River rescue drama as Sudbury crew competing in Great Ouse Marathon pause race to rescue trapped angler near Littleport

PUBLISHED: 19:37 07 September 2017 | UPDATED: 19:37 07 September 2017

Sudbury men’s sweep 4. PHOTO: dbphotographic (Cambridge)

Sudbury men’s sweep 4. PHOTO: dbphotographic (Cambridge)

Archant

A rowing crew – with an average age of early 60s – have described how they interrupted competing in the Great Ouse Marathon to affect a dramatic river rescue.

Adaptive rower Sophie Brown completes the marathon in the ‘Arms and Trunk’ only categor. PHOTO: dbphotographic (Cambridge) Adaptive rower Sophie Brown completes the marathon in the ‘Arms and Trunk’ only categor. PHOTO: dbphotographic (Cambridge)

The Sudbury Rowing Club foursome was in mid race and in competition with 111 other crews from across the UK when they spotted the man in difficulties.

The race covered a distance of 22km from Denver Sluice to Queen Adelaide and the rescue was after the crew had raced 12km - somewhere between the Ship Inn at Brandon Creek and the A10 Bridge at Littleport

Crew member Andrew Blit described the part they played in rescuing the man from the water.

Mr Blit said: “We were in mid race, over an hour in and fighting the good fight with the head wind and our own tiredness.

“As we rounded a gentle turn to starboard we became aware of a fisherman on the east bank - he appeared to be holding a very full keep net and staring at us.”

Mr Blit said: “As we paddled past it became apparent that this was no bulging catch but a person in the water and we became concerned and, slowing down, asked whether assistance was required....which it emphatically was.

“Manoeuvring closer we could see the man in the water, not young and fully dressed, could not be lifted by his friend sufficiently to get over the bank which must have been 70 cm above the water line.

“He was quiet and, I think, aware of the predicament he was in, held above the water line by one tiring man.”

The Sudbury crew then got close enough so that two of them could get onto the bank and, with difficulty, lifted the casualty ashore.

“We laid him down and made sure that he was no longer at risk,” said Mr Blit. “His sincere thanks reflected the unspoken question of what might have happened had there been no racing passing.

“Our race was run, so to speak, we hopped back in and paddled off, and battering into the heartless, thoughtless southerly, but the time had gone. Ashore at the end of the race we thought of what the outcome had we not been near.”

Rodney Atkinson of the Isle of Ely Rowing Club said that strong winds would make manoeuvring a narrow racing boat approximately 45 feet long extremely difficult,

“As the type of boat doesn’t have a cox it depends on the person in the bow seat keeping looking over his shoulder to see where they are going, and what’s happening, whilst steering the boat with a foot lever,” he said.

The riggers (metal frames which project from the sides of the boat to support the oars) stick out a long way from the hull, meaning the boat can only land at a purpose built landing stage and it is extremely difficult to get out onto a high bank

Mr Atkinson said weather conditions were a strong head (southerly) wind all the way.

“We don’t know who fishermen were, and have not attempted to contact them,” he said. “The Sudbury crew were simply satisfied that they had been able to help a fellow river user.”

FACT FILE

* 112 crews completed the race, and all got to the finish feeling it had been a tough experience

* The Sudbury crew finished the race in an overall time of 2hrs 1min 19 seconds. From onboard equipment, they knew they had stopped for just under 12 minutes, so their actual rowing time for the course was 1hr 49 minutes 26 seconds, which would have put them in 13th place (out of 112)

*They were rowing a coxless four in the Masters F category. Masters F is for a crew with an average age between 60 and 65.

*The fastest crew was Loughborough senior double scullers Ruaraidh Little and Thomas Scholefield, who finished in 1 hr 35 min.

* The event attracted a wide range of rowers, boat types and rowing experience. Crews ranged in age from 14-year-old juniors to three rowers racing single sculls for a prize in the 75 to 80-year-old category. Clubs represented came from as far as Tyneside, Monmouth and Shrewsbury.

*The race presents a challenge to all abilities, with elite athletes sharing the course with novice rowers. Para-athletes were also represented with competitors rowing with blindness, cerebral palsy and without the use of legs.

* Prize tankards were awarded in competitions for a range of different boat and crew combinations. The fastest Ely crew of Andrew Gilbert, Duncan McCulloch, Andrew Kearney and Tim Dodes finished 11th overall in a time of 1 hr 48 min, to win the men’s age 43 to 50 coxless quad event.

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