16 October 2017
On Saturday, Dick Anderson, author of the brilliant book Springhill: Two Centuries of River Lea Rowing (2014), went to Thonon-les-Bains to watch the 2017 FISA World Rowing Coastal Championships. Dick writes:
When I moved from London to live in the French Alps, the last thing on my mind was that I might one day pop down the road and watch Coastal Rowing – after all, we are 400 kilometres from the sea. But that was what I did on Saturday, 14 October, when the 2017 FISA World Rowing Coastal Championships were held on Lake Le Léman* (Lake Geneva) at Thonon-les-Bains, France.
Le Léman is a big lake, the second biggest in Europe, and it would certainly be called a See if it was in Austria, but it has no salt, no tide and very small currents. It does have winds and from time to time, often unpredictably, very strong winds and waves. That was the reason the rowing club in Thonon decided to acquire one or two coastal boats a few years ago – to let their members stay afloat when conditions were totally unsuitable for standard racing boats.
Chablais Aviron Thonon is, however, a very competitive club with national and international honours, so their training regime soon led to coastal competitions and success. And the opportunity – with the support of a forward-thinking town – to bid for the World Championships in coastal rowing; a bid that they won and have now turned into a triumph.
Here is a short video showing the rowing on Le Léman:
The sun shone for three days, the wind stayed in the mountains and the only waves were from the umpires’ and safety boats and occasional ferries on their way across to Switzerland. The competitors seemed to be unfazed by this and the races were tightly contested.
The spectators were delighted. We arrived in Thonon and looked down from the town centre to see 17 boats lining up on the lake below for the start of a final. A mass false start was recalled (starts are based on the sailing principle of manoeuvre before the start line) before the race proceeded on the 6-kilometre course laid out.
A quick trip down the ancient funicular and we were still in time to see the last stages of the race. The courses (4 km and 6 km) had been laid out to bring the contestants close to shore and have the finishing sprint 20 metres from the promenade. Local schools had been twinned to competing countries so there was plenty of support for distant crews.
It reminded me of local regattas in the UK in the 1970s, except that this was world class competition on show. We saw the sprint finish for men’s doubles, won by Hungarians Adrian Juhasz and Bendeguz Petervari-Molnar. Juhasz had only just returned from Sarasota where he won gold in the World Championship men’s coxed pairs.
Chatting to spectators and competitors there was no doubt this was a popular venue and format and there were a surprising number of competitors crossing over to coastal rowing from traditional river races. This event will have excited many people to give coastal rowing a go, no matter where they live. Well done, Thonon.
Read Worldrowing.com (FISA) race reports here.
*Lake Léman is no stranger to water events even though it is unsuited to fine boat rowing for much of the time. Every year, it hosts the longest inland non-stop rowing race of 160 kilometres for coxed fours. Depending on conditions, it can take from 12 to 17 hours and it is fiercely contested by crews from many countries. The club that organises this event, Societe Nautique de Geneve, also hosted the twice winning Americas Cup sailing team Alinghi. After their win in 2003, it was rumoured they might hold the Americas cup on the lake – after the coastal rowing success last week they may regret not trying it.