The Maidenhead Rowing Club junior trip to compete in Saint Petersburg in Russia took place from 1st-6th October. The trip was conceived a year ago - Katerina Kleshneva, the lead boys coach at the club is a former Olympian originally from St. Petersburg and still has both family and rowing contacts in the city. Some very enthusiastic mums of juniors took soundings and before we knew it, the trip was on. Regular updates and itineraries were provided during the year.

So well organised were the parents that we even provided our own pilot in the form one of the juniors' dads, a BA pilot who used what should have been his day off to fly us there!

The group stayed in an area boasting many new sports facilities including the new Zenit Saint-Peterburg football stadium in construction for the 2018 world cup. At breakfast on the first morning we gained the impression that all Russians were extremely tall only to discover that the hotel was full of basketball players. Then a group of smaller Russians came in - the cyclists, competing at the next door velodrome.

Maidenhead were hosted by the English Rowing Club of Saint Petersburg (Honorary Chairman: Sir Steve Redgrave) a club originally founded in 1864 by British expatriates and which was re-opened on its original site on the Krestovka river embankment (part of the delta of the River Neva on which Saint Petersburg is situated) in 2010. We were excellently looked after with evening barbecues and lunches at the club. There are several other rowing clubs in the vicinity but crews also came from further afield in Russia for the race.

The 42-strong Maidenhead contingent - half juniors, the rest parents and coaches, kitted out in specially made hoodies supplied by Maidenhead-based club sponsor U-Fit, competed in six crews in the Autumn 'Marathon' Head 5km race around Kamenniy Island racing in either stable coxed quads or coxed fours. The reason for all crews using stable boats quickly became apparent during training sessions on the Friday and Saturday before Sunday's race - although the stretch of water near the English Rowing Club (where the race started and finished) is sheltered, the course soon enters much wider and less sheltered water which became very choppy even in a modest breeze. Fortunately, however, the Sunday race day proved to be sunny and still with flat water over the whole course. Our Russian hosts were very kind in providing boats, blades and coxes and the format of the event - a circular race - meant that boats could easily be used multiple times during the day.

In the junior categories, they race in two-year age groups based on calendar years, so sometimes two Maidenhead crews of different ages were competing in the same category. Our Russian hosts seem to support their crews in a much more genteel fashion than Maidenhead with polite applause but tolerated with good humour (and perhaps bemusement) the traditional and more raucous Maidenhead method of everyone shouting "Go Maidenhead!" loudly and repeatedly. With just a few exceptions nobody spoke each others language but this really didn't seem to matter as everybody spoke fluent rowing.

In a triumph of Anglo-Russian co-operation and diplomacy (Putin and Cameron, please note), two of the category winning crews were Maidenhead- ERC St. Petersburg composites and two second placed crews were pure Maidenhead crews (although all crews had Russian coxes). Medals and certificates were presented for the first three places in each event with trophies for the winners.

One interesting aspect was to compare British and Russian rowing styles. Russian crews generally seem not to get as far forward at the catch, but they get their blades in the water very quickly and really emphasize the finish. It seems to work!

Saint Petersburg is simply a fantastic city and far surpassed everyone's expectations. The city - known for good reason as the Northern Venice - includes 44 islands and 250 bridges as well as the famous sights such as the Hermitage Museum, St. Issac's Cathedral, Peter and Paul's fortress (containing the tombs of many Russian Tzars), Church of the Saviour on the Spilt Blood and numerous other spectacular and beautiful buildings. Highlights included a trip to the ballet, Catherine the Great's Summer Palace (just outside Saint Petersburg) and a river cruise to see the sights of the city from the water. 

It was a trip that no-one who went will ever forget.

For any clubs or crews wanting to compete in Saint Petersburg, the next opportunity is the 'Golden Blades' sprint regatta held near the centre of the city in June next year - international crews are encouraged.

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