On April 1, a group of Mortlake rowers and coaches headed across the Channel for a week of intensive training in the French rowing haven of Brive-la-Gaillarde. This is their story.

Never heard of Brive? Don’t worry, most people not born there haven’t either. According to Brive’s Wikipedia page, it is famous for being associated with a song by popular French singer Georges Brassens, and for having excellent rowing facilities at the local lake, Lac-du-Casse. As none of us have a particular penchant for 1960s French pop music, the Mortlake team can testify only that the second fact is true.

After a rigger-ous session of assembling boats for the week (a veritable pick ‘n’ mix of single, double and quad sculls), we settled in to six days of training sessions under the tutelage of Merv, Geoff, Ben and Luke, where we worked on improving (or in some cases establishing or rediscovering) our technical and racing abilities.

Each day the group, an intergenerational blend of the Mortlake Senior, Development and Masters squads, leapt enthusiastically out of bed and straight on to the water for early morning, mid-morning and mid-afternoon paddles in what was generally beautiful, sunny weather. Our laps up and down the 2km course at breakneck speed were interrupted only by bulk consumption of carbs and delicious French instant coffee, with most rowers posting total camp training distances of >150kms.

A highlight reel of the training activities would definitely show footage of 1) the feared doubles matrix, where members of the Mortlake Senior squad savagely battled each other in different double scull combinations for supremacy and a packet of Carrefour candy; and 2) afternoon quad racing, where sideways winds and some interesting steering techniques kept competition fierce and start line banter even fiercer.

Although by day 7 hands were blistered, toilet paper stock was depleted and it had become starkly apparent which squad members were born to burn like tomatoes rather than tan like beautiful French goddesses, by the end of the week the group had undoubtedly banded together as an new-ish, improved crew.

Thanks to the coaches, whose patience and well-timed bursts of kindness kept performance levels high and emotional outbursts short – without you the week would not have been so productive. Additional thanks to everyone who had a hand in organising the camp, which was no doubt a rousing success that will have all attendees (and those who unfortunately missed out this year) booking their first-class RyanAir tickets for Camp 2018 as soon as humanly possible.

***Fun Brive fact, once again referencing the intellectual powerhouse that is Wikipedia, it turns out that in addition to its majestic views and delightful swimming conditions (as some of the squad members found out on the last day of camp, taking a relaxing 15-second celebration dip in the serene water), the lake also boasts multiple species of the Caiman alligator. No need for worry though, they have an maximum average weight of 20kg, which in Australia would classify them as large goldfish.