Those people who still attend the Royal St. Johns’ Regatta for the racing, not just the carnival games and concessions, will have a lot more to cheer for this Wednesday at Quidi Vidi Lake.
Following a modest increase in the number of crews competing last year, this year’s 195th running will feature 105 crews in total — 26 more than in 2011.
Regatta committee president Don Kelly says the dramatic surge in crews is a direct result of the Chevron Learn to Row program, first introduced in the fall of 2010. Kelly says the program, which resumes again this fall, was a great way of breaking down barriers for people who wanted to get involved with rowing but weren’t sure where to start.
“Generally, if your family was in it, you came down and you had an easy introduction to the sport because you knew people who could get you into the boat. Those that weren’t close to it or didn’t know someone were probably a little bit intimidated by it and weren’t able to get involved because they didn’t know the people,” Kelly said.
“But with this program you can come down and bring five people with you, or you can come down by yourself and they’ll put you in with a group.”
Another initiative helping bolster crew numbers is the squirt program for rowers aged 10 to 12, started last season by a group of coxswains, led by skipper Paul Ring.
“(Before) kids couldn’t start here until they were 13 or 14, but by that time, they had already picked a sport and if they were competitive types, they were already dedicated and didn’t want to move on,” Kelly said.
After a handful of crews competed in exhibition races in 2011, this year will see 10 squirt crews — four male, six female — hit the pond in a pair of races.
“We feel it’s our future,” says Kelly. “We were really lucky to have someone like Paul Ring help bring that on board last year, so we’ve named the male race and trophy after him.”
The girls will compete for the QE II Diamond Jubilee trophy.
Kelly, whose term as president will take him into 2013, hopes to be able to work with the organizers of the Placentia and Harbour Grace regattas in order to expand the sport on a provincial level ahead of next year’s race season.
“Except for the VOCM Triple Crown (to crews that win all three races), there’s really not much in common right now. In talking to the different committees, there’s a lot of interest in the three of us getting together to try to promote the sport from a provincial perspective.”
Hopeful about forecast
On Monday evening, Kelly said he wasn’t worrying about the weather until Wednesday morning, but the most recent forecast he had received from AMEC gave reason to be optimistic.
“The winds look favourable, but I don’t like the direction. It’s calling for north-northeast, but only around eight to 10 knots and gusting to 16 or 17. With the north-northeast wind, it’ll give us the 18- to 20-degree temperature instead of the 27 to 28.
“With the north-northeast wind … temps will be a little cooler than we’ve had in the past, but still really nice for spectators.”
Races get underway Wednesday at 8:30 a.m. with the men’s amateur race. The women’s championship race is set for 7 p.m., with the men to follow at 7:30.
The number of crews, by age group, rowing in Wednesday’s Royal St. John’s Regatta: