My regatta career has involved huge highs and lows. There have been disasters. Tears. Joy. Pain. Cake. Beer. And occasionally a pot to drink the beer from. Through all the agony and the ecstasy I’ve had plenty of time to think about what makes the perfect regatta. Winning obviously helps, though it’s not essential, but I’ve come to the conclusion that certain elements are.
I have to say that Stourport regatta, where I coxed our Old Men (affectionately known as the Coffin Dodgers – their phrase, not mine) to victory in the Mas.G8+ this weekend, came pretty close to nailing it. With its jolly village fête atmosphere and super-friendly club members, it was one of the nicest days out I’ve had in a long time.
Victory aside, here’s my recipe for hosting the perfect regatta.
1. Perfect weather
You need good contacts here, but they are worth cultivating. Perfect weather, for the record, involves sunshine and warmth, but not blazing heat. Rain is a no-no. Wind is worse.
2. Flexible events
We all want to get more than one race in, especially if we’re travelling any distance to the regatta, and most clubs don’t have too many people prepared to cox. A good regatta will acknowledge this. Of course nobody likes to wait whilst their oppo gets off the water from another race, but if you impose too many rules about doubling up and get too pernickety about bringing events forward or back, clubs will just choose a different regatta.
3. Tight time-keeping
Ah, the flip side of flexibility. As I say, this is a tricky one to get right. You want things to run like clockwork, but shit happens. People capsize. There are re-rows. Someone doubles up unexpectedly. And at some regattas everything has to stop for canoeists or pleasure boats. But if you can keep things ticking along nicely without being too fierce about it, it really does keep everyone happy.
Can’t be done? Well, without wanting to be too smug about it, at Monmouth this year we stayed bang on schedule and even finished a little ahead of time. It took a lot of man-power, and quite a few shouty announcements calling people to boat check, but somehow it worked.
4. Friendly people
Wow, this makes a difference. I was blown away by how nice everyone was at Stourport, from registration and weigh-in right through to the prize-giving. The marshalls were easy-going, I was given fabulous advice on steering a good line from two separate club members (who were too sporting to ask if Stourport were our oppo – though thankfully they weren’t), and everyone managed to keep a smile on their faces. I was nervous about this event – it was only the second regatta I’d ever coxed, and as the first one was at Holmepierrepont this presented very different demands, but at no time did anyone make me flustered. I’ll be back.
5. Great photographer
So if you crash into the bank or catch a crab you probably don’t want it caught on camera, but it’s always lovely to have a memento of a strong race, and a good photographer is worth his or her weight in gold. Ben Rodford, who took the pics at Stourport, is one of those rare photographers who remembers that coxes are part of the crew, too.
You don’t, incidentally, necessarily need a professional rowing photographer, though it’s your best guarantee that people will get the images they want. At Monmouth we have a talented amateur in the club who takes thousands of great pics and posts them on our Facebook page, so you can download them without charge – especially popular amongst the cash-strapped juniors.
6. Tempting food
Food matters. A lot. Yet I’ve been to regattas where the food has let the side down badly. Stale cake, limp sandwiches, stray hairs (and no, I’ll not name and shame on that one… *shudder*). So here’s how you do it.
Breakfast has to include bacon butties, or the umpires will go on strike and the campers might actually cry. A barbecue is nice for when racing is finished. Cake is essential. Sandwiches are important.
Stourport, notably, had cakes that would have been worthy of the Bake-Off tent – well done the Stourport star bakers.
7. Well-stocked bar
Need I say more?
8. Shelf-worthy prizes
It’s hard to beat a nice pot. I’ve yet to win a pewter tankard so that’s currently top of my rowing bucket list, but a good china one is welcome, too. If you’re going down the medal route, make sure they’re chunky, and do consider still having pots for novices. Your first win is special – I should know – and you want something for the shelf. If you’re going for a novelty prize instead, I’ve heard hip flasks go down well.
9. Swanky prize-giving
Winning is still enough of a novelty to me that I get pretty excited by the idea of a presentation (though it’s handy to be able to pick up your prize early if you need to head off home). OK, so not everyone can do what we did at Monmouth this year and lay on an Olympic star coach like Robin Williams to give out the medals, but Stourport had the mayor, complete with stage gear, which was a nice photo opportunity.
If you have room for a whole shopping village, so much the better – it brings in a bit of cash for the club when you charge for the pitch and keeps everyone occupied in the lull between races. I love post-race shopping probably just a bit too much (celebratory if it went well, retail therapy if it didn’t) and have quite a collection of ill-advised purchases from regattas, but that’s part of the fun.
11. Brass band
Until Stourport I’d never thought about this one, but wow, what a great idea. It gave the whole thing such a cheery atmosphere and had little kids dancing along.
So that’s it – a complete guide to the perfect regatta. And to maintain the party vibe, I’ll let Stourport brass play you out: