January 20, 2016
Westover & Bournemouth Rowing Club: 150 years of coastal rowing
Westover & Bournemouth Rowing Club is the oldest sporting club in Dorset, and one of the oldest coastal rowing clubs in the south. This year, as they celebrate their 150th anniversary, they have enjoyed one of their most successful seasons for over 60 years. But behind the veneer of these fantastic achievements is the story of a club that was on the brink of extinction just 4 years previously.
It was 2011 when WBRC were evicted from their premises on Bournemouth’s promenade to make way for a seafront development. Left without a clubhouse and fighting for survival, it was thanks to the determination and vision of a few remaining members that the club continued to operate. Moving their land training to the attic of a local bowls club, and storing boats in the alleyway of an outdoor activity centre, the challenge was to increase membership whilst a plan was drawn up to sustain the future of the club.
With a skeleton membership and lacking resources, WBRC’s attendance at regattas was lacklustre to say the least. It wasn’t until the London 2012 Olympics that Westover were given a new lease of life. As the nation was inspired by Team GB’s success on the water, WBRC saw an influx of local interest and had to act fast to capitalise on this sudden enthusiasm for the sport. The club pooled resources and were able to run a series of learn to row events that helped to increase their depleted membership and gain a new batch of active rowers.
The next couple of years saw Westover in regular attendance at Hants & Dorset regattas with a handful of wins across the two seasons. However, with limited coaching, equipment and facilities, the club was still a far cry from matching the success of rival Southampton based clubs. It wasn’t until the club entered its 150th anniversary year that a new coaching team was formed. Alvin Ranson, a former member of Westover & Bournemouth, returned to the club with Paul Newman and Simon Clements in an attempt to galvanise rowers and form crews with the potential to win championships.
Without a clubhouse and fighting for survival, it was thanks to the determination and vision of a few remaining members that the club continued to operate.
After missing the first month of winter training, the coaches were playing catch up. With potentials in the junior category from the men’s and ladies squads, as well as an already formed JS crew, a new programme was set and training commenced with long-term member and coach David Smith taking care of WBRC’s novice squad.
After a couple of gruelling months, Westover’s JS men were offered the chance to compete at the annual Head of the River Race on the Tideway in London. Thanks to Paul Newman’s links with Canford School, an eight was formed with four of Canford’s top rowers to train under the watchful eye of Ian Dryden. Enjoying some brief respite from their makeshift boating facilities, the composite crew, rowing as Westover & Bournemouth, managed to finish a very respectable 114th overall and 5th in their category. Things were looking good for the JS men as they then went on to win at Itchen fours and eights head. Meanwhile, the rest of Westover’s men and women had been preparing for Southampton Head Race as part of their preseason schedule, and the club managed to pick up the Courage Cup for the best aggregate time across three crews on the day.
After some notable performances in the run up to the season’s opening regatta, Westover & Bournemouth set the tone for what was going to be a fantastic season for the club. After a false start at the first regatta held by neighbouring club Christchurch, WBRC travelled to the Isle of Wight where they picked up five wins across two regattas. Beating their entire number of wins for the previous season in a single weekend, all eyes were on the club as the Hants & Dorset association realised Westover were going to be a force to be reckoned with.
As the season continued, the club racked up wins at every regatta they attended. Sisters Alicia and Roseanna Bramwell Reeks, who won every junior pairs race they entered, secured Westover’s first championship. It was the first year that the Hants & Dorset Association had recognised the category as a championship event, and the duo won it convincingly to make history for the club. Next up were the junior men, who between the squad of Josh Williams, Jon Solly, Jim Kay and Jon Solly, managed to win the junior pair championship not long after the ladies. Finally, Westover’s JS men, Ali Esinduy, Michael Joscelyne, Jeff Hanafin and Leigh Darlow, left it right down to the last race of the season to secure the first JS championship for the club since 1961. In total across the season, WBRC picked up an impressive 42 wins. And with the junior men’s four and ladies four both finishing second in the H&D title race, it meant that the club would have three crews representing the association at the 59th South Coast Rowing Championships.
On Saturday 12th of September, Wimbleball Rowing Club hosted the championships where crews representing the Hants & Dorset Amateur Rowing Association would take on championship crews from the West of England and Coast associations. After some wet and windy conditions at the start of the event, conditions improved as Westover’s junior men, Josh Williams, Gian-luc Angiolini, Jim Kay and Jon Solly (coxed by Anna Nolan), took to the water for the club’s first race of the day. After trailing to favourites BTC, WBRC put in a strong push for the last 250 meters and passed the leaders just before the line to take the victory. It was an emphatic win and was the fourth time a crew would win at the South Coast Championships in the history of the club.
Next up were Westover’s junior ladies, Danielle Elmy-Liddiard, Alicia Bramwell Reeks, Roseanna Bramwell Reeks and Libby Perry, who faced some tough competition from Southampton based rivals Itchen Imperial. The crew put in a fantastic performance, but were unable to catch the H&D championship winners and finished second. Finally, Westover’s JS managed to finish ahead of all the other opposition except for CARA champions Deal RC who beat them to the line.
It’s fair to say that Westover and Bournemouth Rowing Club have had a tremendous year on the water, but off the water there has also been lots going on. Coaches and committee members have been working behind the scenes to improve links with the community, local schools and have continued to work towards securing new premises. It’s amazing what can be achieved with hard work and determination, and WBRC owe a lot to their members and supporters for making their 150th anniversary year one to remember.