Women’s teams race long course at historic 204th Royal St. John’s Regatta

Seven people rowing a long row boar on a lake. Trees and crowds of people can be seen on the shore.
Studio Verso won the first-ever women’s long course race at the 204th Royal St. John’s Regatta on Thursday. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Four rowing crews made history at the 204th Royal St. John’s Regatta on Thursday, becoming the first women to row the 2.45-kilometre long course since 1816.

The Verso crew came in first place with a time of 10:28.70.

In previous years, the long course has been reserved for men, but that changed this year.

“A lot of the people on this crew have been pushing for this for a long time,” said Verso rower Steph Davis on Thursday. “It’s really, really nice to see it finally come to life, come to fruition and have so much incredible support.”

Men are also now able to row the short course, though no teams signed up this year.

Ashley Peach, regatta committee vice-president and captain of the course, said she hopes more men’s teams will sign up next year.

Take a look at the sights and sounds of the 204th Royal St. John’s Regatta:

Sights and sounds of the Royal St. John’s Regatta

Take a peek at the fun around Quidi Vidi Lake.

Regatta goes ahead, one day late

Peach announced the regatta would go ahead Thursday at a news conference shortly after 5:30 a.m. triggering the weather-dependent St. John’s holiday.

The first race began around 8:20 a.m. with two senior women’s races, followed by two senior men’s races.

The regatta committee postponed the event Wednesday because winds were set to reach 20 km/h gusting to 40 km/h. The event goes ahead only if the committee determines weather conditions are appropriate for rowing on Quidi Vidi Lake. 

Environment Canada is forecasting periods of drizzle Thursday morning and a mix of sun and cloud later in the day, with winds of 20 km/h. Temperatures are set to reach 27 C, with a humidex of 30.

A person wearing a ribbon and a lanyard stands at a podium outside. Behind the person the words "John's" and "regatta" can be seen.
Shortly after 5:30 a.m. Thursday, regatta committee vice-president and captain of the course Ashley Peach announced the event would go ahead. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Peach said she’s hopeful lower wind speeds and gusts will make for better rowing conditions than on Wednesday.

“The decision this morning was a lot easier,” she said.

Olivia Neary and Elsa Loveys, both 10 years old, are part of the J&E Enterprises Limited squirt team, a crew of nine- and 10-year-old girls. 

Olivia said her dad, former regatta president Chris Neary, inspired her love of rowing.

“He’s a great cox,” she said.

Two girls wearing yellow t-shirts with the logo J & E Enterprises stand outside, smiling, with their arms around each other. In the background people are walking past.
Elsa Loveys, left, and Olivia Neary are two of the younger participants in the 204th Royal St. John’s Regatta. (Peter Cowan/CBC)

Elsa and Olivia said their goal for the regatta is to do their best — and have fun.

Chris Neary said the team may have some future champions.

“They’re having a ball,” he said.

Spectators, vendors return

The regatta is welcoming back dozens of vendors and thousands of spectators for the first time since 2019. Organizers say crowds around the lake have numbered between 30,000 to 50,000 spectators in previous years. 

Peach said rowers are prepared for the higher temperatures, but spectators should remember to bring water and seek shade during the hot part of the day. She suggested attending the event earlier in the morning, when the temperature is cooler.

St. John Ambulance will located around the lake to help in case of emergencies.

A closeup of a person in a white polo t-shirt in mid-sentence.
Anchormen Barbershop Chorus president Steve Martin says the regatta is the group’s No. 1 fundraiser each year. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

The Anchormen Barbershop Chorus is one of the groups fundraising at the event. President Steve Martin said the regatta is the group’s No. 1 annual fundraiser.

“We put a lot of energy into it, but we truly enjoy it. It’s very rewarding,” he said.

In addition to prizes like plush toys, members of the group will also take song requests, Martin said.

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