe, Mark Tritton, Tim Senior, James Burkitt, Andrew Green, Hamish Floyd and cox Zoe Thomas.    

They became affectionately known as the “Dad’s Army” as they were the oldest crew in the competition with an average age of 50 and each rower had at least two children, 22 in total.

Mr Jacobs, a semi-retired consultant, won the Thames Cup with the Tideway Scullers in 1988 and gave up competitive rowing thinking that he had achieved all he could.

But the coronavirus lockdowns of 2020 gave him and his clubmates the belief that they could put together a competitive crew.

Mr Jacobs, who is married to Tina, a yoga instructor who works in marketing, said: “The year 1988 was my glory year. It was the year I got married and was when I won the Thames Cup, using wooden oars — we were one of the few remaining crews to use them.

“I retired from rowing afterwards because after winning at the pinnacle of rowing I thought I had ‘done it’.

“My wife certainly thought that was the case and I have just dabbled since. After we moved here I joined Upper Thames and have raced in masters’ categories since.  

“I decided to come back in earnest and try to qualify for Henley after the first lockdown was introduced. We are quite an old crew so we all had gyms or garages to train in and it was because we were training religiously that we were champing at the bit to race.”

The crew was able to get back on the water from May last year and they had a good feeling when they competed at the Henley Masters Regatta and won their age category, overcoming an experienced Molesey crew, which had never lost a race previously.

Mr Jacobs said: “From March 2020 all our training was done on ergos as we weren’t allowed to row. We began racing in May last year.

“We knew we had a good crew because at the Henley Masters Regatta, which is normally held after Henley royal and kept the same date after the royal was pushed back, we beat a Molesey crew which had never lost.

“That we turned them over really galvanised us and made us think we could go up against the youngsters.”

The Upper Thames crew went through qualifying, which was held at Dorney Lake, and overcame nine crews before facing Northwich on the opening day of the regatta itself.

The Henley crew won in a time of seven minutes and 17 seconds, despite their opponents leading for most of the race.

Mr Jacobs said: “When we qualified for the regatta Jim Birkett scribbled ‘Dad’s Army’ on the side of the boat in crayon to try and psyche out the other crews.

“We were just over the moon to win at the regatta. You don’t normally get a masters crew to qualify but to then go on and win a race at what is the pinnacle of rowing... we knew we had done exceptionally well. We then lost to Molesey A, one of the top seeded crews.”

The crew will be taking part in qualifying again tomorrow (Friday), although there are several changes to the crew due to injury and other commitments while two rowers are in a different boat.

Rennie and Floyd have moved to the quad in the Prince of Wales Challenge Cup while Lowe and Birkett have been replaced by Dan Sadler, 59, at bow, Matt Richardson, 56, in the three seat, Oli Collinson, 26, at seven and Luke Moneley, 32, at stroke.

Mr Jacobs said: “We will be trying to qualify but I don’t think we have much of a chance.

“We need to eliminate 21 crews and the big rowing clubs will have three, four or even five entries with crews a lot younger who will be racing almost full-time.

“Last year there were fewer crews and we only had to knock out nine when we qualified.

“We gave ourselves a 10 per cent chance last time and we would probably give ourselves a 0.1 per cent chance this time around but we will still have a very good race.”

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