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Veteran crew wins decisively, with team members setting some notable records, but a new men's standard wasn't to be
The Regatta gods are as fickle as the weather conditions they control. They rarely provide all that is asked for, and even when they do, their timing can often be wonky.
Such was this case Wednesday at Quidi Vidi Lake in St. John’s, site of the 201st anniversary Royal St. John’s Regatta. It was a fine day, with dandy pond conditions, especially in the early morning, when the most competitive crews opened the race schedule, and in the evening, for the women’s and men’s championship races.
That helped produced solid results, including the nine minutes and 4.71 seconds posted by Fine Strokes Plaster and Painting Ltd. for a decisive victory in the men’s final. But you can be sure many of the rowers in the boat — and their coxswain, too — were engaged, or at least will engage, in a little “what if,” wondering what would have happened had such a pond been presented to them in 2018.
A year ago, the crew was known as Outer Cove and was coming to the end of a lengthy and well-thought-out training plan in advance of the 200th anniversary Regatta. Their goal was to not just triumph, but to do so in record-setting fashion as they took aim at the course standard of 8:51.12 established in 2007 by Crosbie Industrial Services.
They gave it a good shot, but so-so rowing conditions certainly contributed to them coming up about five seconds in the morning race and considerably slower than that in the evening championship.
Four of the members of that 2018 team — stroke James Cadigan, his brother Daniel, Mark Perry and Colin Stapleton — returned this year with a new moniker, provided by the company owned by new coxswain Craig Whittle. Not that Whittle was an unfamiliar face — he had won championships with these guys before as a rower and a spare. What’s more, former coxswain Mark Hayward swapped the toggle line for an oar, becoming a Regatta rower for the first time in more than a decade.
“You always think about that stuff, about the ponds that you’re given. But over the years, you come to realize that you can’t take anything for granted down here. You can’t count on anything other than what you can do yourselves."
James Cadigan, stroke aor for Fines Strokes
With Brent Payne, who had rowed with Outer Cove in 2018, being used as Fine Stroles spare, it meant Adam Kavanagh was the only real newcomer to the boat.
But despite the relative continuity, the skill and the veteran savvy, nobody was pretending this year was the same as last, with its sharp focus and special sacrifice.
So when Wednesday opened with a Quidi Vidi surface that could have passed for some sort of natural mirror, the question had to be, “Where were you last year?”
“You always think about that stuff, about the ponds that you’re given. But over the years, you come to realize that you can’t take anything for granted down here. You can’t count on anything other than what you can do yourselves,” said James Cadigan.
“It’s the beauty of the sport and, I guess, the hard thing about it at the same time.”
Not that there wasn’t much to celebrate in Wednesday’s performance.
The championship was the 11th of James Cadigan’s career, the most by any Regatta rower and one more than his former and longtime teammate, Ronnie Whitten.
Hayward’s transformation was notable in that he last rowed in the Regatta in 2007 with the Canada Games team. And although he appreciates his Regatta championships as a coxswain, he revels in what he experienced this summer.
“It’s definitely sweeter winning as a rower,” he said. “When you are rowing, your job is to simply go as hard as you can so you can be as fast as you can. As a coxswain, you have so much on your mind, but to actively be part of it, that’s a sweet feeling.”
For Hayward, it was like going from a switch on a machine to a gear.
“I’m a cog in the wheel for sure, but the others made it so easy. They took me in like I had been there since 2006,” he said.
And then there was Whittle, who became only the second coxswain to steer men’s and women’s Regatta champions in the same year, joining Rich Bailey, who did it on multiple occasions in the 1990s.
Whittle — who coxed Hyflodraulic to a women’s championship Wednesday, celebrated with that crew briefly, changed shirts and then stepped into the Fine Strokes boat for the men’s final — had steered other female crews in the past, as well as age-group teams, but had never guided a senior male team until this year.
“You know what? I rowed with the boys for years and it made it easier,” said Whittle. “I knew how we wanted to row and I didn’t have to figure out (the others') personalities. I knew what made them tick.
“We were coming back up the pond this evening, I was digging up personal stuff to keep them going and they did keep going and they kept getting faster.”
Fine Strokes’ win denied Belfor a men’s Triple Crown. That Placentia-based crew had won earlier regattas in their hometown and in Harbour Grace (Fine Strokes didn’t participate in either), but were more than 17 seconds back of the winners Wednesday night.
NTV (9:27.20) was third, followed by Smith Stockley (9:48.42) and Ricanna Petroleum (9:53.45).
The members of Smith Stockley rowed with a teammate on their minds. No. 4 oar Chris Quinton, who had competed with the team in their morning race, suffered an apparent seizure in the afternoon and was hospitalized.
Matthew Manning rowed in his place.