Combining a crew of proven quality with the latest and greatest in domestic boat-craft, the TPA quad will take to the water this July – if conditions permit – aiming to displace Jersey’s top men in the annual inter-island showdown over 27km.
Although Guernsey have dominated the combined-class Le Poidevin Trophy in recent years, they have watched a Jersey men’s quad cross the line first overall in the last two editions.
Veteran rowing star Simon Johns wants to put an end to that.
The Sarnian focus has typically fallen on the men’s doubles in recent years, but Johns is leading a renewed quads challenge alongside usual partner James Coquelin, plus Joe Paul, Tom de Kooker and vastly experienced cox Lloyd Le Page.
‘The last few years, we haven’t had a quad row all season and race the Sark to Jersey,’ Johns said.
‘Our quad that raced the Sark to Jersey last year was two pairs that got together last minute and we’ve all had families and couldn’t row quads – we used to all row quads years ago.
‘It’s a fresh challenge to take on the Jersey guys, because they’ve crossed the line first in the last two races that have been held. We want to give them some competition.
‘We’ve all rowed together before and everyone was motivated to give this project a go.’
The ‘project’ has relied on the boat-crafting expertise of Wedd Osmond, Lloyd Le Page and Dave Perrio to create the optimal racing shell.
It is an advancement of Osmond’s Out of the Blue, which was Guernsey’s boat of choice for men’s quads victory in 2018 and a close defeat in 2019 before being handed to a high-flying women’s crew.
A watered-down ‘S2J’ with landing restrictions took place in 2021 and Guernsey’s top men’s quad, thrown together just days before, finished 35sec. behind the Jersey winners.
Johns will be taking nothing for granted this summer, even with a crew composed of former class winners and including multiple record-setter Paul.
‘I’m very confident we can be competitive, but to win any race, things need to go right on the day,’ he said.
Individually, Johns will be known for making news headlines last November when he broke the world 24-hour ergometer record for the 40-49 age group.
In this very different mission, he and his crewmates will be making good use of the Guernsey Rowing Club’s expansive season, which begins with tonight’s Course B race.
‘The plan will be to row the local race calendar, as many races as we can, and the calendar this year is stacked – there’s pretty much a race every week.
‘We will do as many races as realistically possible.’
When certain members are not available, as is inevitable due to family commitments and holidays, they intend to race in their TPA double instead.
That is the same boat in which Johns and Coquelin have shone during recent seasons, where the men’s doubles have very much been in vogue.
But now this powerhouse crew will be vying to put the Guernsey men’s quads back in the limelight.
What about Osmond’s side of the story?
The former Geomarine worker has created or at least collaborated on many fine racing shells over multiple decades, apparently signing off with Out of the Blue in 2018.
He bore the brunt of that construction alone and it was six long months in the making – largely due to its demanding soft-chine build.
The smooth sides allow more efficient movement in water than the hard, flat panels of its hard-chine predecessors, but they require a lot more work, being composed of countless cedar strips edge-glued over forms and epoxy-glass fibred over.
After creating that top-notch quads boat, he stepped aside.
That was until, like many people, he ended up with too much time on his hands during the spring 2020 Covid lockdown.
‘I had given up boat-building and thought “well, I’ve had enough of it”, and then lockdown came,’ Osmond said.
‘I decided I needed something to do, having retired, and I built a seated singles on the same sort of construction – cedar strips with epoxy coating.
‘Then I decided I’d had enough.
‘Then last year, after Johnsy did his epic 24-hour row, he approached us with Lloyd and he’d put these massive proposals together – they had a crew lined up and they wanted a boat, and I really couldn’t turn them down.’
That started a lengthy boat-craft journey that only ended earlier this month.
Osmond joined forces with Le Page and also Dave Perrio in a multi-month mission to finish production before the new season, which they narrowly managed.
‘Because of the amount of work involved, I needed Lloyd and Dave to form a team with me. There’s a lot to it.
‘It’s been hundreds of hours, but it is a labour of love – it’s not a commercial venture.’
Osmond rates it as ‘an improvement’ on Out of the Blue, notably with a more wave-piercing bow than its direct predecessor.
It is similarly light, at just under 120kg, and so is required to carry 20kg of ballast to meet the minimum weight for GRC fixtures.
But that requirement is scrapped when it comes to major races like the Sark to Jersey, where their real ambitions lie.
‘The anxiety for me has been will it perform in the open sea, in race conditions? But so far, it looks promising, encouraging.
‘It’s pretty much state of the art – certainly for the Channel Islands – and I would rate it against the best that’s available internationally.’
It is just as well that their latest specimen is so optimal.
The team are set to lose their building shed with the Leale’s Yard developments, so the boat-craft journey may well be at an end.
‘I would like to thank the Channel Islands Co-Op for the free use of that shed for all these years.’
Ultimately a Guernsey victory in the Sark to Jersey, which is scheduled for Saturday 9 July with initial back-up dates two weeks later, would be very much a team effort.
That is not just for the five men in the water, but for those tireless boat-builders and other uncredited support from behind the scenes.
Tonight’s Course B race takes place over 5.5km and sets off from Havelet at 6.30pm