Row, Row, Row Your Boat Gently Down the…

By | Category: Travel destinations

This weekend, it’s the big one. The water event to beat all others. Matthew Pinsent, James Cracknell and Steve Redgrave eat your hearts out because this is one race you won’t win. You don’t have the technique or the ability. It might be Cowes Week. The Fastnet race might be under way but both must doff their hats to the most important race in the water sports calendar. The Henley-on-Todd Regatta!
More than 99% of our readers won’t make it to this event but you’ll probably catch up with it on TV. Hail the man responsibe, Reg Smith. Back in 1962, he decided to organise a regatta but there was a slight problem. Reg was in Alice Springs in the middle of Australia some 1,200 miles from the nearest big expanse of water. To lesser mortals, this might have been a problem to you or me but not to Reg. He would just use a dried up river bed and thus began the great Henley-on-Todd Regatta, now as much a part of Northern Territory life as drought, the flying doctor and bush flies. And this weekend, the 50th regatta is due to be held.
It starts on Friday with the annual Postie Bike Challenge. Around where I live, every May, local postmen and women cycle down to the south coast in aid of charity. In Alice Springs, the posties do the same thing. But Saturday is the big day. Sharply at 6.30am, the rowers will start donning Viking, pirate or other seafaring costumes ready for the fifteen event day. None of this lycra stuff for these hard-bitten rowers. A breakfast barbie, (BBQ) raises their energy levels (or something like that) and the first race kicks off a few hours later. Kicks are necessary to start off but after that paddles or the more conventional oars come into their own. Along with sand shovels and any other implement to propel you along including feet. Cornplasters and bandages are available for the inevitable disaster. As in 1993 when the River Todd flooded and the regatta had to be called off. Water can be very damaging to a regatta especially this one.
As with all sports, ergonomic design helps master a course and can give a competitor those split seconds that are needed to win. So bathtubs, the bottomless eights, and other assorted crackpot creations for the Bring Your Own Boat event are all treated with respect and their structures, honed to bring them to the peak of sporting prowess. As are the competitors. They will have been in training since, well, maybe the night before. They will have staggered down the course, sorry checked out the course to see where they might get the aid of the harder bottom or to watch out for any rocks that might damage their chances. All of this preparation is but for one thing. The peak of the Alice Springs sporting calendar.
Which is to have fun. And raise money for charities including the vital flying doctor service. Reg’s idea was taken up in the very first year by the local rotary club and they have been involved ever since. As have tour operators. The Regatta draws visitors not just from Australia but from around the world. So much so, that the Henley-On-Todd Regatta received a Brolga Award for tourism excellence in 2000.
Now has the Fastnet race and Cowes achieved that?

UPDATE: 21 August 2011
3,500 people turned up for Henley-on-Todd this year and 500 of those participated in some way. Clear, sunny shies resulted in a humper fday in which CD Pirates (no link to us at all but since they won we might claim a connection!) won in the Bring Your Own Boat category. Their website says that even a rower from Henley-on-Thames turned up.
Nauteus won the boat spectacular in the Pirates/Vikings/Navy battle but there is a suggestion Nauteus bent the rules by playing on crowd sympathy. One of the crew members proposed to his girlfriend during the event!

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