As a seafaring nation, Britain is at home on the waves. Encircled by the cold embrace of the North Sea, British explorers have had little choice but to set sail in search of pastures new. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, this policy paid dividends, with the small island swiftly evolving into a global superpower. By the 1920s, the British Empire incorporated 458 million people – approximately one fifth of the world’s total. Not bad for a tiny country, isolated from the rest of Europe.
During the 20th century, the might of the British Empire diminished, while in the 21st, Britain has had more pressing matters to attend to on its own soil. The seafaring spirit that fuelled those first intrepid explorers is still alive and well on these shores however. It is no coincidence that much of Great Britain’s Olympic success this century has come in the water-based disciplines – canoeing, sailing and – most pertinently – rowing.
Rowing has always been a fiercely competed event in the UK, as evidenced by the annual Oxford Cambridge boat race which attracts huge crowds as spectators flank the Thames to cheer on the rival oarsmen.
At the 2012 Olympics, Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking won gold in the women’s double sculling, while in the rowing men’s four, Andrew Triggs Hodge, Tom James, Peter Reed and Alex Gregory also grabbed gold.
While rowing requires a degree of fitness, the sport is about more than upper body strength and getting from A to B in the shortest time possible. While the fitness aspects of rowing cannot be overlooked, it is a pursuit that can be enjoyed on many levels. In the UK, the sport is overseen by British Rowing. As the organisation states on BritishRowing.org, “You can take part in rowing at your local gym, on lakes, rivers, you could try your hand at coastal and surf-rowing and even tackle ocean crossings.”
One of the reasons why rowing is so appealing is its low cost of entry. Sailing and motorboating may be faster – and easier on the arms – but many people aren’t in a position to afford a boat of their own. A rowing boat or dinghy, however, can be affordable, lightweight and easily portable, making it suitable for a multitude of marine environments.
If you’re thinking about having a go at rowing, the first step is to find a suitable stretch of water in your area. Whether you’re going to be rowing at sea, on lake or on river, it’s important to check the local marine laws. Typically, rowing boats will only be allowed in calm stretches of water, away from larger craft. Straying out of a designated rowing area can be extremely dangerous; as well as risking collision with other vessels, there is the possibility of currents taking the boat out to sea or towards rapids.
While some rowers see the sport as a reward in its own right, for others it is a means to an end – namely a cheap and effective means of travelling from A to B. For keen anglers, a rowing boat is ideal; unlike a motorboat, it won’t scare off the fish. Once over a good fishing spot, the boat can drift gently while the line is cast. On a calm day, nothing feels better than rowing out onto a Scottish loch and relaxing with a cold beer while you wait for the first nibble at the end of the line.
Rowing doesn’t have to be a solo pursuit either – it’s an activity that all the family can enjoy. If you’re holidaying by the sea or close to a river, consider hiring or buying a dinghy. The kids will love playing in the boat as they get to grips with the art of rowing. While the basics of rowing are easy enough to grasp, there’s a lot more to be learned about seafaring and marine safety. RowHow operates a distance learning system that includes courses ranging from water safety to trailer driving. From the RowHow website, users can learn practical skills via a series of activities, videos and animations.
Should you develop a passion for rowing, be it for fitness or leisure reasons, your next stepmight be to contact a rowing club. On the British Rowing website, a club finder section lists all of the UK’s rowing clubs. Alternatively, if you enjoy boating but aren’t so keen on rowing, there’s always motorboating. As an introduction to boating, however, rowing is hard to fault: it’s good for the environment and great for the body.
Whatever you choose to do - it is important to make sure that you have adequate boat, motorboat, yacht or sailing dinghy insurance. Check out the options here.
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