Rowing in Finland
Olympic style rowers may consider the Head of the Charles Regatta held in Cambridge Massachusetts to be the world’s largest rowing regatta, with over 7,000 rowers participating. But the Sulkava Rowing Race held in Sulkava Finland is the world’s biggest rowing competition and has over 11,000 rowers participating. The event lasts for three days and includes the Finnish National Championships. This race has become the largest festival in Finland. The days are long, the nights are short, and the food and drink are plentiful.
Finland has produced many great athletes including possibly the greatest Olympic rower of all, Perrti Kaarppinen (three time Olympic champion at single sculls).
But popular rowing in Finland is not your typical Olympic style rowing. The boats used in the Sulkava Race must be made of wood, must be lap strake construction, and must conform to traditional Finnish designs. There are three main classes of boats: (1) singles with one rower; (2) change boats (boats having one rower and one paddler who change places during the race). A good team can change places in less than 3 seconds; and (3) long boats with 14 rowers and a cox. All oars must be made of wood and are non-feathering.
The racing takes place in Lake Saimaa, and the races are approximately 10 km, 60 km and 70 km in length. The 70 km races include camping overnight on one of the islands. Mixed teams of men and women are not permitted, but teams of the opposite sex may compete against each other.
The Atlantic Rowing Race was first run in October 1997. It starts in the Canary Islands, a group of islands belonging to Spain and located off the coast of Africa. It finishes in the island nation of Barbados in the Caribbean Sea. The course is similar to that taken by Columbus when he traveled the Atlantic, and is timed to avoid the hurricane season. The distance traveled by the individual boats varies depending on the exact route followed, but is in the range of 2,700 to 3,000 miles.
Until 2005, all the boats entered were of an identical design known as the Atlantic Rowing Race Doubles class boats. These boats are designed for two rowers and are 23.4 feet (7.1 meters) long with a beam of 6.3 feet (1.9 meters). The boats are produced as kits which can be easily shipped anywhere in the world for assembly by amateurs, and many of the race teams build their own boats. The boats are made of marine plywood, stitch and glue construction and reinforced with fiberglass. These boats are self righting and can be completely sealed with hatches. They have an open rowing deck amidships with two sliding-seat rowing stations, an enclosed storage compartment forward and enclosed sleeping compartment in the aft. They weigh 550 pounds empty and have 330 pounds of water ballast. Fully laden, they weigh in at 1,650 pounds.
The typical regimen for the two person boats is for both team members to row during daylight hours, and at night one sleeps while the other rows. Someone is always rowing unless the weather is severe. Most crews have two hour shifts.
In the 1997 race, 30 boats started and 24 finished. The winning team were New Zealanders Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs, finishing in 41 days. Second Place was the French team of convicted murderer Pascal Blonde and his parole officer Joseph Le Guen, finishing in 49 days. Finishing in third place was the British husband and wife team of David and Nadia Rice, taking 55 days. The last finisher took 100 days.
The race was run for the second time in 2001, with 36 two person boats starting, and again it was won by a New Zealand team, Steve Westlake and Matt Goodman in 42 days. The fourth place boat that year was powered by two women, Steph Brown and Jude Ellis from New Zealand in 50 days. The last to finish was Debra Veal rowing solo after her husband became claustrophobic and gave up 13 days into the race. Debra crossed the finish line after 111 days of rowing. One boat was sunk at sea in compliance with maritime law after its crew gave up and were remove by the safety vessel.
The 2003 race was won by New Zealanders Kevin Biggar and James Fitzgerald in 40 days (a new record).
The 2005 race (which is under way at the time of this writing) has four boats of the Woodvale Fours class entered, each with a team of four rowers. Two of the teams are all women and two are all men. This is a new design of ocean rowing boat, 20 meters in length and 1.9 meters beam. These are professionally built foam core construction with fiberglass skin. There are also 20 Doubles and 2 Singles boats entered in the race. It will be interesting to compare the results of these various teams.