Get ready, the Universities Boat Race this weekend

IT’S almost time for the Universities Boat Race, and preparations are underway to ensure this year’s event, which takes place over the weekend of September 14 to 16, generates even more enthusiasm than it has in previous years.

HOST TEAM: The Rhodes University crew rowing out to the starting line in the men’s A-Division finals against eventual winners Tuks in the Universities Boat Race at last year’s final on the Kowie River

The race on the Kowie River is a prestigious event on the rowing calendar, with students from universities around the country vying for the opportunity to compete. The Kowie River has proved an ideal place to host the event. Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) is the official sponsor.

For the second consecutive year the event will be hosted at the Halyards Hotel, which also caters for the needs of the VIP guests, competitors and their families, along with visitors and locals with a bar, restaurant and excellent views of the race and the Kowie River.

Halyards Hotel manager Freddie du Preez is delighted that the hotel has been asked to host the event again and is busy ensuring everything goes off smoothly. The small boat harbour has assisted with jetties and has been very accommodating, according to local convenor and chairman, Derek Sinclair.

The old Spur building is currently under renovation, but the new tenants have said that visitors may use its toilet facilities. On the other side of the river, the Port Alfred Ski-boat Club will also offer its facilities to customers, and provide catering from the Spirit of Ecstasy which will be moored out of the line of sight of the finishing line.

There are also a number of other spots where spectators can get a good view of the boats, such as at the Ocean Basket and MyPond Hotel which face the Kowie River and also provide food and drink.

As for the race, teams are seeded during time-trials that start early on Thursday September 14, with teams leaving the start line in 30 second intervals. This is a good time to see the competition and an interesting spectator event, with perhaps 40 boats racing down the Kowie River. The sand banks present more of a challenge to coxes this year due to the unusual amount of silting in the river.

Friday September 15 sees the B Division races, also a good spectator event as rowers show their worth in an attempt to be promoted to the A Division the following year. On Saturday the A Division races take place, followed by the prize giving at the Halyards Hotel.

“The boat race generates a considerable amount of money to the area, with over 2 000 people attending the event, many for an entire week before the start of competition, spending their hard-earned money here,” said Sinclair.

The men’s boat race of 6km is the equivalent of the  at 6.8km, held on the River Thames in England, and much longer than the usual competition distance of 2 000m (2km). The women’s race is over 4km, twice that of standard races.

In this sense the races are like the Comrades of the rowing world.

The local versions of the Kevlar boats used, which can cost R600 000 each – with European ones costing over R1-million – are weighted so that each rower has to pull an additional 9kg in weight.

“Because this is one of the most prestigious events in the area, would like to see the municipality, the Department of Sport and perhaps provincial and national government getting involved with additional funding,” said Sinclair. “Some of the athlete rowers can go on to represent South Africa, so there is a definite payback.”

Sinclair was referring to Rhodes student Brad Betts, who has represented South Africa at several international events.

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