Why One should Row Stroke Side on the Head of the Yarra

The Head of the Yarra multi-national winning Masters crew from St George Rowing Club. Article writer Lutz right in the middle, fifth from the left.

31 December 2019

By Lutz Lange

Lutz Lange, a member of the Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft “Germania”, gives HTBS this report from the 61st Head of the Yarra in Sydney, Australia.

Australians are crazy about sports. And rowing, fortunately, is no exception. So, the rowing clubs in this country are a good place to be and the first port of call for a rowing “expat” in search of activity and new friends. Consequently, directly after my arrival in Sydney, I found myself being placed in a Masters D mixed eight. Shortly after that, my new rowing mates from St George Rowing Club in Como (opposite of Lugarno, north of Engadine – all Southwestern Sydney) told me that I should come along to Melbourne at the end of November to the “Head of the Yarra”. Of course, I couldn’t miss such a Head, after all, 270 participating eights and a big party afterwards (sponsored by the local brewery), right in the heart of Melbourne, that sounded good. The fact that the course is 8km long was only explained to me bit by bit and I was happy to ignore it. But everything in Australia is big! So, the course length fits the picture.

For my friends, the 1,000 km transport of the boats to Melbourne was not worth a weary smile, not worth talking about. “Later in the season, we (WE?) will participate in the Masters Championships in Perth. THAT´S a long haul!” Google maps shows the magnitude of the effort: From Sydney to Perth is about 4,000 km, approximately the distance from Madrid to Moscow. That is four days of driving through the Outback with a boat trailer for 12 hours a day. And then you are there. Back is just as far. Coming from Frankfurt, Germany, I praise the trip to the Moselle River, you easily make this trip in two small hours.

Melbourne has a boathouse row! Right in the heart of the city, opposite to the Rod Laver tennis arena, you´ll find eight rowing clubs and, imagine the contrast to the Frankfurt “rowers´ village” – in each one there’s life and hustle and bustle. This is where the famous Head of the Yarra starts.

The regatta itself is a logistical masterpiece – 270 boats are started at intervals of 10 seconds over a very curvy course which goes under 11 narrow bridges. Towards the finish line, the Yarra becomes narrower and narrower. Of course, it goes upstream against the current.

We were allowed to start as the first of our crew class, and we were chased by the other seven crews in it. Directly after us started a team from Japan, followed by the presumably strongest competitors from “Phoenix Rowing Club” and “Commercial”.  Anyone who has ever rowed a Head knows, you can’t be warmed up at the start.  You wait on the water for half an hour just paddling lightly to keep in line. Then the race starts, and the first kilometre is rather painful. The little bastard in your ear is all excited until your body is at operating temperature. Our boat started running nicely and all had a good feeling right away. But the doubts gnawed, and the little bastard continues to shout: “It´s still very far to go!”. We were able to get away from the Japanese crew, but the other boats stayed on. Thanks to our Melbourne female coxswain we were able to take the tight corners perfectly and, on half distance, on the famous “Big Bend”, we had a comfortable lead over the other crews. Big Bend and the other tight curves ask a lot from the cox and the crew. Even with an extra-large rudder, good turns are not possible without the cox´s calling for more power from bowside and letting stroke side ease off for a while. With every “power ten after the turn”, I envied the stroke side for its little break. After we crossed the finish line, the distance to the other boats was hard to estimate, we were all grateful to hear “easy all!”

With the help of a beer or two afterwards we convinced each other that we´d rowed really fast. Fortunately, this feeling was confirmed – we won!

As an international crew, we were proud of the rowing time and our result. One from England, two Irish, one Scot, one Canadian, one German and three “true blue Aussies” won the “Head” for St George Rowing Club! With all these “PoMs” on board – Australians call the British “Prisoner of her Majesty” – a cheery follow-up of the race was guaranteed.

And next time I´m on stroke side!

Here is an 8-minute course video:

A German version of this article has also been published on Frankfurter Rudergesellschaft “Germania” website.

One comment

  1. Lovely article bringing back happy memories of Melbourne rowing for Power House R.C. In the early seventies, though I don’t recall an VIII’s Head of the Yarra in those days. Maybe it was revived in years later ? I do remember competing in the 5 mile sculling marathon, though, held over the same course. I think we sculled 2.5 miles up river from the Boathouse Row , round an island (?), then back to the start/finish line. Beautiful stretch of water and the video brought it all back in glorious technicolour! Thank you.

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