Paradise found, in Vanuatu

The 2-day Masters in Paradise regatta, hosted by Port Vila Rowing Club in the Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu, lives up to its name.

Entries are now open for the 2016 regatta which will be on Sunday-Monday, 12-13 June.

Having competed in the inaugural regatta in 2014 , I can only say: GO!

Here are my 6 reasons why.

1. Row on a tropical lagoon

Halfway up Erakor Lagoon, I looked down.

The white, sandy bottom was peppered with red and blue starfish.

Shoals of tiny electric blue fish darted around my boat. I saw no sharks.

Erakor Lagoon
Erakor Lagoon

2. Everything’s easy

Once you’re signed up and you’ve got your crews sorted, all you have to do is turn up.

Day 1 races are 1000 metres.

Day 2 is a 6-km time trial over a triangular course.

All boats and oars are supplied. There are 4 of everything – 4 singles, 4 doubles and 4 quads – all Swift Racing craft, all comfortable to row in.

On the lagoon, there are no tides,  major obstacles, or deadly creatures (that I saw).

In shallow spots, be careful of the coral underneath you. And try not to step on the starfish (harder than you might think).

The local rowers are there to help you get on/off the water. There’s no lifting of boats because the next crew is always ready to jump in your boat.

The boys from Port Vila Rowing Club
The boys from Port Vila Rowing Club

We had good food, drinks, seating and shady spots to watch the racing. But bring a brimmed hat, sunscreen, a sun shirt, and any special energy drinks/snacks.

Even spectating was easy. When I say there was live streaming, I’m not just talking about the Pimms.

The finish line
The finish line

3. New friends, new combinations

In 2014, the lucky 65 competitors were mainly Aussies and Kiwis, escaping winter (not that winter here in Queensland rates highly). And, of course, the local ni-Vanuatu rowers and some resident ex-pats.

We were all ages and skill levels, though everyone seemed pretty competent and some rowers were of an exceptional high standard.

I raced with Marg Bridgford from the University of Queensland Boat Club for the first time. We had sat in the same boat once at a Row-Craft Coaching camp back in Australia a couple of months prior, and seemed to click. Here, we won the WM2X 1000m sprint. The start of a beautiful friendship!

I also raced the WM1X in both the 1000m and the 6 km, and the WM4X 1000m in a Lake Macdonald Rowing Club composite with Linda Grams from Noosa Yacht & Rowing Club (we came 3rd).

The mixed races on Day 2 were a hoot, with names drawn out of a hat.

Kerry and Kemu rowed in the mIxed doubles
The long and the short of it. Kerry and Kemu.

It’s a great place to try out new combinations in a relaxed atmosphere.

And a great opportunity to get used to jumping into unfamiliar boats with unfamiliar people.

4. Dress up and party on

Who wouldn’t love to dress up ‘Island style’ for the post-regatta party and medal presentations?

The Port Vila markets are a good place to shop.

Island style
Island style?

5. Row with the locals

The morning after, some heads were throbbing. But lie in? When there was a ‘pleasure row’ on offer?

Coach Roly allocated the crews and we rowed up the lagoon to Erakor Island (4 km) with Rio setting the pace.

Disembarking onto the shallow resort beach was a new and surreal experience.

Erakor Island where we had breakfast on our pleasure row.
Beached. Erakor Island where we had breakfast on our pleasure row.

Over a fine breakfast, we had a chance to chat with the local rowers who were just starting to come out of their shells (!). They are lovely, gentle, soft-spoken people – with great rowing physiques!

For the trip back, we mixed up the crews and I seized the opportunity to jump in a quad with Luigi and Ivor. Luigi had competed for Vanuatu in the LW1X at the World Junior Champs.

He set a cracking pace. After about 1 km, I asked if he was planning to drop the rate at all. ’36, all the way’, he joked. Except he wasn’t joking. We were flying. It was exhilarating for us 50-somethings.

Vanuatu dream team. Luigi, me, Kerry, Ivor.
Vanuatu dream team: Luigi, me, Kerry, Ivor.

6. Support a developing rowing nation

Living on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific, your racing opportunities are few.

The Masters in Paradise regatta is aimed at raising money to see Vanuatu represented at world championships and the Olympic Games.

I’ve enjoyed reading about Luigi’s performances in Europe over the past 18 months. I can only imagine the massive learning curve he has had during that time. Bloody brave, I say.

Fingers crossed we will see him and perhaps a Vanuatu LW2X at Rio next year.

World Rowing posted a nice article about the regatta and the club history: Masters row in paradise.

PS In a surprise highlight on my last day in Vanuatu, I  hung out with the Grade 3 class at North Vila School. They were learning about volcanoes. English is their 3rd language (!) but we managed to communicate quite well.

North Vila schoolchildren - future rowers?
Future rowers? The adorable Grade 3 class at North Vila School, Vanuatu.
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