This year’s Saltwater Challenge hosted by the Essendon Rowing Club was a big one for me. While I’ve been rowing on an off since I was 17, I’d never yet had the chance to participate in a regatta.
Scheduled for the very start of spring, the annual Saltwater Challenge is a quad skulls race conducted in a time trial format and spans a gruelling 4.5km starting upstream at the Tea Gardens Reserve near Canning Street Avondale Heights down to the Club.
We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day to row on, with sun glistening off the stunning Maribynong River. As we arrived in time for the third bracket of the day, rowers and spectators alike were dotted along the riverbank, calling out in support of their teams.
Joining my teammates at the Richmond Rowing Club marquee, we made quick work of the rigging – and I could feel a nervous-but-excited rush settle over me. By the time we made it through the race briefing, put the boat in the water, and settled in for the pre-race row upstream, I was really keen to get started. But being one of the first boats to leave the Club, and one of the last boats to start our time trial, I was to be kept waiting just a bit longer!
Coxed by Karen, our crew consisted of Rob at bow, myself at two, Ray at three, and Ben at stoke. While we were initially supposed to row in the Masters category, me being 25 meant that we’d all be rowing in D Grade. In preparation, our race plan was simple – to keep to a modest rating of 24, but once we set off, we exceeded this goal for most of the race.
While the water was beautiful and still, the course had a few tricky bends, and we really felt the value of having an experience cox lead the way. While I knew it would be different, I wasn’t truly prepared for the difference between rowing training, and rowing in a regatta. When you are pushing to your limits with every stroke, it’s both exhilarating and exhausting in a whole new way. Especially as we rounded the corner for the last stretch, I could feel my muscles screaming out in protest… but on we went.
As we crossed the finish line, the horn brought with it a rush of relief and the realisation that I’d done it: I’d rowed my first regatta… eight years after I first picked up an oar.
Now, back to the Club for a beer.
Thanks to everyone who helped out and contributed to make the day a success.
By Devindhe Ratnaayake