The History of the Guernsey Rowing Club
Rowing in Guernsey can be traced back to 1894, when the Guernsey Yacht Club challenged the Jersey Yacht Club to an inter – insular rowing race. This was to be using four oared Racing Gigs, over a distance of three miles. Unfortunately, we have no evidence of the result, if indeed there was one!
In May of 1895, the Guernsey Yacht Club proposed a special general meeting to separate the integrated, rowing and sailing sections of the club. This was proposed so both yachting and rowing would become independent, and if approved, would allow the new Rowing Club committee to take ownership of the three rowing boats.
While this fact may appear insignificant, it is interesting that, at this time, talk is of a possible merger between the Yacht Club and the Guernsey Rowing Club.
And so it came to pass, that on May 29th 1895, the separation was declared, and that the three rowing boats and the sum of nine pounds were effectively handed over to the Rowing Club, with the Yacht Club retaining ownership of the boats, just in case the new Rowing Club was not a success.
Interestingly enough, there is evidence of the other Island (Jersey) advertising for any one interested in rowing, to attend a meeting, to investigate the possibilities of starting a Jersey Rowing Club. The year – 1895.
The first evidence we have of the inter Island rivalry is in 1897, when at the Inter–Insular, both Island crews boated in preparation for the start. However after more than 45 minutes and after sending messengers to find the cause of the Jersey crews delay, the Jersey crew had still not come to the start line, so it would appear the Guernsey crew were pronounced the victors!
This obviously hit a nerve with the JRC as their written reply to the Guernsey Rowing Club was: “The Regatta committee of the JRC, instruct us to acknowledge receipt of your letter. The committee merely desires me to express its extreme regret at the unsportsmanlike course you have taken in the matter”
It would appear the rivalry between the two Islands had started!
There is a void in the history between then and the early 1940’s however on September 5th 1940, eight Guernsey rowers escaped from the then occupied Island heading off towards England. They rowed for the first half a mile, then used a motor before it broke down, after about two miles the Germans tried to find the 20-foot long boat by dropping flares in the area, however they were never seen. The engine broke down around the Casquets, but after four hours they got the engine running, and set off again, eventually ending up at Start Point, their original destination.
The war years produced no further history, however in the 1950’s Regatta’s were held in both St Peter Port and St Sampson’s. In 1960, the St Sampson’s & Vale Rowing Club folded up, the club hut and the two racing skiffs were then handed over to the North Regatta Association, however they were left outside the hut for many years being unused. These racing skiffs were sliding seat river type boats, interestingly enough, it would be many years before a sliding seat boat was used again.
In 1967, an article was printed in the Guernsey Press, inviting anyone who would be interested, to join two Jersey fishermen in a race from Sark to Jersey.
The original plan was to race from Jersey to Sark, however tidal conditions amongst other problems meant the race would indeed be from Dixcart in Sark to Bonne Nuit in Jersey, via the Paternosters reef. This course still stands, and the race is seen as the Inter Insular of rowing.
Approximately 57 boats started, however due to the poor conditions, roughly 20 boats finished, the winners being Brian Falla and Peter Lowe from Guernsey in a time of 4 hours 53 seconds. The last boat to finish took 7 hours in total.
Around that time a few local rowers would row to Herm, Sark, around Jethou as training rows. Then in 1971 club stalwart Brian Staples, was voted on to the committee of the North Regatta. His job was to encourage rowing and Tug of war. While not now on these committee’s, Brian still is an active supporter of both of these.
Also in 1971 Jersey formed their new Rowing Club!
Two years later, Brian approached some other keen rowers to consider a press advert to attempt to reform the Guernsey Rowing Club, this was done and so after a meeting chaired by Brian at l’Ancresse Lodge Hotel, it was agreed to start a new Guernsey Rowing Club. The logo used was that of the old St Sampson’s & Vale Rowing Club, with a slight modification. This was decided upon in case the old club was ever resurrected. Malcolm Hale was elected “Captain” of the newly formed club with “Snip” Guille vice captain, Brian was a committee member.
Once the new club was formed, the committee started organising social rowing events to prepare for the Sark to Jersey. The first social row of the newly formed club was from Guernsey to Herm, while the first race was from Havelet to Rocquaine, this was to coincide with the Rocquaine Regatta. These races still form part of the racing calendar.
The second social row was around Guernsey, a distance of some 23 – 25 miles! At this time the rowers would pull in to Portelet bay for a cup of tea and some food before either calling it a day or setting off round the South coast. Soon there would be twelve races in the Rowing Club calendar.
In 1991, the first, and currently only Channel Islands rowing regatta was organised in Guernsey. This is a two-day event, which has grown in popularity, more so in the years when the Sark to Jersey was not well supported due to the ineligibility of “sliders”. Rowers from the South of England, France, Holland and Jersey have competed in the event, which sees a tough 9 mile race on the Saturday, followed by a “hangover cure” 3 mile race on the Sunday morning. The aggregate times of the two races are added together to give the winners of all of the classes. There have been 60 boats competing during a regatta, and while Jersey have tried to do the same without success, the Little Russell Regatta was seen as the best rowing event, due to it’s good racing and excellent hospitality. The regatta was re-branded the Guernsey Offshore Rowing Regatta from 2007, however at the end of the 2009 season the committee at that time decided not to continue with the regatta. Credit must be given to the extremely dedicated team who year after year give up their own time to organise the event for the enjoyment of all.
