The short version is that at a training camp in Amposta, Spain at the end of 2000, a crew from the Oxford University lightweight men’s group was swamped in a flash storm, in the ensuing panic one of the crew, Leo Blockley, attempted to swim for the shore and never made it. (The story is more complex than that and many more details are available on the memorial campaign’s website.)
Burying a child must be the saddest duty a parent can ever do and, since then, as a memorial to their lost son, Leo Blockley’s parents have, admirably, conducted a campaign over the issue of buoyancy in rowing shells. You see while all racing rowing boats – from the small singles to the large eights – have to almost by definition float, there remains a grey area around the issue of their handling in inclement and unusual conditions. In the majority of outings undertaken on inshore water in the UK and around the world, the worst that might happen are a few small waves (perhaps from passing launches) and maybe a bit of rain.
The issue raised is how much these shells need to be able to remain buoyant when they have undergone extreme shock – be it overwhelming swamping or through losing structural integrity. How much should a shell be obligated to be able to still float when totally swamped (as was the case in Amposta).
It has been proven that the marginal cost of providing sufficient buoyancy to new shells is minimal and most boat manufacturers now offer this as standard, but certainly as a free/cheap option. But how much should this be obligated – and going further, how responsible are the UK governing body, the ARA, or the international body, FISA, for not having in their rules stipulations regarding safe supported weights.
The re-opening of the inquest, which had originally returned a verdict of accidental death, leads to a distressing inevitable conclusion – that criminal investigations and possible criminal charges are in the offing. The obvious conclusion is that someone considers someone (be it an individual or the sport’s powers that be) potentially criminally liable. Such a conclusion has almost inevitable repercussions.
The demise of rowing in the UK. That would be a lasting legacy to build on the earlier tragic drowning of Leo Blockley.
Killing through kindness?