The long, cold winter solstice row
06/07/2012 - 17:45:00
Despite it being the heart of winter, this did not deter a hardy group of South African rowers who gathered for the River Vaal Long Row in central South Africa.
Held every year just close to the winter solstice, the Long Row covers 30km of the River Vaal and invariably it is cold. This year at the start, which for some can be as early as 5:30am, the temperature was 2 degrees Celsius. This, says organiser Charley Lewis, was one of the warmer years.
The event is unique as there is no timing, no starting gun – crews can start when they like – no medals, no winners or losers and no one keeps track of who rows.
“The Long Row is a marathon that pits each rower and each crew against the cold, and the meandering river, and the long hours it takes to complete the course,” says Lewis.
Started in the mid-1960s by the Wemmer Pan Rowing Club, the event was originally just for club members. Now it has extended to other clubs and the participants range from junior rowers through to university teams and masters rowers.
“The ages of the crews span the spectrum,” says Lewis. “A number of school crews row, mostly from the under-16 level and above. Wemmer also puts together crews from school pupils attending our annual off-season Wemmer Winter Clinic, mostly in bigger boats. Soweto Rowing Club had about 10 participants this year. I also saw at least one university crew, from University of Pretoria. Much of this stretch the river passes millionaire river-front properties and resorts.”
Crews come back year after year. “Some Wemmer rowers have done it upwards of 20 times,” says Lewis. “This year was my third, and, I hope, not my last.” Lewis says that although no times are taken some crews will boast about their finishing time.
Lewis hopes that at some stage overseas rowers will choose to come to the event. “It is just such a lovely event. I hope one year we will have some crews come in from overseas to join us. We promise them a fun row, and good hospitality.”
No Picnic at The Long Row
They leave their warm beds in the dead of night
When they get to the Vaal, it's just getting light.
At the start, at Eligwa, much activity can be seen
Of boats and rowers who look blue and green.
Yes it's cold and misty on this auspicious day
When rowers prove they are not made of clay.
Thirty kilometres is a long way to row
"Just climb in that boat and get on with the show"
There are singles, doubles, quads and eights
They do up their shoes and talk to their mates
All are in this together, come frost, rain or shine
When they get to Loch Vaal they'll feel just fine
En route they need their mouths to feed
They have more junk food than they will ever need
A visit to the loo along the way
Is not so easy the oarswoman say
The view is pretty as Millionaires Row passes by
"Will we ever reach the finish?" they all like to sigh.
This is not a race, they do this for fun
It's a test of endurance but it can be done
The Long Row in June is here to stay
A toast to those who row all the way!
Sigi Hudson - June 1999