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!
On 29 May 1895, the Guernsey Yacht Club separated the rowing and sailing sections of the club. The 3 rowing boats and the sum of £9 was handed over to the Rowing Club.
Inter-Insular rivalry began in 1897 when the Guernsey crew were pronounced winners of the Inter Insular Race as the Jersey crew failed to show at the start line!
On 5 September 1940, eight Guernsey rowers reportedly 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 reaching their destination.
In the 1950’s Regatta’s were held in both St Peter Port and St Sampson’s
The St Sampson’s & Vale Rowing Club closed. The two (sliding seat) racing skiffs were handed over to the North Regatta Association, but sadly were left outside the club hut remaining unused for several years.
In 1967, an article was printed in the Guernsey Press, inviting interested parties, 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 meant the course ran from Dixcart in Sark to Bonne Nuit in Jersey, via the Paternosters reef. Approximately 57 boats started, however due to the poor conditions, only around 20 boats finished. The winners, Brian Falla and Peter Lowe from Guernsey, finished in a time of 4 hours 53 seconds. The last boat to finish took 7 hours in total. This course still stands, with Guernsey, Jersey and French crews racing annually.
An article appeared in the Guernsey Press inviting interested parties to form the Guernsey Rowing Club. The first meeting took place at the L'Ancresse Lodge Hotel and the club, as we know it today, was formed. Malcolm Hale was elected as the first Captain, 'Snip' Guille become Vice Captain, and Brian Staples as a Founding Member.
The first social row of the newly formed club was from Guernsey to Herm, while the first race was from Havelet to Rocquaine, to coincide with the Rocquaine Regatta. 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!
In 1991 the first Channel Islands rowing regatta was organised in Guernsey. A two-day event, the regatta welcomed sliding seat rowers from the South of England, France, Holland and Jersey. It comprised a tough 9 mile race on the Saturday, followed by a “hangover cure” 3 mile race on the Sunday morning. With up to 60 boats on the water at once, the Little Russell Regatta (later renamed the Guernsey Offshore Rowing Regatta) provided excellent racing and hospitality!
Until this time, club rules had stipulated that all boats must have fixed seats. In the mid 1990s, the dominant men's fours crew (South Quay Estates) showcased the converted 'Grants' sliding seat boat, racing it in the Open class. These boats became increasingly popular, particularly when racing against French crews. However, the Sark to Jersey race maintained its ban on sliding seats.
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 and the following year repeated the honour for the Gorey to Carteret.
This year also saw Jon Van Katwyk and Geoff Gavey complete the inaugural Atlantic Rowing Race, placing 14th.
Dave Perrio from Guernsey and Ian Blandin from Jersey organised the Sark to Gorey race as direct competition to the established Inter Insular. A race of approximately 25 miles, it was open to all types of boats, fixed or sliding seats. In perfect conditions, Guernsey men's fours crews finished in first and second place, just 30 seconds apart.
In 2002 the Fitness Factor crew rowed from Guernsey to Amsterdam, one of several long distance rows that helped them to raise thousands of pounds over the years for their nominated charity, Multiple Sclerosis.
With most boats now using sliding seats, the Sark to Jersey race finally changed their rules in 2003 to allow all types of boats to enter. The race was run in typical sloppy conditions, with only 20 seconds separating the first place Jersey mens quad from the second placed Guernsey crew.
Continuing their endeavours to raise money for MS Guernsey, a Guernsey crew rowed from London to Paris, breaking the World Record which was previously held by Jersey Rowing Club.
In 2006 Guernsey Rowing Club's ladies fours crew, 'Mission Atlantic', won their Atlantic Challenge class. Sarah Day, Lois Rowlins-Duquemin, Kathy Tracey and Paula van Katwyk became the First Ladies fours team to ever cross an ocean, doing so in 67 days.
Later that year, Guernsey hosted the FISA World Rowing Coastal Challenge, the predecessor of the current World Rowing Coastal Championships. Crews from across the world competed in a weekend blighted by poor weather. Guernsey rowers topped the world in the men’s fours class and collected medals in other classes.
In 2008 Sam de Kooker and Simon Johns established a Guinness World Record 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.
October 2009 saw Plymouth host the World Coastal Rowing Championships. Over 90 Guernsey rowers and supporters competed. Margi Jorgensen won a world silver medal in the ladies single, followed by crew 'FRM' winning gold in the British Masters class.