Capetown 2004

After a hectic morning supervising excited wee squiblets scampering through the undergrowth on the "BIG" egg hunt, the departure lounge at Heathrow appeared as a vision of paradise. Strange sentiments but incredibly true. Batchworth were on their way down to Cape Town for the 4th World Club Crew Champs, and yours truly was ticketless. The reasons were uncertain, the posse blameless, but the Major was under deep suspicion of burying the damn things in the vegetable patch. We'll never know but huge thanks to Debbie of South African Airways for such prompt replacements with minimal fuss and damage to the wallet. You know, airports are such damn funny places, I recall passing through the transfer lounge in the Far East last year and spotting the smoking room. This entailed all the self inflicted suicide cancer squad assembling into a perspex box (a la Blaine) before lighting up. They resembled drowning guppies in a sediment storm all gasping for breath. This led me to thinking that if all smokers went round with goldfish bowls on their bonces complete with self contained breathing systems, they might come down to 20 a year and spare the rest of us from their carcinogenic gases. But back to the real world, and after a sleepless night and a spring clean of cataclysmic proportions in search of said tickets, we were on our way and huge sighs of relief all round. The big silver bird was flying us south on Easter Sunday evening, and months of de Quippe's sadistic regime were soon to be put to the test as we join 40 other crews in the harbour under the shadow of Table Mountain. A few well deserved G & Ts kick in and I for one dropped into a deep comatose sleep on the night flight south. In the midst of a pre-election frenzy, the land of the Rand beckons, with its own deep searching questions, soon looms over the horizon.

Watching a recent documentary of Mandela's 27 year long incarceration, forces one to appreciate our own individual and collective very fortunate positions in the grand scheme of things and the real importance of sport, or not, as a true test of human spirit. Deep stuff after a long, long day. More imminent buoyant flippancy assured on day 2.

Survived the flight, just, as forgot to specify first class and ended up with the hoi polloi in cattle class but managed a decent sleep thus avoiding the pong of the great unwashed. Wasn't travel meant to be fun? Who on earth would want to be a trolley dolly? Can't fault them though, excellent and friendly bunch on South African Airways! Fast and efficient transfer to the hotel, organised by our hosts, smoothed us in just nicely. Overheard much gleeful banter of some of our younger, more hormonally charged members who claimed reaffirmation to the mile high club. And to think for all these years I put that bumping and banging down to turbulence and the odd dodgy curry! Doesn't seem to have sapped their energies though as most of the troop have already been running up mountains, jumping off mountains, chasing antelope and generally messing about in, on, and under boats of one kind or another, and all this on a rest day!!

It was as much as I could do to rearrange the sun lounger for some blissful peace and quiet by the pool with a tonic and something. Cape Town is certainly a place for the young energetic and vibrant, just put me down as occasionally vibrant (with a small v). Wednesday and Thursday were training days coupled with R&R, and as we trooped down to the harbour for de Quippe to inflict final torture tweaking, we set out to put the enemy off our scent. Deliberately wearing all odds and sods we looked a right motley crew and no mistake. With the sun beating down, all manner of headgear was being deployed, but what stuck in my mind was the rear vision of one of our number doing a passable impression of a Star Wars baddy, and for the foreseeable future will rejoice under the sobriquet of Daft Ada. Our cover was blown almost immediately on arrival as Dearly Departed slothfully piped up 'and, and, and, here come Batchworth'. Curse the fellow.
With Slack Alice on the back, training went pretty well, including practicing 180 degree turns for the 2k race, but more of that later.

The Canadian Pickering mob looked slick, and pacey, but the other dark horses were almost certainly about. Thursday night saw the opening ceremony in a most torrential downpour, with what we were told was a very rare thunder and lightning storm. The paddling and eye dotting ceremonies cancelled at the 12th hour, which was to set the tone for the weekend.

We were on early for the 200m on Friday morning and in the closest heat of all, we came a creditable 4th (out of 4). After all the heats, we were 7th fastest, 2 seconds down on the Russian Shtoorm. It wasn't a good run but still faster than we were going last year. Then the rain started, and got heavier and heavier and heavier, and the wind picked up and the schedule went clean out of the window.

