One of the oldest crews ever to compete in an event on the Thames will take to the water in the Abingdon Head of the River race on Sunday, writes Michael Knox.

Wallingford's super veteran crew, with an average age of nearly 76, will be rowing in Division 1 at 9.30am, a time when many men of their age will still be in bed.

Veteran rowing is divided into categories A, B, C, D etc dependent on age. This veteran I crew is a rare beast.

The rarity can be judged by the fact that there was only one veteran G entry (average age 65-70) in the Tideway Veteran Head last year and only one Veteran H (average age 70-75) in the Molesey Veteran Head.

The crew's cox is Gus Gray, 77, who guided the winning Wallingford crew in the University of Reading Head Race this year, a race in which he first competed in 1954! He will (God willing!) return next year.

He still coaches the Wallingford juniors for four hours every Saturday, regardless of the weather, a pursuit for which he is very well qualified after a career in child psychology.

The stroke is Mike Maggs - at 67 the youngest and stripling of the crew - who started rowing at Alfred Sutton School in Reading in 1956 and was a founder member and captain at Pangbourne Rowing Club.

He set a course record at Wallingford in 1961, which still stands as the course has since been lengthened!

Paddy Hislop, 77, is still an active sculler, sweep oarsman and jazz club afficionado, as well as working as an architect!

Colin Baker, 76, first rowed in 1947 at Putney and won his first trophy the following year. As an amateur silversmith, he turns his skills to boat repairs, for which the club is grateful.

The senior member of the crew is John Sutcliffe, 83, a mathematician, hydrologist and oarsman, who started rowing in 1947 and has rowed at Wallingford since 1972.

Diabetes and other ravages of age do not prevent participation in heavy outings with the younger veterans, although he has, on two occasions, required prising from his oar and being lifted from the boat after interval training.

Andy Millar, the veterans' organiser, who put the crew together, said: "They're a great bunch of chaps and it's fantastic that they are still at it."

"They've never rowed together before, so it should be interesting to see how they do."