Swell time at Wales’ oldest regatta

With the £4.2m restoration project now complete on Penarth’s Victorian Pier and Art Deco Pavilion, the historic structure formed a superb backdrop to Wales’ oldest rowing regatta, when 40 sliding seat quadruple sculls and coxed fours took to the Bristol Channel at the weekend.

Penarth Regatta is as old as the pier itself, erected in 1895, two years before the seafront location made waves of a different sort, when Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio messages across sea, from the cliffs where racing starts, three miles out to Flatholm Island.

“We’ve got a fantastic backdrop,” said Penarth Rowing Club’s Richard Laats. “The pier, cliffs, a pebble beach, islands on the horizon, yachts, the odd ship… and on a clear day we can see right across to Weston-super-Mare in England. 

“We used to race through the pier, but after a boat hit a stanchion in the 1980s and snapped in two, we thought it safer to race the other way and finish at our Penarth Yacht Club base on the esplanade, just before the pier.

“Racing is in coastal boats about 750m along the shore under the cliffs. It’s just a really good fun event at the end of the season.

“It’s not too serious, everyone’s chilled out. You’re having to roll with the waves as they come into shore sideways on, including off ships, and get a bit wet. But as the results show, it’s good, close racing.

“We’re a non-status event, and we’ve got all sorts of standards today, with golden oldies and novices racing together with juniors and seniors.”

Launching out on the second highest tidal reach in the world, the sea charged in a good 200ft during the afternoon, making for a good swell. 

Cardiff City proved most successful club taking five of the 13 events, with their Henley Wyfold Cup-qualifying men’s four holding off Llandaff by 3/4L and their women’s quadruple scull rowing down City of Swansea by feet.

Quad cox Laura Hyatt said: “They led us until the last few strokes – it was pretty rough and I got soaked, but we never gave up and managed to power through.”

Other Cardiff wins came in junior quads from Penarth, junior girls’ quads from Swansea, and mixed quads by 1/2L from Monmouth.

Llandaff landed four trophies, including a two-foot verdict in mixed fours over Cardiff City, with Henley Royal Regatta medallist John McTeague admitting: “My legs had gone at the end there, but we just about managed to hang on.

“It’s a real leveller, good racing, and the rougher the better in some ways. The location’s fantastic – it’s a totally different experience for us river rowers and what’s not to like.”

The River Taff club also took women’s fours from Swansea, mixed masters fours from Ross, and mixed quads from Monmouth, while host club Penarth showed the Wye outfit the best way to surf to success in junior mixed quads, by 3/4L. 

But Monmouth overhauled Penarth on the line to win masters fours, both boats praying it wasn’t a re-row, while 2010 British men’s quadruple scull champion Tom Penny stroked their men’s quad to victory by 3/4L from Cardiff City, who headed somewhat out to sea after a rudder line snapped. 

City of Swansea landed the masters women’s quads from Ross by 1 1/4L, former Wales rower Sarah Hayward saying: “The waves were smacking the riggers, and it was bang, splash all the way. Great fun.”

By Nick Hartland