School boat race crews give Port Alfred a boost

Sunshine Coast business has been given a major pre-season boost, thanks to the arrival of 200 rowers for the annual South African School Boat Race, now in its 16th year, on Port Alfred’s Kowie river.

In addition to the rowers, said race co-ordinator Courtney de Barros yesterday, more than 800 supporters, parents and back-up crew are in town for the final schools’ race before the Christmas break.

Training hard:  rowers competing in this year's South African Schools Boat Race in Port Alfred put in some last minute preparation before the start today
Training hard: rowers competing in this year’s South African Schools Boat Race in Port Alfred put in some last minute preparation before the start today

“The town is very busy; there are at least 1000 people here for boat races and they all need food and accommodation,” said De Barros.

This year’s event even boasts a “spare crew” race that pits eight coastal rowers against a team of inland rowers who are all reserves for the main races.

Although the acclaimed Nemato Change-A-Life rowers – who all live in local townships and train on the river daily – are not competing in the regatta, two of their stars have been included in the junior men’s coastal spare team.

“We are trying to grow the sport; it is the first time ever we are having a spare crew race to try and give them time on the water, too,” said De Barros.

Race project manager Louise Cleary yesterday said the event, which starts today, is considered the toughest and most gruelling race on the junior calendar.

With all other school regattas run over 2km in a straight line, the Port Alfred event is raced over 6km for the boys and 4km for the girls along the serpentine Kowie river.

According to De Barros, knowledge of how the tides and wind affect race lines on the river is a major advantage.

“It brings a new dynamic to racing; it is the highlight on the race calendar. Winning the event is a big deal.”

Unlike straight line races, the river run is known among crews as the “cox’s race” because calling the correct lines can be the difference between winning and losing.

Former St Andrews School for girls coxswain Bronwyn Allcock, who was judged best university cox last year on the Kowie river during the annual varsity boat races, said racing towards the finish line with the crew not able to see where they were going was a major challenge.

“There is far more to being a coxswain that just being the little person who shouts a lot.”

She said the river race coxes were the “eyes, ears and minds” of the crew.

“The responsibility falls on the cox to guide the crew both mentally and physically through the race.”

In other races, crews race forward to the line seeing where they are going.

Cleary said besides the new spare crew race, this year’s event had also attracted a girls’ quad team from Chisipite School in Zimbabwe.

The finals will take place tomorrow.

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