Over the years many changes to boat design have evolved, however, until the mid 1990’s the club rules had dictated, “All boats must have fixed seats”.
In the mid 90’s the then dominant men’s x4 crew, South Quay Estates rolled out the first converted “Granta” sliding seat boat, and raced it in the “Open class”. There was much debate over the suitability of sliding seat boats when used in local waters, however this was the turning point and the way forward to compete against French crews.
By now the new sliders were proving to be the way forward with new designs appearing in all classes, however it was still slow progress, mainly because the flagship event, the Sark to Jersey, had continued to ban sliding seat boats.
By the early part of the 2000’s Guernsey were using nearly all sliding seat boats, which in effect meant that the Sark to Jersey was rapidly becoming a Jersey only event.
To try to persuade the Jersey Rowing Club to move forward Dave Perrio from Guernsey and Ian Blandin from Jersey organised the Sark to Gorey race as direct competition to the established Inter Insular. This was to be a tough race of approximately 25 miles in open water, however it was open to all types of boats, fixed or sliding seats.
The first race took place with roughly 15 boats, the weather was perfect. The sea on that day was absolutely flat calm, and the first two boats to finish were the top men’s x4 crews from Guernsey, The Fitness Factory being first and Perrio’s own crew, Shoreline Marine second, just 30 seconds separated them after a monumental race which lasted just over 2 ½ hours, a time that still stands today.
The next year the same event took place, but this time the conditions were completely the opposite, huge following seas meant a much-depleted field with some competitors shying away from the mammoth task. However the race was completed, but thoughts were still aimed at the now poorly supported Sark to Jersey, as to when the Jersey Rowing Club and Bonne Nuit boat owners would allow the event to grow again.
In the early part of the 2000’s more Jersey Rowers were moving across to “sliders”, and thanks to the persistence of Ian Blandin from Jersey, it culminated in 2003 with the Sark to Jersey race allowing all types of boats to enter. The race was run in the usual sloppy conditions, with top honours in the men’s class going to Ian Blandin’s crew, in under 2 hours, with Dave Perrio’s crew following just 20 seconds behind. Top ladies honours went to Guernsey’s, “Circuit Oars”.
This was a fitting tribute to both men, who after many years had finally seen the Sark to Jersey come back to life, this must now mark the beginning of a new era in Channel Islands rowing.
In 1997 Tim Prout and Rob Prigent “borrowed” a sliding single plug from Cherbourg Rowing Club, produced a mould and built some boats. Later that year Tim Prout became the first non-Frenchman to win the singles class in the Cherbourg Regatta, something he did again in 1999, while in 1998 Prout became the first non Frenchman to win the Gorey to Carteret race in the men’s singles class.
Guernsey rowing continues to provide many unique feats. Guernsey Rowers have rowed from Guernsey to the Isle of Wight, Guernsey to France, Guernsey to Jersey and vice versa. Crews have competed in The London River Row, at one time The Fitness Factory held the record time; in 1997 Jon Van Katwyk and Geoff Gavey completed the inaugural Atlantic Rowing Race in 14th place. 4 Years later, Andy Chapple from Guernsey and Ian Anderson from Jersey teamed up to compete in the same race, finishing in 5th place, and in doing so became the fastest British Rowers to cross the Atlantic at that time. In 2006, a Guernsey Rowing Club ladies fours crew won their Atlantic Challenge class, and in doing so were awarded a Guinness World Record as the first women's four to row any ocean.
The Fitness Factory continues to raise thousands of pounds for their nominated charity, Multiple Sclerosis, by rowing huge distances. They have rowed hundreds of miles in various challenges for example, around all of the Channel Islands, Guernsey to London and in 2002, Guernsey to Amsterdam. In 2004 they, along with other GRC members, broke the world record from London to Paris, and in doing so raised over £105,000 for Multiple Sclerosis. And guess who held the record previously? The Jersey Rowing Club!
In 2006 the Guernsey Rowing Club hosted the F.I.S.A. World Rowing Coastal Challenge, the predecessor of the current World Rowing Coastal Championships. Crews from all over the world competed in a weekend that was blighted by poor weather, yet the event still went ahead and again Guernsey Rowers topped the world in the men’s fours class and collected medals in other classes.
In 2007 a new Guernsey Rowing Club logo was introduced.
In 2008, Sam De Kooker and Simon Johns established a Guinness World Record for rowing non-stop for 24 hours on an indoor rowing machine in support of Multiple Sclerosis. They achieved a distance of over 300,000 metres.
In October 2009 the World Coastal Rowing Championships were held in Plymouth, over 90 Guernsey rowers and supporters competed and Margi Jorgensen won a world silver medal in the ladies single, followed by FRM winning gold in the British Masters class.
We hope this history of the Guernsey Rowing Club is of interest.