The day started, like every other day at Lushers College for Ladies, with roll call and prayers in the year Common Rooms. Jane Thomas and Ruth Goldsmith sat together on one side of the Year 11 room, while Annabelle Purvis and her brat-pack fan-girls sat at the back. The school Chaplin, male of course, delivered morning prayers over the school PA system. They washed over Jane, as did some rambling parable about tidy clothes being the window to a tidy mind. A few girls listened intently, but most fidgeted impatiently, all under watchful eye of the year supervisor.
The Chaplin said amen, and his voice was replaced by that of the school Principal, Mrs Clutch, wishing the girls good morning.
“As you all know, Ruth Goldsmith is one our most promising sportswomen and is the current state Junior Sculls champion,” the Principal announced. In the Year 11 Common Room, the announcement was greeted by sucking sounds from the brat pack girls, which earned them quick rebuke from the year supervisor.
“Ruth, will not be defending her title this year,” Principal Clutch continued. “She has decided instead to concentrate on the coxless pair, supported by Jane Thomas, whom we’ve only recently welcomed to the school.”
Jane and Ruth indicated to each other their surprise and disappointment at the Principal’s announcement. They had both hoped to keep their entry in the state rowing titles private, but now the cat was out of the bag. At the back of the room, Annabelle and the brat pack muttered darkly about revenge.
“Well, at least it looks like the Clutch no longer blames us for what happened at the equestrian centre opening,” Jane thought to herself.
Jane and Ruth were summonsed to the Principals office at lunch time, where they were joined by the senior sports mistress, Mrs Berry, a kindly, athletic woman with a keen concern for the welfare of the girls at the school but little knowledge of rowing.
Jane and Ruth told the Principal they found it difficult finding time to train, and the Principal expressed her hope the girls would do the school proud at the both the state titles and the Invitation Girls Rowing Regatta to be held the following month.
Mrs Berry suggested Ruth and Jane be allowed to use the school rowing shed and equipment to train in the mornings and afternoon. The girls were keen, and with Mrs Berry’s support the Principal agreed.
“You also have permission to miss roll call, just make sure you arrive in time for first period.” The Principal told the girls.
“But, you must understand you do not have permission to use the boats without a rowing coach or member of the school sports staff being present,” Mrs Berry insisted.
“We don’t want a repeat of that earlier incident,” the Principal said pointedly. “It was very nearly an unimaginable tragedy.”
Ruth and Jane eagerly agreed to this condition, and quickly adopted their new twice-a-day training regime. The early mornings were easy as both fathers shared the dropping off duties and several of the rowing club coaches were always present. If the weather was fine, the girls would take out one of the double sculls, and often Georgia, who had help rescue Ruth several months earlier, was on hand to coach them.
The afternoons were more difficult as rowing is generally an early morning activity and the shed was usually deserted when the girls arrived after school. Sometimes, when a member of the school rowing staff was available, the girls would take out a boat, but mostly they were on their own and spent the afternoons on the erg rowing machines in the shed’s gym.
Two weeks before the invitation event it was clear to Ruth that the starts were their main weakness. Jane was struggling, as a novice rower with no experience of racing, she was having problems quickly settling into a rhythm from a standing start. A couple of the other crews in the shed practised starts with them every morning, but progress was slow. Ruth was keen to get more boat-time in the afternoons, but the two school rowing coaches were out of town supervising a group of younger girls on a project for their Duke of Edinburgh award.
Georgia, who was now doing morning-shifts at a nearby hospital as part of her prac-work to become a nurse, stepped in. For a couple of hours each afternoon, she shouted instructions and offered advice from the tinny as the girls practised starts in one of the racing shells. Eventually, ‘three quarter, half, three quarter and full’ began to make sense to Jane and the starts were getting better each afternoon they practised.
“I reckon we’ll nail it tomorrow,” Georgia told the girls as they put away the oars after a successful session. “See you then.”
The next day, Jane and Ruth were sitting together in one of the school courtyards at lunchtime. Shelley, one of the meanest and keenest members of the brat pack, was walking behind the two friends when Ruth’s mobile announced an incoming text message; it was from Georgia.
“Oh shoot, I don’t believe it!” Ruth shouted as she put down the phone. The sudden outburst caught Jane by surprise, and the attention of Shelley who stopped, ostensibly to search for something in her bag.
“Georgia can’t come this afternoon, she has to do a double shift at work,” Ruth told Jane.
“Oh well, guess we get the afternoon off,” Jane said with cautious optimism.
“No way!” Replied Ruth.
“You know what the Clutch said,” Jane argued. “We can’t take a boat out on our own.”
“We’ve go to, we’re so near,” Ruth pleaded, arguing they had to build on the previous day’s hard work.
Jane was reluctant to disobey an instruction from the school Principal but finally agreed to an unauthorised rowing practice that afternoon.
Shelley picked up her bag. “Wait ’till Annabelle hears about this,” Shelley said to herself as she silently slipped away.
In the next episode, “Busted”, the afternoon practice session is a disaster and Principal Clutch comes down hard on the Jane and Ruth.