The 2k race for some 30 teams which included 6x 180 degree turns in a working harbour with only 3 rescue boats in windy conditions wasn't really a likely bet. Managers meeting after meeting only delayed and postponed proceedings, but basically it just wasn't going to be. We thought we were on to a good thing and kept pushing for the race to happen, but the ringmasters bowed down to constantly evolving democracy, which later whipped up one of our Swiss co-hotel guests into a fury and incredibly we (or rather Rip) caught the flack for it. Guilty by national association with the top brass this Suisse banker (for a nation not historically known for their acts of aggression) tried to pick a fight with one of our number. Rip Van W stood his (and our) ground firmly and diplomatically in an attempt to put this particular banker in order, and then retired to his room to be consoled by his usual 40 Winks. Poor old Rip, no doubt he'll recover by some good old fashioned retail therapy.

On Saturday the rain had gone but the wind remained and was gusting horribly. There were more lane crossings and collisions than I have ever seen before, and given that most of our event was made up of national squads (odd for a club champs, what?) the helming was atrocious. But fate was to befall us in the semi-final and we ended up crossing into the lap of the adjacent German Ubermark boys. They let fly with some awfully colourful banter, and basically accused us of invading their territory. I pointed out (in the words of one B Fawlty) that actually they started it, but the joke appeared lost. The denouement was, they got a discretionary outside lane in the final whilst we were consigned to Davy Jones' locker. The 200m final was held in near darkness at 6pm with the Italian Firenze a creditable third, the German Kurpfalz a powerful second, with the Ruski Shtoorm 0.3 seconds ahead. And to cap it all we were shouting the Germans on to win! Heady days indeed. Oh and the 2k was postponed yet again!

Final day Sunday and the 430m got under way with a vengeance. 430m I hear you ask? Well it is only a small harbour. With our exceedingly nippy lightweight men and a third of our crew manned exceptionally by incredibly fit and talented ladies (you know I had to say that, but I DO mean it) we were never going to be in contention against the 20 male juggernauts in our opposition's boats. We might be quite handy back in blighty, but these foreign jonnys meant serious business. We recorded three times of 1 min 38 secs at this distance. In the 430m semi-final we met Ubermark again, smiled, shook hands, slapped shoulders, no previous confrontations were mentioned, and then in the words of our newly natively coiffured Floella 'they mullered us man!' You'll have to take my word for it when I say our starts had been electric, and when we raced Shtoorm we were well up with them to 100m but then they turned on their Olympic power (I kid you not) in their boat and ONLY took 7 seconds off us, which I thought was highly creditable. I'm sure I can sense you all sniggering but shout it loud AT LEAST BATCHWORTH WON THE TAIL RACE. We had been up against seriously bigger fish in a slightly smaller, bumpier pond. The 430m final saw the Firenze outfit take third place again (bella, bella) with the Aussie giants (and they were) Snatch (cute name) muscled out of first place, but only just, by Shtoorm (if only their attire was as smart as their paddling).

You've probably worked out our sentiments by now, if I tell you that this time we were shouting on the Aussies, a great bunch of guys and they party well too (now there's a surprise). The Czech Bohemians never showed unfortunately and might have affected the order of things, and the 2k race... just never happened.

So that was it, Cape Town 04, the organisers battled bravely against the weather (as did we all), crashes, and more protests than you could shake a stick at, and did a stirling job into the bargain, well done to them all.

I must mention all of the exceptionally brave and tremendously fun loving breast cancer crews, who are an inspiration to all of us and looked fab in pink. Congratulations also to Dearly Departed, who went up a single hill and came down half hitched. Good on yer cobber!

I had expected Cape Town Paddlesnappers to spring a surprise, but like us they appeared out horsepowered, their Juniors however, proudly walked away with several gongs, a force for the future!

Well when I say that was it, I should just mention the party, a massive concert hall had been hired, with all the tables decked out magnificently. Oodles of cheap booze meant an instant degeneration from sophistication to pure rock 'n' roll. Once again our ladies set the tone on the bus ride to the party by out swigging our chaps wine. Both M.C. (aka The Hammer) and The Tamworth One got hoisted around the bus on a sea of hands and any last hint of decorum by now had totally evaporated.

Great fun had by all and hopefully we're nicely warmed up for Liverpool in a few days time, and if, er, by any chance they throw in a surprise 2k race (no I wont let that go) we would be delighted to oblige.

    The Rocket