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Swamping Safety Database

Details of incident 73

Swamping record

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Date 1993/1994
Location Medway, Rochester, UK
Water Temperature Chilly
Boat(s) involved 4+, crew under weight for boat, countless others
Boat Construction Janousek,
Outcome Many non-coastal boats swamped, one pair sank and found down the river. Incredibly lucky to have nobody drown or suffer hypothermia. I do not know what happened to any other clubs present. 
Description Rochester Head Race - rowed to the start and spun to commence the race.Quickly the conditions went to very choppy, and quite a few waves were breaking over the riggers. I (cox) was wearing wellington boots and no lifejacket (before the UK regulations came into place). As we rounded a main corner, all the boats in the race caught the effect of the wind against a strong turning tide coming inland. I became very worried and pointed for the bank.,

As we made our way, the waves hitting the riggers were deflecting themselves into the boat, and it was filling very rapidly. About 30 seconds later, the increased weight of the boat meant that the waves, no larger than before, were now just literally tipping over the side. I had ceased to "cox" by this stage, and was just bailing out. Within another 30 seconds the boat was pretty much full, and we were still several metres from the bank. The boat settled with about 3 inches of saxboard (gunwale) above the "level" of the water, not that the water could have been described as level. The waves made it nigh impossible to row, and were now just hitting against peoples' bodies. However we made it to the bank and my crew of four ladies dragged the boat up the shore and emptied it. This probably did all sorts of harm to the riggers and hull.

We were still a long distance from anywhere and were soaked through, but we decided to try to make use of the few metres of calmer water by the bank to try to continue the race.

We continued for a few minutes, but even in the calmer water, the boat was still filling up reasonably quickly. By this stage the coastal-type boats we had overtaken ages ago were screaming past us at a fast rate. We stopped and emptied it a second time (this time we didn't let it get anywhere near as bad. Rounding the last corner with about 1km of straight left to the finish line taking us underneath the tall road bridge, the waves took a direction that offered no shelter at all, and within another minute the boat was fully filled again. We emptied the boat one last time and once again found some calmer water. We decided to try to make the finish line (rowing was appallingly difficult now) but there was no way that I was going to take the boat out into the middle of the river to get through the centre of the bridge, so we went through the right hand side, with the boat about 70% full.

We hit an underwater obstacle (shopping trolley we think) here in the shallow water which took out the rudder and fin. When I realised I had no directional control at all (swamped janouseks are not easy to steer at the best of times anyway), I looked for anywhere to pull in. The only place was a motor boat docking platform. We pulled in, and I left the crew to try to empty the boat as much as they could, then ran off to get help from the finish line.

I ran the 800m in my soaking kit and welly boots, freezing and knackered. Some of the mens' squad followed me back to the boat where we found that most of the compartments in the Janousek had remained completely watertight and hence there was even some (not much) dry kit for the rowers.We needed all the people to try to lift the full boat out the water and empty it (dragging up the bank as we'd done before was not an option here). We then carried the boat back, sloshing around, all the way to the finish line.

On getting back we heard that one of our mens' pairs had had an even worse time - their wooden pair had gone under completely and they had had to swim away. The boat wasn't even found until a few days later. I have no idea what happened to the other boats.


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