‘77 Pla­cen­tia crew has fond mem­o­ries of unique boat trip

Hon­oured 40 years af­ter trek to St. John’s to com­plete triple crown

The Compass - - Front page - BY AN­DREW ROBIN­SON

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.”

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/THE COM­PASS

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.

SUB­MIT­TED PHOTO

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.

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