Recreational rowers from the East and West Midlands and throughout the Thames Valley are today packing their lycra, their boats are loaded, riggers taped up, blades gathered and tide tables checked, all ready to travel south for the inaugural Great Coal Rows this weekend. Southampton Coalporters ARC are hosting their first recreational event with two Great Rows to celebrate the traditions of working people rowing in local waters.
The first row will see a procession of coxed 4’s joining in the Parade of Sail as part of Southampton Sailing Week before crossing the waters to lunch at Hythe Marina before rowing back to Coalporters. The second row on Sunday will see the boats row out into Southampton water up and along the River Hamble, before stopping for a well earned BBQ lunch and then rowing back to Coalporters. “Each row is a challenge” said Anne Hock, Event Organiser, “Distance, tides, currents and water conditions are very different for rowers used to canals and rivers, so for recreational rowers it’s going to be both a new experience and enormous fun.”
Each boat will carry a flag showing the black diamond, the symbol of Coalporters when coal was a valuable commodity for commercial as well as domestic use, and a bag of coal to remember all those who used to earn their living rowing the coal to and from the ships – and then race their boats in the evening for a bit of relaxation. At the height of the coal trade, rowing races were so popular thousands would line the banks to watch, betting was fierce and prize money a real incentive. Local rowers were treated as sporting heros, and feted throughout the city.
Coalporters started their celebration yesterday with an exhibition of the history of rowing in Southampton, from glory stories of the race against the US navy in 1884 to reminiscences from members today. “We have members who have recently moved to Southampton, and those whose rowing traditions go back four generations” said Claire Hackett, from Coalporters Committee, “As a club we celebrate the families who take part in our sport whether racing, recreational or on land, and the Great Coal Rows are to show how much the sport means to people living and working in Southampton City.”
The boats taking part are all coxed 4s, coastal or recreational boats suitable for tidal waters. Inland clubs with recreational rowers taking part in this adventure include Leicester, Boston, Upton, Newark, Nottingham and Weyfarers. Rowers ages range from 18 to 70’s with mixed crews who will be regularly swopping position in their boats so that everyone gets an opportunity to row on the sea!
These events are supported by Rees Leisure, organisers of Southampton Sailing week, and MDL Marinas who are providing facilities for trailers, moorings and lunch stops. Lymington Rowing Club, Arthur Marine and Rib Worx are providing safety and support boats.