How rowing, resilience and respect go hand-in-hand at Lake Ruataniwha. 

 

Just as the buffeting nor-westers are starting to ramp up over Lake Ruataniwha, Brian Hutchison carries his boat down to the launch area, fully intending to row the Men’s J-M category Single Sculls on the final day of the Masters Championships. 

By the time he gets halfway to the start line the wind has picked up and is pushing him into the shore. 

His Blenheim clubmates, following him along the bank, help him along and into the shelter at the end of Lake Front Rd.  

Racing’s put on hold so Brian adds some layers and waits it out in the cold and wet.  

Brian began his working life as a linesman for Post & Telegraph, stringing up the wires that connected rural New Zealand. It was especially tough work in the Marlborough region, hauling poles into hilly and remote country by hand.  

He’d taken up rowing with Blenheim but had to call it quits after three years as the constant working out of town severely limited his time on the water. 

And then there was his beloved Alison and their four sons.  

About 20 years ago, he decided to rejoin Blenheim and take up Masters rowing.  

Officials decide to call racing off. The Blenheim boys carry Brian’s boat back and he gets a ride with coach Mouse Taylor to the team tent.  

The 91-year-old's regatta is over.  

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Brian Hutchison ready to tackle the rough conditions on the final day of the Masters Championships at Lake Ruataniwha.  Photo: Picture Show Ltd 

Earlier in the day he bore the brunt of the headwind in bow seat of Blenheim’s Men’s Quad, holding off some younger crews to finish second in the G-M category.  

He rowed bow seat of Blenheim’s G-M Eight on Saturday, which according to Mouse would have been his first sweep row since being in the Marlborough Provincial Eight in 1952.  

“On a Sunday after training we have a beer and a barbecue, or just a beer mostly, and Brian stays and then he comes down two nights during the week as well, and just pops in his single and goes 2k up the river and comes back,” says Mouse. “This is a very close-knit little group.” 

The club is like family to Mouse too. He started rowing in 1969. His two older brothers had already joined Wairau, but it was always Blenheim for Mouse.  

And Brian has played a big part in that family atmosphere. You can sense the effect he has on everyone around him.    

For his part, Brian feels fortunate too.    

“I'm just lucky, that's all. Damn lucky to get as far as I've got.” 

He’s remained remarkably injury free, just a knee replacement and a busted shoulder years ago when a big tree branch took him out while he was cutting firewood.  

Alison passed away in 2021. His wife of 64 years has left an unbridgeable gap.  

They met through Brian’s best mate at the time, Owen Garrick. Owen was keen on a girl called Ngaire Hills. He asked her out to the pictures. She accepted on the condition he find someone to take her twin sister Alison.  

Garrick married Ngaire, Brian married Alison.   

The club’s played a huge part in helping him through the loss.   

“It's been a great thing for me to keep involved. Something to do, you know, something to look forward to. But it's no doubt getting to the time where you think you’ve had enough.” 

His voice trails off in thought.  

“We’ll wait and see.”   

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Brian Hutchison ready to tackle the rough conditions on the final day of the Masters Championships at Lake Ruataniwha.  Photo: Picture Show Ltd. 

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Andy Hay

Andy Hay is a freelance producer, writer and rowing coach. He was cox of the world champion New Zealand eight of 1982 and '83. He is NZ Olympian #446.