1989 The year of big winds and great wins

This season will be remembered as the season of “Big Wind”. Not only did two major regattas at Carrum State Water Sport Centre get called off due to gale force winds but the National Championships on Wellington Dam WA, for the first time in history of the King’s Cup and National Championship Regatta, was abandoned due to an unwelcome visitor called Cyclone Ned. Racing this season was in many cases about simply staying afloat! At Carrum, James McKee had the distasteful experience of being immersed in the treated water when his timber scull just snapped in half due to the gale force buffeting by wind and waves. The trailer was towed down to the start and the two halves of the boat tied on and James returned to the boating area where he could shower and disinfect everything. Carrum again proved itself yet again to be a totally unsuitable venue for rowing. Not to mention that we were always advised not to actually get wet and avoid even putting your feet in the water when launching your boat , both of which were unrealistic.Yet it was the designated State Water Sports Centre and time has proved it was a complete waste of time and money. Lake Wendouree might be windy too but at least there was shade, shelter, good facilities and a pleasant environment!

While the number of wins this season was “only” 48,  25% of the wins were State Championships. So while the quantity had decreased a little the quality of the wins was still increasing. So strong was the club in the field of sculling that we won 7 out of the 10 state sculling Championships on offer! The decision made several years ago to concentrate our efforts in small boats was really coming to fruition. All our novice rowers were taught to scull properly with good consistent technique and the expectation was that they would at least win their novice sculling races. With the reduction in the number of wins,our position on the various premierships was also slightly down. We were the most successful country club and placed equal second on the Women’s Champion Club premiership and fourth on the Junior Women’s premiership. While the number of wins scored by men’s crews was down we did score our first Men’s Senior race for a few years and had several men’s Lightweight Senior wins as well.

On the Victorian scene we won a total of 8 Championships with James McKee winning Senior A and Senior B Sculling Championships. Tim Wise won the Senior C Championship and Lightweight Senior A Championship. Kate Elliott also won double championships in Senior A and Lightweight Senior A sculls. Sonja Crouch again won the Junior sculls title. Tim Wise and James McKee teamed up and won for a record third consecutive time the Champion Senior C pairs and Sprint pairs Championship. Again this treble was unique and will never be repeated. Kate Elliott and Tim Wise were the only siblings to hold the Men’s and Women’s Senior A lightweight scull Championships concurrently in Victoria. In the second year of the Country Championship Regatta the club won six titles. Tim Wise also complete a treble in the scull when he won Senior C sculls at the three Christmas regattas-Nagambie, Rutherglen and Yarrawonga.

If last season’s National Championships were dismal this season’s proved to be disastrous. Captain Danny Elliott again loaded the trailer up and made the long trek across the Nullarbor to attend the King’s Cup and National Regatta in Collie Western Australia. Unfortunately the cost and effort of getting to WA was all for nothing as Cyclone Ned blew through and reduced racing to a complete farce. James McKee was again selected for the Senior B Trans Tasman series this time in New Zealand with Danny Elliott his coach, but due to a knee injury he was unable to race. Danny Elliott also received recognition for his coaching achievements being appointed an AIS satellite coach. He was the first coach from Ballarat to be selected for an Australian team and the only one to receive recognition from the Australian Institute of Sport.

The introductory rowing sessions for Sacred Heart College (now Damascus) continued and five of the girls who continued on from last year were successful in winning several races for the club. Kate Elliott took on the organising and coaching of the girls as Kerry Sidaway had returned to Melbourne. A new rowing ergometer was purchased at a cost of $1900 to assist with training. If that first machine was still at the shed today and if a record of the kilometres rowed on it had been kept, it would have probably been “rowed” around the world a couple of times.

Open Day was again held just before Christmas in lovely sunny conditions. Some very competitive racing was held (as always) and several new boats christened. The tub scull donated by Don Cochrane was finally christened the DON COCHRANE in recognition of our generous benefactor and honorary club member. The new racing four was christened the DANNY ELLIOTT in recognition of the efforts of our captain/coach for the past 15 years.

The Victorian Institute of Sport, which had recently come into being, held some development camps for potential elite rowers. James McKee and Tim Wise both participated in a sculling camp held on Lake Wendouree and had their first introduction to physiological testing. James had been tested at the AIS also and it had shown what we already knew-he had a huge engine. His VO2 max test was over the 6 litre mark, equivalent to that other James who rowed for Australia.

Twenty businesses were again approached in an effort to obtain sponsorship and alleviate the onerous task of fundraising and again these proved unsuccessful. The Great Ballarat City Cake Stalls were instituted to raise funds. Several were held at Wendouree Village with members donating cakes and slices for sale and the manning the stall.this meant many Friday nights of baking well into the night for the secretary who wanted to ensure we had plenty of cakes to sell. The profits were quite reasonable-around $200 for our first effort. Discussions were held with the Recreation officers of the City Council to investigate sharing the boatshed with another group that would assist with maintenance and ongoing running costs.

Lyne Gibbons returned to the club after several years studying and working in Melbourne. Annual trophies awarded at the Annual meeting were: Most Improved Novice-Belinda Bilney, with the runners-up being Anne Power and Danielle Hereen(Foley). The Most Successful oarsman was Tim Wise who registered his highest number of wins in a season so far and mostly in the scull. Clubman of the year went to a long time supporter of the club, Norm Angow, in recognition of the huge amount of work he had done for the club over the years.

The photographs of Tim, Sonja, Kate and James earlier in the post were taken at Wellington Dam on the heats days. The weather was beautiful and the water calm. Everyone was racing well and had made it through to finals. Sonja was first up on the Saturday morning of finals. How she went out and raced I don’t know. But then we all had to be brave and head out into what we knew would be certainly the most difficult conditions of our lives. The wind had started to really pick up and there was considerable difficulty getting boats onto the start line. Eventually boats began sinking.Our light timber sculls were totally unsuited to the conditions. We needed the bigger “plastic” boats that would stay on top of the water. Unfortunately we had no alternative but to go out and race in terrible conditions.Of course it became a lottery where people with bigger boats or the newer fibreglass boats won rather than the fastest crew or sculler.To demonstrate how heavy the conditions were, Adair Ferguson won the Lightweight sculls race in 10 minutes and seconds, a good two minutes slower than usual.

 Huge waves were rolling down the course prevented any further racing.We waited for most of the day for racing to recommence but it looked as if the winds would not abate.We then made the decision to pack the boat trailer and leave.The road out of the dam ran up a spur and across a very unprotected part of hillside.As the trailer got to this  stretch,the wind got under the boats and lifted the trailer up in the air so that only one wheel was on the ground and the trailer was teetering on the brink of an extremely steep hillside.Rowers hurriedly got out of following cars and with most of us hanging onto one side of the trailer to keep it level we crawled our way back to Evendon Park where we were staying.It truly was the scariest experience we have ever had when towing the trailer.

Most of us had to fly home to Victoria for work and school. Danny Elliott and James McKee began the long drive home to Ballarat crossing the Nullabor for the last time towing the trailer with Elliott’s Holden ute. This was the second trip across the Nullabor for Danny Elliott and he vowed he would not do it again.

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