Monday, 28 July 2014

Sulkava 2014

A rather belated report from the 2014 Sulkava expedition race in Finland, a monster 60km row through the lakes in 14-oar churchboats. The start, as you can see, is chaos with 10,000 rowers competing.
Tony Shaw, long-time Helsinki resident, entered again and here's his report. Don't fail to click on the link for another view of the event from Helen Smalman-Smith at Expedition Rowing:

Staying in the (rather long) moment
I have often described rowing, and especially the long-distance variety, as a form of yoga, even a type of Zen. Oops - there go my credentials among the scientific readership. But how else can one rationalise the decision to sit for nearly 5½ hours in hot sunshine, swinging backwards and forwards 9980 times at the end of an oar (yes, one crew member did actually count them - she's probably a good scientist too), expending a colossal amount of energy for no apparent purpose. But that is a fact, and this year was the fifth time I have done it, even acquiring as proof of this the certificate, given to all finishers, now recognising my accomplishments as a Sulkava Grand Master of Rowing!
Once again it's all over bar the blisters - five hours and eigthteen minutes of somehow pleasurable toil through the waters of eastern Finland. And once again the weather last weekend was blistering too - about 27/8C on the water for the Saturday morning group, but thankfully some gentle breezes to cool the body. Of the 58 all-wooden churchboats starting (they now call them longboats on the website) my crew of Espoo Rowers were one of the few to have a good flying start, our wily cox anticipating an early starting gun by approaching the line steadily through the throng!
It's a strange mix of adrenalin and self-control that flows through the body in the first 10 minutes, where the lakewater is choppy with churning waves and eddies, and from all sides the shouts of the coxes adding to the tumult. After that the zen starts to kick in, the drink breaks roll by along with the magnificent rocky scenery of this holiday region 60 kilometres from the Russian border.
My start was punctuated by the sudden appearance beside us of another 12 metre wooden boat, filled with 14 straining bodies, moving steadily past us, and urged on by a very English voice from the stern. It turns out that they were a very seasoned crew of Brits, many from Thames Valley, over for a weekend of expedition rowing (two having already been across the Atlantic) under the nomination What's Not to Like. And despite their unfamiliarity with the boat, its fixed oars, the intricacies of the course, they still managed to complete the 58.3 km nearly 20 minutes faster than my gang.
In our boat conversation was typically minimal, but depending on your partner there's plenty of time for philosophy or repartee. One nearby boat was wired up to a ghetto blaster, and in addition had a curvacious cox with the voice like Geri Halliwell urging the crew to greater things. Thankfully they were obliged to stop off at a convenient island for a pee-break and we never saw, or heard, them again.
Despite my relative experience, and despite my scorn for other crew-members worries (see 1 July posting), I too would dearly have appreciated a pee-break this year! Taking some well-meaning advice and dosing myself over the previous 24 hours, my last minute 'visit' my body didn't prepare me for the surplus of liquids consumed. However with the high temperatures, as well as the cox's remonstrations, I had to keep taking the refreshments (every 20 minutes a swig from my sports drink in tandem with my neighbour, with our oars hitched to the foot-rest), leaving me desperate to get off the boat at the end and search the beach for the solitary facility by those moorings. In every other respect this event is thoroughly well organised, the entry fee covering a solid hot meal and drink, entry to the come-dancing floor, right down to the inscribed certificates distributed to all rowers on the same evening.
First-time participant from Madison USA, Chris Miller had never stepped into a rowing boat prior to the previous month, but had been dragooned into joining the crew training next to his university campus just outside Helsinki. 'It was a blast' were his words as he was helped out of his boat after the race on rather shakey legs. He had never met his crew before, never spoke to most of them at all in fact, but had spent nearly 6 hours in their company happily engaged in their joint mission.
It's still quite amazing to me how the urge to complete the task is shared among the 14 variously fit or flailing crew members, but all manage their own somewhat existential solution and every year over hundreds of churchboats find their way to the finishing line at the stadium of this tiny village in the middle of the Finnish lake district. And let's not forget the 400+ single and double wooden boats which completed the course over the weekend. Those guys need even more 'sisu'* than sweat, proving that this is actually as much a sport of the mind as of the body and boat.

*sisu - the very Finnish concept somewhere between guts and stubborness, that they like to think characterises their nation, along with 'sauna and Sibelius'

1 comment:

TonyS said...

Actually max number of participants in a single race is about 800 rowers. The 7k total number (nowadays) is spread over the whole weekend. But chaos it certainly is!