If you ask some of the more senior members of the club what the Veteran regatta is about, they will likely regale you with stories of ‘having a pull’ quaffing a lot of beer and a party where you might ‘get lucky’. 20 years ago, that was not so far of the mark. If you knew which end of an oar to hold, the chances were that you would come home with a win.
Today, veteran, or as it is now known, Masters Rowing is a very different story. Gone are the beer bellies, the purple faces of heavily puffing unfit middle aged men trying to recreate their youth.
FISA World masters is now the largest regatta in the world, with races running every 3 minutes for 4 days. If you want to see luscious legs in lycra, come along. The idea of continuing to race as the years roll on has indeed caught the imagination of rowers from across the globe with 39 different nations represented.
As many an optimist has found to their cost, to be competitive, let alone win, now requires a serious commitment to training. Not just a paddle up the river on the odd Sunday when the sun shines. A couple of years back, I asked the ladies from the Czech pair how often they trained. They looked at me in incomprehension as if I had asked a really stupid question and the answer came back; every day, of course!
The regatta is not just a playground for us old ones, it also raises money from every entry for the youth commission and in 2012, for example, brought a young lad from Paraguay, Jose Servin, to the World Junior Championships in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.
So what was Varese like this year?
Sparkling sunshine and temperatures in the 30s. The lake flat as a pancake for the first 3 days. 3,000 athletes swarming on and off the stages with some of their best club equipment on show. Talk about Empacher and Fillipi city!
The racing was fast and furious and the times achieved would challenge a lot of Henley crews. Many a blanket finish, even in races involving Dynamo Moscow, the new force in men’s masters rowing. A good number of Eights and Quads were posting sub 3 minute times, and some scullers were making times of under 3:20!
On the men’s side Kingston was represented by Andy Tompkins rowing in a composite with Quintin Boat Club. They had a very close run in their eight’s race, storming back at the eventual winners from Commercial BC, Ireland, only to be found a few feet short by the line.
However, sweet success came in the D4x with a nicely controlled win by the best part of half a length.
On the ladies front it was down to Birgith Sims, as usual, to defend the scarlet and white stripes.
Comprehensive wins in E4-, G4+ and F2x with a handful of seconds in the other classes. It can be extremely trying to come second time and again, but nice to come back with something to show for a whole year’s training.
The Sunday, with the wind beginning to come up, was as usual given over to mixed crew racing, which is no less competitive, although rarely practiced prior to the event. New friendships are readily formed and often invitations to race in new locations are on offer. Our mixed eight, which had planned to race at the cancelled Veteran Head in March, took to the water and came a fine second (again!) with 5 different nations from 6 different clubs in the boat.
The organising committee must have made a pact with the devil because within an hour of the last race the heavens opened. Big electrical storm, howling gale and torrential rain for the next 10 hours. Fortunately, by then we were in the car driving off to a well earned week in the mountains of the Italian Lake district. A bit of R and R and a few bottles of wine.
So next time, when the ‘old heavies’ poo poo the Masters rowers, do come and try it before you condemn us to the scrapheap. Maybe there is a reason why we are now called ‘masters’ rather than veterans!