21 May 2019
By Larry Fogelberg
Larry Fogelberg gives HTBS a taste of how it is to race 12 km on the windy “Roseninsel-8er” regatta on Lake Starnberg, south of Munich in Germany.
German rowing has an old tradition of long-distance racing. A book published in 1928 – the first year Germany was invited to return to the Olympics – has articles about each of the sports. The author who writes about rowing mentions all the highlights in German rowing but also that longer-distance competition was common; apparently 12 kilometers was a popular distance.
The annual “Roseninsel-8er” regatta on Lake Starnberg, south of Munich, returned to this tradition 30+ years ago and attracts crews from all over Germany and beyond, maybe because it is the last Saturday in September, the height of the Munich Oktoberfest.
Crews at the regatta do not have to go Munich for Bavarian “Gemütlichkeit.” The host for the regatta, Münchener Ruder- und Segelverein “Bavaria” von 1910 (when on this site, click on “home”), has a Bavarian band playing, stands serving beer and food, coffee and cake in the clubhouse. Many of the girls and women are wearing Dirndls to complete the scene. If your crew wins in its class, one of them will hang your medal around your neck and may even give you a “Bussi” on your cheek.
Lake Starnberg is ca. 20 km long and about 2 km wide in the area of the race. The race course is 6 km heading south. On a clear day, the cox can steer towards the Zugspitze on the horizon. The course turns around two large buoys, and goes back to the starting line. The turn is near Roseninsel, an island in the lake, hence the name of the regatta. The regatta is open to nearly every class of eights, racing and gig boats, men, women and mixed. This includes average age levels for the crew, sometimes making it advantageous to have a strong older person in the boat, raising the average to compete against hopefully older, slower crews. If a crew does not have a competitor boat in its class, the crew rows against the time of the previous year’s winner in that class. An older crew may be competing against its own winning time the year before.
The starts include crews of different classes, ca. 20 boats in each of the starts at 1:45 hour intervals.
Of course, the bows are only roughly on the line when the starting shot is fired. Eventually, the field spreads out, but near the buoys for the turn, there is always traffic and different tactics: a wider turn to maintain speed; sharper turns at each buoy to have the shorter, inside course.
Some crews, especially younger ones, have trained for the regatta. Older crews may have only managed to have a couple of outings with the whole crew together, maybe including someone from a neighboring club and rowing in a borrowed boat. There is only one dock for all the boats, but somehow it all works out.
Rowing on the big lake is not like rowing on the calm water of a race course or on a narrow river. One regatta was aborted, when all the racing shells in the first start sank in the rough water. Unfortunately, that was the year when the Münchener Ruder- und Segelverein was celebrating its 100th anniversary. My club’s crew had a later start, had a beer, and returned home.
One year with not so flat water, we had competition in our class, but on the return stretch, the most challenging crew had to pull over in the shallows and empty water from its boat. For once, we were thankful that rowing on the Main River in Frankfurt, we had experience with rougher water.
In 2018, 76 boats had registered, and three starts were planned. After the second start, the regatta was cancelled due to waves. There are a couple of hundred photos, many showing the conditions and consequences, on the Münchener Ruder- und Segelverein’s website, where there are also other photos of the ashore “Volksfest” where participants, their families and supporters are enjoying themselves.
This was a lot about the possible problems. Lake Starnberg is never a mill pond, but usually the conditions allow a successful race for all crews.
What is it like to race 12 km (ca. 7.5 miles)? That is a little longer stretch than what I and my fellow rowers row on the river in Frankfurt. We (+/- 60 year-olds) are usually not over-exerting ourselves on those outings we do twice a week, always taking a pause after the turn. But then, on Lake Starnberg, the eight of us are suddenly full of ambition. We had a 16-year-old cox. Her voice showed how much experience she had – she didn’t need a megaphone or cox-box.
The start was all right. We were hoping that the leading crews were not in our class. But after 500 meters, I was asking myself why I was there? The stroke was okay, but doing this all the way, still more than three miles to the turn, and then all the way back?! And the distant shore didn’t move past like it did back home. That villa was still there after several strokes. Stop looking, just pull. The cox shouted: “Schub, schub!”, “Shove, shove!” More leg-drive! Right she was, but I didn’t like that she knew.
She mastered the turn, then the long slog back. Clever girl, she called: “Ten strokes for bow.” We gave them. Then “Ten strokes from number two.” With intervals, she went through the crew, distracting us from the long haul.
Where was that villa? Still way past my shoulder. And when it was abreast, how much further still to row? “Schub, schub! The clubhouse is in sight.” It wasn’t yet for me, but I stomped on the stretcher as best as I could, and then it was in sight, and finally the finish line too.
We didn’t win that year, but I took home a “König Ludwig” glass beer stein.
All photos, courtesy © Münchner Ruder- und Segelverein “Bavaria” von 1910 website.