Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Girls talk skiff-racing in Ireland

Skiff-racing Wicklow Regatta August 1
Messing about in boats … Yesterday I met some girls and women who do just that. But they mess about in quarter tonne wooden rowing boats, using 16-foot (4.8m) oars to get out to sea in waves which could swamp other types of rowing boat.
I was at the Wicklow Regatta in Ireland yesterday, and the sun almost remembered to shine, almost. The crews – four people – race for distances between 700m and 2,700m. I was amazed to see the U-12 crew setting out, they barely looked big enough to get in the boat but once out, they skimmed the waves.

Sarah Carroll, Renee Armstrong and Heidi Keogh from the Wicklow Rowing Club chatted with me after their races. The three started racing aged 13 – 14 and now compete in the U-18s and Junior races.  I thought training must involved weights and gym-work but it seems not.

“We just go out and do the course and most people do it every day but we (u-18s) take Saturday off,” Renee said. Heidi said doing well in a race is all about the first few seconds. The boats line up in front of the pier, each cox holds a long rope thrown down from the crowd and a bull-horn sounds for the start.

“It depends on the start,” she said. “It’s about where you start from, what berth you get. And it depends on the tide where you are, the tide and the wind.” Sarah explained that’s all decided in a draw using balls pulled out of a bag, so they have no choice in where to go. “It’s all very random,” she said.

Skills you need in a skiff
Surprisingly for such a tough sport, the three said they haven’t suffered any injuries. Heidi said the hardest thing to get right is the timing. “That’s hard, getting into the water and back out of the water at the same time as the rest of the people,” she said as they all laughed. “Other than that, it’s kind of Ok. It’s not as hard as you think it’s gonna be.” Sarah added: “Yeah, you have to get the timing. If you’re not in time (together) the boat rocks.”

Racing with ‘the boys’
Most of the races are single-sex but each age division has a mixed race. Sarah said it can be easier for girls to row in those teams. “The boys are bigger. They encourage us to keep going so we can row with them.” Speaking over each other, they said the power in a boat comes from the middle so the boys take that position in a mixed team which makes it easier for them. And, with great timing, The Boys appeared from the boat-room just then and the conversation disintegrated.

Getting ready to race Skiff-racing Wicklow Regatta Aug 1
You can read more about yesterday's races here in a piece I did for the Irish Times.

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