Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Seven Wonders of the (Dutch rowing) World

The Netherlands is a short flight from the southern UK and their weather is similar to ours, but their rowing clubs are practically on a different planet.

Last weekend, I went on an informal 29km rowing tour there with Dutch friends, followed by a conference on touring rowing (organised by Toer!) the next day in Amsterdam, and was bowled over by what I found.

Wonder Number 1. Soft cushions!
We were the guests of a member of Baarn watersports club on the river Eem, south-east of Amsterdam. As you often find on the continent, there was a special cushion for the coxing seat of our touring coxed quad. So far so nicely organised.

But this club had taken the concept to a new level with monogramed embroidery: you can't quite see it in this photo, but the orange line of characters on the right are the Club name, and the small group in the top left are the boat name (so you don't accidentally take the wrong cushion for your boat – perish the thought).

It's kinda, "If Charles Tyrwhitt did boat cushions..."

Wonder Number 2: Rowing into a gallery
Anyway, we set off, and had a pleasant row past many fields to  the small town of Amersfoort, which mixes well-kept old buildings, with the most modern of modern architecture, and a great deal of "art" scattered all over the place.
This must be "art".
Not a clue what else it could be...
There was even a chandelier under the railway bridge. The perfect lighting if you were having a floating dinner party, I guess. Though possibly only for people using sign language, given the rumble of trains overhead.

Wonder number 3: The longest boathouse
Paddling back out of town, we stopped off at Hemus rowing club's brand new home, which is, without doubt, the most spacious boathouse I've ever seen (with the possible exception of Northeastern in Boston). 

Boats, almost as far as the eye can see.
Note also (OK, with a magnifying glass) the standard arrangement of a touring boat on the floor at the bottom of every rack, with fine boats above.
That, people, is how many touring boats the average Dutch club has. Wow OH wow.

The full length boat bays had no fewer then FOUR racks of boats along them (OK, not all VIIIs, but there were some), with copious spacing above each boat. You know how clothes are displayed in the windows of smart boutiques: a choice piece, carefully arranged on its own against complimentary surrounding. And you know how your rowing kit is stuffed into a big bag. Well, there you have Hemus rowing club compared with your average boathouse: a sort of zen of boat racking. You can just feel the calm, can't you?

As you might expect, there was also a massive bike park and a complete lack of car park, and to my utter astonishment, a sedum roof. Not sure what else I can say about that, other than !. And !!

But then the next day, I found another sedum roof at RIC in Amsterdam (I did take a photo, but once you've seen one picture of a boathouse with a sedum roof, you've seen 'em all) so, based on a sample size of three, I concluded that around 67% of Dutch boathouses have sedum roofs. I wonder if there are any in the UK? 

Wonder Number 5: No soggy towels, thanks, we're Dutch!
Amidst such shiny new-ness, I was reassured to see that the club had clearly brought one thing from their previous shed: the obligatory 1950s mangle that I have observed in almost all Dutch rowing clubs, for wringing out the boat-wiping towels (where do they GET them from?).

Incidentally, when I say "almost all" clubs have these, the club back in Baarn where we started didn't have a mangle but had hurtled recklessly into the 21st century and had a dedicated boat-towel washing machine. Shocking stuff.

Wonder Number 6: What goes on Tour...
What goes on tour are Dutch rowers apparently. Big time. All the clubs I visited had a Tour Calendar on their club noticeboard, listing at least 12 events for the season, and I discovered that every club has a Touring Committee. A permanent group dedicated to organising tours (plural). Perhaps I should emigrate?

Wonder Number 7: Expressing rowing through the medium of...
When you've rowed for as long as I have, you've generally seen it all in terms of rowing lifestyle accessories: paintings, mugs, boxer shorts, ornaments, you know the kind of thing. But at RIC I found some novel ways of bringing rowing indoors. First, perfectly supporting Dutch stereotypes about painted tiles, the youth section had produced a set of decorated rowing tiles in the club's orange and black colours:

The river was mapped on one of the bar's coffee tables in inlaid marquetry (you can't see it in the photo blow, but bridges and locks were marked):

And finally, a highly creative member had expressed a tour route in the medium of tapestry:

That's it for wonders, but like the sprinkles on your cupcake, here's a final fascinating fact pertaining to the social history of rowing. British rowers are well aware that  rowing use to have an obsession with "amateur" status, and the fact that (back in the day) it might only be done by "gentlemen". This led to the founding of clubs like Thames Tradesmen Rowing Club, whose members were barred from joining some of the amateur" clubs because their work involved a physical element. Rowing clubs in Amsterdam, however, followed different social divisions, with RIC having its origins as the Catholic rowing club (I gather that sectarian divisions ran as deep as British class divisions, till even more recently, not just with separate Catholic and Protestant schools but also hospitals, political parties and even TV channels). Apparently another club had originally been Jewish.

Photos: Martin Paasman and Helena Smalman-Smith.

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