Toby Venables talks to Peterborough City Rowing Club chairman John Canton about upcoming events, ways to get involved, and how the club came to have some of the finest facilities in the country
FIRST, LET’S TALK ABOUT THE CLUB’S 1,000 METRE, PURPOSE-BUILT ROWING LAKE… THAT’S AN INCREDIBLE FACILITY TO HAVE. HOW DID IT COME ABOUT?
It was dug in 1983 – also the year the club moved here. At that time it was a very rare facility in the country, and I have to say it still is pretty rare. The Olympic course at Eton Dorney is a more recent construction, but there are still only four or five artificial rowing courses in Great Britain. Most regattas are run on rivers, and rivers are generally only wide enough for two crews to race at a time, and you’e got all the issues of bends in the river, pleasure cruisers and so on. On the rowing lake we can have four crews rowing side by side, and it’s dedicated just for rowing. Rowers around the country know it’s a very good facility. It makes for very fair racing, as well, because it’s a straight course and you haven’t got arguments about how someone took the corner when going round one of the bends. Competitors like that.
HOW DID THE CLUB GET STARTED?
Previously the club was located on the river, more or less where the Frank Perkins Parkway crosses the river, beyond the Key Theatre. The boathouse was actually demolished to make way for that bridge. The club had originally started there in 1948, with donated wooden boats and donated sheds, and gradually made progress until by the early 60s it had a proper brick boathouse. Then, in the late 70s it became clear from the Development Corporation plans that the club was going to have to move. Fortunately, it coincided with the Development Corporation having to dig a flood balancing reservoir for the river, which is what the rowing lake essentially is. The role of the Development Corporation was to improve and expand the city, so they thought ‘Why don’t we try to make this reservoir useful for a water sport?’ They knew the rowing club was having to move anyway, so they talked to us, and we put our heads together and worked out that it would be possible to make the flood reservoir the right size and shape for a rowing lake. And we moved to the new location in 1983.
HOW DID YOU COME TO JOIN, AND HOW HAS MEMBERSHIP CHANGED?
I came to Peterborough with my first proper job in 1976, and I’d rowed at Reading University and at school, so it was natural for me to join the rowing club. I got involved with the committee and the move followed fairly quickly afterward. It was pretty small when I joined. In terms of active rowers, it was probably about 20, with the rest just social members. Total membership now averages about 200, of which 130-140 are active rowers. But we feel we have the facilities to be bigger than that, and have drawn up a development plan covering the period to 2020. It’s part of our plan to increase the size of the club, and we’re keen to attract new members who haven’t rowed before.
HOW DO YOU SEE THE FUTURE OF THE CLUB?
Our aim is to have 300 members by 2020. Peterborough has the population to support it, and we have the facilities. It’s a sport many people don’t know much about, and which may seem hard to get into unless you’ve done it before. Rowing is a big sport in Cambridge, but Peterborough doesn’t have that tradition, and in some ways, it’s a minor sport in the city – but we’d like to make much more of it! I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who would like to have a go.
THE CLUB’S SPRING REGATTA ALSO PROVIDES AN OPPORTUNITY FOR PEOPLE TO SEE ROWING IN ACTION – TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT…
There will be two full days of racing on 30-31 May, with rowing starting about 9am and going to about 6.30pm. It’s free for spectators, races are run at four minute intervals all day, and we get competitors from all around the country. We also have a two-day Summer Regatta on 8-9 August. They’re among the bigger regattas on the circuit through the summer months, and are popular largely because we have the purpose-built rowing lake.
HOW MANY COMPETITORS TAKE PART?
It’ll be around a thousand each day, so it’s very busy! There are a variety of categories of racing. There are age categories, which will offer racing for those up to 14, Junior 15s, junior 16s, junior 18s. There are also age bands for veteran rowers – those 40 plus. Then there’s the senior rowing, which is mostly people in their 20s and 30s. There’s also a variety of categories depedning on how experienced people are, so there will be Novice categories for those completely new to the sport. We also have a variety of boat types – singles, doubles fours and eights. Quite a selection of races to watch; different types, different ages, men and women – there are as many women’s events as men’s events. And each member of a winning crew gets a pewter tankard as a prize.
IS THIS, IN ESSENCE, THE KIND OF THING ONE WOULD EXPECT TO SEE AT THE OLYMPICS?
It’s a mini version, yes. The Olympic course is longer – twice as long as our lake – and you get six lanes rather than eight, but it is a mini version of an Olympic regatta. The other variation is that at the Olympics you only have the best rowers, without the junior and veteran categories, so we’re actually offering a broader range of rowing.
DOES THAT ALSO MEAN IT’S A LITTLE LESS SERIOUS…?
People enjoy the racing, but fundamentally everybody wants to win! In the Novice categories, where the competitors may have a lot of enthusiasm but not as much skill, it can be a lot of fun. They know they are less experienced, but they give it their all and do what they can. Novices tend to be less grumpy when they lose, though!
WHAT SHOULD PEOPLE DO IF THEY’RE INTERESTED IN TAKING UP ROWING?
What we’re doing through the summer months is running ‘Learn 2 Row’ courses, designed for complete beginners who have never been in a boat before. There are eight sessions to give people a thorough introduction to the sport. They can then decide whether they like it – which hopefully they will – and we can then help them develop their technique and ability. The club website has a Learn 2 Row page, and people can register there for a course there by emailing one of the coaches. There are two coaches who deal with different ages groups – from about 12 to 16, and 16s and above.
AND FINALLY, HOW WOULD YOU SUM UP THE ATTRACTION OF THE SPORT?
I learned to row at school, and we rowed in eights. When you get everything coming together, you get a tremendous feeling of power from those eight people. You’re very close to the water, so you have this great feeling of speed. I’ve also got a competitive streak, so being in an eight, going fast, racing against another crew is an extremely exciting experience. At times, in other team sports, you’ll get a sense of everyone working well together. But if you watch the Boat Race, for example, the precision of the timing has to be perfect, and there is something about getting that rhythm perfectly right that I don’t think you get with any other sport. It’s a fantastic feeling. You could argue that it’s the ultimate team sport. Some people, though, prefer the feeling of achieving things on their own, racing in a single. The club has a whole range of boats – around 70 of them, in all shapes and sizes. We tend to start people off in singles – and stable singles, which are not racing boats, and are more stable in the water – and then as they get into the sport they can try going with crews or singling and see what they prefer. In the summer months it’s wonderful getting out on the water in the sunshine. Being on the water brings a whole different dimension to sporting activity. Because people row together it’s also a very sociable sport. We have a club room and a bar, and a lot of people will go out for a row then come back for a cup of tea or a drink and a chat. We don’t want people to think that if they’re not competitively minded they can’t take part, because a lot of our members don’t compete. They just enjoy getting out in the boat, enjoy the exercise, and enjoy socialising and making new friends.
Spring Regatta 30-31 May / Summer Regatta 8-9 August, Thorpe Meadows
Entry FREE for spectators
Experience the adrenaline and excitement at two of the UKs leading multi-lane regattas, featuring four-lane, side-by-side racing on the one kilometre purpose-built rowing lake on Peterborough’s Thorpe Meadows. Two 1000 metres regattas with a wide range of senior, junior and masters events and adaptive singles.
- Masters and novice events
- Pewter tankards for all winning competitors
- Victor Ludorum shield awarded to the most successful visiting club over the two days
- Hot and cold food – including great home made cakes and Sunday breakfast!
- Licensed real ale bar (including guest beers)
- Free camping and parking
This feature has been supported by Peterborough-based Perkins Engines Company Limited, one of the world’s leading suppliers of off-highway diesel and gas engines.