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I was inspired to write this letter by views expressed in The Telegram on Tuesday, Aug. 1 which begged the question: Has the Royal St. John’s Regatta Committee lost its credibility amongst the public and participants in the annual day of the races?

There are many people who feel confident that the Committee’s credibility has suffered. Many issues coming to the forefront certainly indicate that is the case.

Unfortunately, this detracts from the good work accomplished over the past century by many dedicated, energetic and sincere men and women who have guided the popular event and deserve respect for having saved and preserved it even in the most trying of times.

Despite ongoing controversies like those concerning the starting date and course length, both issues over the last 100 years, the Regatta has thrived and did so due to the enormous dedication and hard work by succeeding committees.

As one who spent decades researching the ‘old-time’ Regattas, particularly those in the 19th century, I find myself in agreement with the criticisms levelled at the Royal St. John’s Regatta Committee by two prominent Regatta activists who represent the views of many rowers, coxswains and coaches whose participation is essential to the survival of the annual Regatta.

Both Bert Hickey and Amanda Hancock recognize the erosion of public confidence in the Committee itself.          

Bert Hickey slammed the Committee for impeding the development of elite crews on Quidi Vidi Lake. He charged that the credibility of the Regatta Committee, “… has been destroyed in our eyes.”

Amanda Hancock, after bringing forward a case for female rowers concluded that, “Refusing to act on feedback from those involved with the sport daily has resulted in injury and discomfort. The Regatta Committee is inaccessible, unavailable and unwilling to meet with crews to discuss issues in a collaborative fashion.”

Erosion of public confidence in the Regatta Committee has been happening for years. More than a decade ago, while serving on the Regatta Hall of Fame Committee, I shared some of my researched Regatta papers that challenged much of the erroneous information passed down from generation to generation.

The Committee showed no interest in correcting their errors. My findings were the result of years of researching 19th century Regattas, in which I scrupulously covered the least known period from 1807 to 1900.

I accepted an invitation to serve as Secretary of the Hall of Fame Committee based, not on any experience I had on the pond, but because of my ongoing research into Regatta history.

I was happy to accept the offer. During my second term in that position, I had uncovered some startling facts about the Regatta and shared it with fellow committee members.

The reaction was a little startling.

A prominent figure gathered his papers and stormed out the door without comment. He obviously passed on what had taken place to the Regatta Committee because when I went to the Quidi Vidi boathouse next day, another leading figure threatened to “… drown me in the pond,” if I came into the boathouse.

I did go in, papers in hand. I came away dry, except for the display of some very cold shoulders. I was deeply thankful that the encounter had not taken place outside.

At this year’s Regatta, I was not at all surprised to hear committee members, repeating without much thought, “This is the 199th RUNNING of the Royal St. John’s Regatta.”

Well, that might be true, if it was not for the fact that the first regattas were held INTERMITTENTLY, and not on a regular basis.

In addition to that historic fact, they could have also subtracted the 10 years from 1861 to 1871 when there were no Regattas. They neglected the subtraction of 1892, 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918.

But why stop there? There was no Regatta in 1940.

Still, broadcasters followed the lead, lock step, and up to the end of the day were still referring to the 199th RUNNING, and why not? One announcer claimed that the statistic regarding the 199th RUNNING had come from a provincial archivist.

Regardless, many of the older rowers, coxswains and coaches and many who have known the difference since 1992 openly disputed the use of the word RUNNING rather than ANNIVERSARY.

Up to 1992, banners on the boathouse used the word “anniversary”, the correct word in referring to each passing Regatta. Yet that also poses a problem. In 2002, for the umpteenth time in Regatta history, the Committee rushed to judgement and despite the availability of accurate records, recognized 1818 as the starting date of the Regatta.

In doing so, the 200th anniversary is being held six years earlier than the correct date.

That type of decision-making saw Committees over the past 100 years jumping from one starting date to another, and being publicly embarrassed by it all.

The same applied after I submitted confirmation that the course rowed in 1901 was 160 feet longer than today’s course.

Little wonder, then, that the committee has been roped into one of its most embarrassing errors in its history — the erroneously acceptance of 1818 as the founding date of the Royal St. John’s Regatta.

Some local media have accepted and encouraged the claim that next year will mark the 200th RUNNING of the Regatta, even though there is a truckload of evidence to show and identify several decades when no Regattas were held.

And the beat goes on!

 

Jack Fitzgerald

St. John’s

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