Nfld. & Labrador

Rowing crews set to return to Quidi Vidi Lake, but Regatta Day remains undecided

After COVID-19 cancelled all rowing and the annual races in 2020, boats will hit the water for practice within a few weeks. But whether there will be a big festival is still unclear.

COVID-19 cancelled 2020 regatta, the first interruption since Second World War

The fate of 2021's Regatta Day, seen here in 2017, is up in the air as the pandemic continues. (Submitted by Alick Tsui)

Rowers will soon be able to return to Quidi Vidi Lake for practice, but the possibility of a return for the Royal St. John's Regatta this coming August remains up in the air amid the ongoing pandemic, race organizers announced Friday.

All rowing — including the regatta itself — was suspended last year due to COVID-19, marking the first time the sporting event has been cancelled since 1940. 

To get back on the water for training at all is "a very big deal," said Bradley Power, president of the regatta committee.

"It's something we've been working on since last year. It's something our rowing community has been yearning for, for quite some time."

Practice is Phase 1 of the organization's return to rowing, with any sort of racing or time trials to be decided in what Power called Phase 2. A Regatta Day itself, complete with vendors and crowds, would be beyond that, and subject to public health restrictions and recommendations. 

"This may not be the news everyone had hoped for," Power said.

The races have been traditionally held on the first Wednesday of August for more than 200 years, with tens of thousands of people flocking to watch, eat and play games along the lakeshore in the east end of St. John's.

Having those crowds return "just doesn't make sense right now," he said, particularly in light of coronavirus variants raging on the mainland.

"We're very worried about the third wave. It would impact our operation."

Bradley Power says the garden party brings in considerable revenue for the regatta committee. (Jeremy Eaton/CBC)

Regatta organizers are balancing realism with optimism, and Power said a lot depends on how safely practices go.

"If everything goes well, we may see some type of an event, maybe not as big as what we've had in previous years," he said. "And if things go toward the negative, we may not be able to have an event at all."

A delay to the regatta is also a possibility, said Power, adding it could be pushed up until the end of October.

All the changes come with financial strain, as Power said the cost of operating amid restrictions "will be much more." Crew registrations only account for 20 per cent of its revenue, and the organization relies heavily on Regatta Day crowds for the rest

"If we don't hold a garden party, our revenues will be significantly impacted," he said.

May's rowing return

In the meantime, a return for rowers has been deemed relatively safe, although there will be numerous restrictions. 

Team sports across Newfoundland and Labrador have been cleared to resume under Alert Level 2, and following those guidelines as well as those from Rowing Canada, Power said the first crews will hit the water on May 3.

Practices will look different than in the past: rowers must limit their interactions to their own crews and be masked at all times except when their boats have pushed off from the dock.

Boats will be sanitized between practices, and the boathouse itself will be off limits.

"There's always risk in the community when there's COVID-19 present. We believe that we've done everything we possibly can to address the risk within our facility," said Power.

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