Third International Azorean Whaleboats Regatta…this year in New Bedford

During the months of July and August several members of the BBRC rose before dawn and headed over to East Beach, in New Bedford, ready to greet the sun as it rose over Fairhaven. Along with a few other ladies from the area they boarded the Azorean whaleboats, Pico and Faial, and under the expert direction of John Pinheiro and John Branco, of the Azorean Maritime Historical Society, they learned and practiced the skills needed to row these sleek and very colorful boats. By the end of the summer their dedication and efforts paid off when they were asked to take part in the 3rd International Azorean Whaleboat Regatta on the September 9th by rowing in two exhibition women’s races to be held just prior to the men’s races. As members of the Society, they were also invited to attend all the festivities planned for the visiting men’s teams from the islands of Pico and Faial held at the Casa dos Botes, the Low Tide Yacht club and the Whaling Museum where not only did the ladies get to enjoy the culinary offerings and fine wines of the islands, but they got to rub elbows with the visiting dignitaries and learn a great deal of the culture and traditions associated with the building and racing of the Azorean boats.

The order of events for Saturday, the first race day, was to feature the men in the Pico, Faial and Bella Vista (the Society’s newest boat built in the Azores) racing under sail and then, on Sunday, the women would race, followed by the US, Pico and Faial men’s teams. However, with small craft warning predicted for Saturday, the women learned at the Friday night barbecue that the sequence was to be reversed and the ladies would be rowing at 1 PM on Saturday after the men rowed. Cell phones in hand, the women, undaunted by the change in plans, managed to come up with replacements for those, who would not be available on Sunday and were able to fill all six seats in the three boats. It was Louise Medeiros of the BBRC and the Azorean Society who, overnight, reshuffled the names and came up with three evenly matched teams consisting of experienced Azorean boat rowers and some “newbies” (strong competitors but with little or no experience in the Azorean whalers). Making it more interesting was the fact that none of the women had practiced together with a specific a team or the coxswains recruited for the occasion!

As predicted, the waters were far from calm and the row proved to be not for the faint hearted as the winds whipping up the waves made for a very arduous row. The men, exhibiting picture perfect technique rowed three half mile races, exchanging boats after each and made it look oh, so effortless. The women rowed two races but did not change boats. And, if they thought heading north to the mark was tough taxing the one’s strength and endurance to the max, the return, heading south into a 30 knot wind, was twice as bad and seemed to last forever. Nevertheless, the ladies met the challenge and the team in the Faial had the best overall time, edging out crew of the Pico by a mere 11 seconds.

Apparentally, it was Faial’s day to be in the spotlight for by coincidence, it was the men from the island of Faial who out rowed the men of Pico in the previous races.

Back on land once again, with all the team and group photos taken, the ladies, spent, but exhilarated, retired to the Low Tide Yacht club with their coxswains to partake of the refreshment awaiting them and to go over their race….stroke by stroke. When asked if they would do it again. You bet! Next year in the Azores?