IT was a far cry from the 19th century days when rugged men in oilskin coats would row as hard as they could in pursuit of whales.
However, yesterday’s Australian Whaleboat Racing Championships on Warrnambool’s Hopkins River estuary still had the muscle-testing challenge of brisk coastal winds.
Twenty-two teams from Warrnambool, Portland and Corangamite Shire rowed three heavy boats across a one-kilometre course in heats and finals for the honour of claiming national trophies.
Next month there could be an even bigger challenge with plans for a long-distance event over about eight kilometres to close the season.
According to Merran Fyfe, of Flagstaff Hill Maritime Village, yesterday was one the second biggest turnout in the event’s history. “It shows the sport is alive and well,” she said.
Portland organiser Andrew Levings, a member of one of his city’s two championship teams, said there was a bright future.
“There is good participation from all levels and we are keen to go to San Francisco to compete.”
Portland won the women’s trophy and the mixed section while Warrnambool’s The Couldabeens clinched the men’s title.
It was the first outing for 15 years for The Couldabeens, most of whom had been whaleboat competitors in the early days of the competition.
“We decided to get together again and have a bit of fun,” said Brian Guyett.
“It’s hard work for five minutes during the races.”
Portland entered four teams and Corangamite had three.
Results: Men: The Couldabeens (Warrnambool) 5.41 minutes, 1; Corangamite Crushers 6.02, 2; Rotary Rowers (Warrnambool) 6.05, 3.
Women: Whalers Bluff (Portland) 6.58, 1; Mermaids (Portland) 7.08, 2; Happy Little Vegemites (Warrnambool) 7.17, 3.
Mixed: Black Whales (Portland) 5.45, 1; Warrnambool SES 5.49, 2; Southern Right Whalers (Warrnambool) 6.06, 3.