The South Island Masters is held every year at Queen’s Birthday Weekend. Well, that’s the plan, but of course Covid interrupted it in 2020; and in 2021, when the regatta was to be held in Ashburton, flooding closed the lake and stymied plans once again.

Queen’s Birthday can be pretty cold, and I for one recall finishing a race with fresh snow on my shoulders (Twizel). This year was one out of the box, however, and dozens of eager rowers enjoyed sunshine and mirrorlike conditions on the Taieri River and Lake Waihola. Some 220 competitors attended from as far afield as Auckland and Bluff, and it was a great opportunity to rekindle friendships and rivalries.

On Saturday 34 crews contested the Bridge-to-Bridge long-distance race on the Taieri, with coveted trophies such as the ‘Mock Rooster’ and the ‘Port Parrot’ at stake. Beginning at Henley, all crews rowed 8.5kms downriver to Taieri Mouth where they assembled just short of the river mouth, before being set off at one-minute intervals to race back up the stunningly scenic, serpentine gorge to the bridge. Pity the bow person in a coxless boat, as the river winds through bush-clad hills and under rocky bluffs with unexpected shallows and some near-handbrake turns, before the final 4km stretch to the finish line. It really is a challenging and spectacular course.

Sunday’s racing was on Lake Waihola. After a colourful dawn and a light frost, crews from 23 clubs enjoyed a day of hotly contested racing in all classes over the 1000m course. The weekend had a tinge of nostalgia for many as they recalled racing on Waihola in the seventies and eighties, before the creation of Lake Ruataniwha shifted racing to Twizel. The regatta traditionally ends with a dinner and dance and prizegiving. Trophies were awarded – some, such as the Port Parrot, in name only, as they have unfortunately vanished into clubrooms.

Thanks must go to the large team of volunteers, many of whom put in long hours of work and gave up their opportunity to race in order to run the regatta. It was a great weekend all round and their efforts were appreciated by all. Thanks also to the Bendigo Valley Foundation for its generous support.

The South Island Masters regatta is hosted in turn by the various clubs in the motu. Picton has volunteered to host it in 2023, and if the dashing outfits sported by the handsome Picton rowers at the Sunday night dinner are anything to go by, it will be a fine event! Mark it on your calendar, and shake the moths out of your blazers.

PHOTOS: GARETH VAUGHAN