Young rowers revive regatta
Iconic event in Harbour Grace draws dozens of child participants
The giggling and laughter of children is overwhelming during rowing practice at Lady Lake in Harbour Grace Tuesday evening.
Dozens of young people anxiously wait for their turn to take the oars and paddle their way across the calm blue water.
Albert (Bud) Chafe of Harbour Grace is standing in one of four sweep boats — each rower has one oar — calling out commands to the young crew of six. He is a coxswain of several rowing teams for this year’s Harbour Grace Regatta, which will take place July 27.
Several years ago Bud, who is 77, might have said the regatta wouldn’t last much longer. But the event has seen a surge in participation since the implementation of younger children’s rowing events.
“Four years ago I had a young granddaughter that said, ‘I want to row,’” he explains adding within 24 hours they organized a team of six young girls aged seven to nine, which grew the interest of the next generation of rowers.
Bud says this year there are four teams participating in the midget divisions (8-14) from the Harbour Grace area.
Six young ladies take their seats in one of the long, slender boats, lifejackets fastened. The youngest is only seven years old while the oldest is 11.
All of them are returning rowers from last year and have older siblings that also compete.
One eight-year-old rushes the coxswain Kevin Chafe —Bud’s son — to tighten her foot stretcher so they can start their practice run. It has to be tied snug or her feet could slip off.
The girls are all friends, and chatter about how much fun they are having learning the sport.
They are a l ittle young for demanding competition, but they have developed a sense of unity and synchrony. They are proud of their skill and are just happy to be on the water.
The parents believe interest in rowing is increasing in the Harbour Grace area and are glad to see their children dedicated to the sport.
While all four boats are on the water several groups of young people play around the grassy plot around the boathouse. Some of them have siblings on the water and some are waiting for their own turn to row.
While the young girls’ team is on the water, a group of five mothers stand on the dock watching. But these moms don’t just watch, they are rowers themselves.
The regatta has been a family affair since it’s inception in 1862 with many of the family names still taking part each year.
The mothers, on the other hand, admit they were not interested in starting a team until their youngest children — now age 11 and 12 — began to row.
“Our daughters have been rowing together for four years,” says Amy Durnford, mother to two young rowers — Lauryn and Jenna.
“It was them that got us interested,” continues Amy Parsons who also has two daughters in the sport — Johnna and Aileen.
Bud says it appears to be the trend — younger children begin to row and their mothers decide to join.
“It helps bring back our senior ladies,” he explains.
It is more apparent there are fewer male teams with the surge in female involvement, but Bud says it is a significant difference.
“I expect it to be around 90 per cent women,” he says. “There are currently no (male) crews from the local area.”
Remembering the past
After climbing the stairs to the boathouse, Bud walks over to the far wall where dozens of photos — black and white and colour — hang.
“This is our ‘ Wall of Memories,’” Bud says.
On the wall are photos of the regatta from the past century.
Hundreds of faces, many who are not named, who participated in the longest running regatta in the province have earned a spot on the wall.
One photo in particular catches Bud’s attention.
“That’s me there,” he says pointing at the second rower from the boat’s stern in an old black and white photo. “And that’s the team that beat the famous William’s family,”
Bud is proud of his accomplishment with his rowing team, placing first against the long-running winners of the event.
Every year the wall will grow, he says. More photos will be added as the event continues to strive.
Last year was the 150th anniversary of the event. Bud had several events planned that were cancelled. One of them was a family rowing event from Portugal Cove to Harbour Grace to raise money for cancer research.
The Chafe family of Harbour Grace and the Greeley family from Portugal Cove have competed as famil i es for a long time , Bud explains.
He wanted to have a significant rowing event to introduce the anniversary celebrations, but due to illness of a rower it never got off the dock.
Bud is now thinking towards next year and how he can incorporate a fundraiser for the same cause.
Cancer is an important cause in Bud’s family. He is an eight-year bowel cancer survivor and his wife Mildred is a six-year breast cancer survivor. Bud’s son Fred is currently fighting his own cancer battle.
“I would like to have a day with cancer rowers,” Bud says. “If a group can get one or two full crews to come and row all proceeds would go to their type of cancer.”
Until then, the event will continue as it has in the past, with entertainment, children’s games and activities and different types of food vendors.
Confirmation of the event will be announced by 7 a.m. July 27, weather permitting.
Six young ladies sit in the boat at Lady Lake July 16 waiting for their chance to row out on the calm blue water. Their team, Subway/RoBren Trucking are competing for their second straight regatta. Anxiously waiting are, from left, nine-year- old Emily Chafe of Harbour Grace, eight-yearold Jenna Durnford from Harbour Grace, nine-year-old Johnna Pike from Harbour Grace, seven-year-old Hailee Ezekiel from Carbonear, eight-yearold Julie Noseworthy from Harbour Grace and 11-year old Kara Fewer from Harbour Grace who rowed for Victoria Crane from Upper Island Cove for the practice. Standing on the floating dock is coxswain Kevin Chafe.
Harbour Grace native and regatta committee member Albert (Bud) Chafe reminisces while looking at the “Wall of Memories” in the boathouse at Lady Lake in the town.