Squirts of refreshment: youngsters scheduled to race on Derby Day

Kenn Oliver koliver@thetelegram.com
Published on July 29, 2011
Members of the Smith Stockley squirt team row in a practice spin at Quidi Vidi lake on Thursday afternoon. Paul Ring (left) is coxswain of the crew, which includes (from left) Nathan Parnell, Ryan King, Ryan Squires, Matthew Field, Michael Tilley and Conor Kavanagh. Two exhibition races — one of boys and one of girls — in the squirt (10-12) age group are on the Royal St. John’s Regatta race schedule, although not part of the formal program. The 2011 Regatta is set to go Wednesday at Quidi Vidi. — Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram

In the hours between the regular race schedule and the evening championships at the Royal St. John’s Regatta, the crowd around Quidi Vidi Lake tends to thin out dramatically.

But this year, there is reason to stick around the pond  during the supper-time break as the Regatta Committee has agreed to hold a pair of exhibition races for boys and girls in the squirt (10-to-12) age group.

The Placentia and Harbour Grace Regatta (which goes Saturday) have been holding squirt races for several years, but this is a first for the St. John’s regatta.

“They’ve been down here for years, they just haven’t been allowed to row. But finally, with some cooperation, we got this going,” says Paul Ring coxswain for the Smith Stockley/Torbay boys team and a catalyst in getting the squirt races on the schedule.

“The biggest supporters of all this was (regatta president) Wayne Young and (vice-president) Don Kelly. They were really behind this. That’s the kind of people you need to get it going.”

Before the proposal was brought to the committee, Ring contacted the presidents of the respective regattas and their squirt coxswains to gauge their interest.

“I got 100 per cent cooperation,” says Ring.

“There’s a lot of interest in it. Out in Placentia and Harbour Grace, when they do a midget race, I’d say that’s the most noise made all day, even more than the championship races.”

The Royal St. John’s Regatta committee wasn’t opposed, but didn’t immediately agree to holding squirt races. Kelly, also the Regatta’s captain of the course, said their needed to be an examination of the logistics of adding to an already-busy race program, while also looking into liability and safety issues related to having youthful rowers on open water.

“They’re so young that we wanted to make sure they had lifejackets that fit them, and we wanted to make sure they had them in the boat ad they had them on and not just laid down by their feet.”

Ring was already coxing a senior men’s crew of  Pennecon Ltd. employees. He went to company seeking some assistance and acquired 72 lifejackets — one for every squirt rower — and got them to sponsor the races.

The squirt course is half the length of the women’s course, but begins at the ladies’ buoys. This  means no turn will be required and allows kids to experience the thrill of crossing the finish line like the rest of the regatta crews.

Unlike the rest of the races on the day, the exhibition races will feature six boats instead of five.

“Throughout history, they have had a couple of seven-boat races on the pond ... and they turned,” suggests Ring. “So it shouldn’t be any problem to go out with six boats on a straight course.”

The boys’ races are schedule to begin at 4:30, with the girls set to follow immediately afterwards. But Kelly cautions that if the weather or other factors delay the rest of the day’s schedule, the races could be delayed or even cancelled.

“They understand that if we have bad pond conditions all day, everything gets pushed back. We you can’t (have squirt races) and not have the championship race that night.”

Furthermore, if the pond conditions warrant a yellow flag — meaning only experienced crews can take to the water — the squirts won’t be allowed to run the course.

While Ring is appreciative of the work that was done on short notice, he believes the committee is still hesitant to accept the squirts since their names won’t appear in the day’s official printed program.

“That’s not showing much support for the youngsters,” says Ring who says some crews are already threatening to skip the Regatta because of that.

Kelly says with such short notice, there simply wasn’t time to get them in. Moreover, the committee’s position is that the squirts shouldn’t be in the program because they are exhibition races. In the event of the races being cancelled, they didn’t want it to reflect negatively on the committee for having planned something that didn’t occur.

“For example, if we knew there was going to be skydiving, but there was a possibility there wouldn’t be, we wouldn’t put anything in print.,” said Kelly.