‘77 Placentia crew has fond memories of unique boat trip
Honoured 40 years after trek to St. John’s to complete triple crown
PLACENTIA, NL — When coxswain Adrian O’Keefe came up with the idea of paying tribute to a group of men who carried a boat from Placentia to St. John’s and won the regatta in 1877, he anticipated their might be some push back.
“At the time, I would be foolish to say that I didn’t have to twist a few wrists,” O’Keefe said Friday evening prior to the opening ceremony for the 2017 Placentia Regatta. “You’ve got to understand that most of the guys who were rowing were only 18, 19, 20 years old, and their main aim was to go back and try and win another triple crown and, of course, compete in St. John’s.”
Indeed, the Placentia Lions crew not only completed a triple crown for the secondconsecutive year in 1977 — claiming championships in Harbour Grace, Placentia and St. John’s. Honouring the spirit of those men who rowed 100 years before them, the crew carried their boat all the way from Placentia to St. John’s.
Last Friday, members of that historic crew were honoured at the opening ceremony for the 2017 Placentia Regatta. Each crewmember present received a special plaque, and a new framed picture was unveiled that will be displayed in the boathouse.
“We all got together today and went out for a swim (with a boat), and we didn’t go very far,” laughed Frank Lannon. “As much as you don’t like hype, it’s still nice. Some of my family who’s away would love to be home for this.”
After winning the local regatta that year on a Saturday, the Placentia Lions crew — O’Keefe, Lannon, Tom Whittle, Brendan Whittle, Anthony Whittle, Gerard Barron, Leo Collins and spare Clem Whittle — took off the next morning with their boat. Jack Meade and Felix Lannon, who helped out with meals on the road, accompanied them.
“It wasn’t a small undertaking to walk to St. John’s,” said Tom Whittle, one of four brothers involved with the crew, “but the main thing we were looking at was we were going to do it between the regatta here and the regatta in St. John’s, so we were going to spend a lot of time on the road that we should spend practicing … And we were walking in the hottest time of the summer, so we’d have a lot of blisters on our feet.”
They used a special harness that forced everyone to march as one.
“It’s an opportune time when you put basically seven people together, you’re sleeping together and you’re walking, you’re harnessed together into a piece of equipment,” explained O’Keefe. “Everybody has to mark time the same as if you’re in the army, and everyone staying in step was key, because if you didn’t, it would literally tear the shoulders off ya.”
On average they managed to tackle 20 miles a day. They’d walk for a few hours in the morning, then leave the boat and get a ride to St. John’s to row for a couple of hours. They’d come back to the boat, eat, then walk until about 10:30 at night.
Brendan Whittle remembers receiving a cake from back home as they were coming towards Witless Bay that said “St. John’s or bust” on it.
“We had a great bit of fun, we did,” he said. “We had a lot of support too.”
They arrived with their boat on the morning of the Royal St. John’s Regatta.
“It was a good feeling to get it done,” Tom Whittle recalled.
O’Keefe said it was always a big deal when a crew from outside the city won in St. John’s. The community support received at the time was overwhelming, he added.
“The support from the community back in our time frame of the 70s — and it still continues — was unreal. They showed up with motorcades of 100, 200 cars … It was non-stop.”
Members of the Placentia Lions crew that completed the 1977 triple crown in rowing were honoured Friday night at the opening ceremony for the 2017 Placentia Regatta. Seated from the left are Frank Lannon, Brendan Whittle, Gerard Barron, Clem Whittle, Tom Whittle and Adrian O’Keefe. Not present for Friday’s presentation were Anthony Whittle and Leo Collins.
The championship crew from 1977. Back row (l-r): Tom Whittle, Tony Whittle, Gerard Barron and Brendan Whittle; front row (l-r): Leo Collins, Adrian O’Keefe and Frank Lannon. Missing from the photo is spare Clem Whittle.