Henley on Todd

Run, run, run your boat

Small towns have their own style of entertainment; each a celebration of what makes their town unique.

For those of you familiar with the Henley on Thames, from which our event takes its name, our regatta has almost nothing in common.  On the Thames, the upper crust dress in their finest whites and sit on leafy lawns to watch world class rowing. Here, we sit on the dry river bank and watch friends and strangers carry bathtubs and shovel sand.

American Sailors

The event starts, as all good things should, with a parade. The boats are a carried through the mall and all of the participants walk with their crews and throw candy to the crowd as they pass. This year the parade featured a group who rode their little red Honda motor bikes (preferred method for delivering mail in Australia, aptly called Postie Bikes) from Hobart to Alice. The bikes were later sold, with proceeds going to charity.
From there, it’s straight on to the river bed.

The arena is situated much like the Olympic gymnastics floor space. There are multiple events going on at once and the spectators simply choose what to watch.  The boat races, of course, start the day. From homemade craft of plastic piping and duct tape that hold 4 to sponsored, metal yachts that hold 8, different groups from around town come forth and race.

Teams carry their boat twenty yards before turning a corner and racing back. Tripping is common in the sandy riverbed and the cry of “Man overboard!” is frequently heard. For the less sturdy craft, this can be fatal. Several craft collapsed under the weight of their crews. While these races are going on, the sand shoveling competition takes place. Challengers are asked to fill a 65 gallon drum with sand as quickly as possible. Why? What else are we going to do to fill the time between races?
Behind the main course, teams of 2-4 would “crew” down a set of rails using shovels instead of oars. Towards the end of the afternoon, the races took a turn for the silly.  First, four strapping adults would place a small child in an empty bathtub and carry it around the same course as the boats. At the half way point, the crew would unceremoniously dump a bucket of water on their passenger before returning.  But this race was not the end for our young passengers.
A second set of races requiring a passenger was held. This time, the passenger rode a boogie board as if it were a sled and the adults four horses.

After a long day of cheering and racing there was time for one last race. It was time to see which which country would have bragging rights for the next year.  In 2012, the Aussies used a flexible boat design to out maneuver the American sailors.  In response the American’s changed their boat design for 2013.  As the teams lined up for the race, the judges introduced a wrinkle for this year. Two sponsored boats were pulled up and each team was assigned one.  Each team looked evenly matched, having been selected for speed, strength, and sure-footedness. The starter fired his pistol and the teams took off.  As they neared the turn the Americans held a slight advantage.  However many a team had floundered at the turn.  The rigid frames of the boats forced each team to turn wide.  In the last twenty yards the Americans pulled away and won by a boat length.

Last, but not least, was the epic boat battle between the Vikings, Pirates, and Navy. Water cannons and flour bombs were employed as each team tried to earn the support of the crowd. All in all, it was a crazy day and we can’t even begin to describe it to you in words. This is one case where seeing is believing.

For more pictures, check it out here.