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Picture this. We’re fit, race-ready and have planned our start. We’re a bit older (OK, a lot older) than our opponents, but we’re a good crew and we’re quietly confident that we can beat them. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, the sea, for a start. Just getting into the boat involves an awful lot of water, a tippy, slippy, lurching boat and some distinctly unladylike moves (probably time to stop picturing it).

When we’re all finally in our seats, we take a few tentative strokes, and the shrieking begins. The wind blows my cap half off, but I’m more interested in how to persuade my flailing blades to make contact with the water, which is there one minute and gone the next as we’re tossed around on the waves. The race plan, so carefully devised in the car an hour ago, is blown away along with my cap. “Just keep rowing until someone tells you to stop?” is the new plan.

Welcome to coastal rowing. It’s wild, it’s windy, it’s a lot of fun and it’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever done in a boat before. Here’s what I learned about it:

1. Anything can happen. Even the most controlled, elegant rower can come to grief when a wave crashes over the boat.

2. However many changes of clothes you thought you’d need, triple it.

3. By changes of clothes, I mean everything – socks, underwear, the lot. One cox from another club – who, needless to say, shall remain nameless – had to go commando for one race. Just imagine. Actually, don’t.

4. Maybe it’s the sea air, but I was more tired after four shortish races on the briny than I’ve ever been after a regatta on the river. Stock up on your sleep before and aftewards.

5. Nothing tastes as good as the first drink after coming ashore for the last time. Luckily, Penarth has a lovely bar.

Big thanks to Penarth Rowing Club for an excellent day out and a steep, if choppy, learning curve.

Taking to the water. That's me at 3, pulling faces...

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