Brits at the World Rowing Masters Regatta 2023: “The best regatta I’ve ever been to”
Highlights and reports from British rowers who travelled to the Roodeplaat Dam near Tshwane in South Africa for the first World Rowing event on the continent
Every staging of a World Rowing event is unique, reflecting and showcasing the culture of the country where it takes place, the venue, and the creativity of the local volunteers. In this case, that was more true than ever.
One British competitor, Sarah Talbot of Wycliffe College BC explains more: “It was fabulous – the best regatta I’ve ever been to! What an experience to be sculling to the start and have kudu and zebra grazing the banks of the lake, to camp right next to the water, woken every morning by the calls of Hadeda Ibis and Egyptian Geese, and to witness a Pied Kingfisher hovering above the water and to go to sleep to the sounds of cicadas and frogs.”
She continues: “Hosting the first World Rowing event under African skies was clearly a huge task for the Organising Commitee and they rose to that challenge and far exceeded my expectations. Apparently when they opened their volunteering site they were inundated and had twice the number of people apply than they needed. Everyone we met was full of enthusiasm and pride at hosting and made a huge effort to make us feel welcome.”
One of the many challenges was getting rid of the infestation of hyacinth, which clogs the water. Work on this had started back in 2022, clearing these weeds from a huge area of this lake by hand. New boat and blade racks as well as upgrades to the clubhouse, finish tower, sewerage and water systems means that the WRMR 2023 has left a legacy for South African Rowing.
While World Masters Regattas usually only party on the Saturday night, Sarah explains: “We were treated to a range of entertainment every day including a rowing quiz hosted by the Rowshow, Gum Boot Dancers and live musicians Majozi and 4am. Everything stopped for the rugby. Perhaps nothing beats sitting out under the stars in a passionate crowd to watch the Springboks take on Ireland on a giant screen on Saturday night. The singing of their national anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica was electrifying!”
Even with such excellent organisation, the regatta faced disruption from the weather. “A violent storm on the Tuesday night threatened to disrupt the event, we were all evacuated from our tents as the wind tore through the site and the lightening flashed threateningly above us. We retreated to the upstairs of the boathouses where there were bunkbeds lined up and we snuggled down until it was deemed safe to go back to our tents,” Sarah reports. “The next day we learnt that an encampment of local people who had helped to set up the rowing site had been burnt to the ground when a fire blew out of control in the high winds. There was a call out for cash, items of clothing, blankets and food, which were then donated by competitors and staff. With just 308 races WRMR 2023 may have been considerably smaller than usual but its organisation was first class; being smaller meant there was a real community spirit and sense of commraderie. It felt as if everyone knew they were part of something unique and very special.”
One innovative opportunity afforded by the smaller number of entries was to stage ‘super finals’ in the single sculling events for the fastest scullers who were actually of the age group from each of the individual races. This meant that older scullers who might have won while ‘racing down’ a category couldn’t compete in the super final, thus spreading the honours, and a full set of gold, silver and bronze medals were awarded. Gillian Connal of Strathclyde Park won the WB1x super final, and Jacqueline Easton of Marlow won the WF1x event in which Ailie Ord of Strathclyde Park took the bronze.
Gillian and Ailie won 17 gold medals between them, which made Strathclyde Park the highest-ranking British club in the women’s Victrix Ludorum, coming seventh overall – despite their being the club’s only representatives! Thames finished eighth in the men’s Victor Ludorum.
Other British wins were too numerous to mention here, but other shout outs go to Christopher Waumsley (Llandaff) and Chris Skuse (Nottingham and Union) who won MasE, F and G 2x, Kevin Spencer of Fairlop who won MasD1x and Gordon Jack of Lakeland who won MasG1x. Sarah Talbot won five events.
British World Rowing Umpire Paddy Ibbotson was a member of the Jury.
Photos: With kind permission of British competitors.