Updated: Feb 4
Photos by Peggy and Kate Franco.
Standing at the end of the road near the ski lift, the intrepid set of Bled rowers from the Rat Island Rowing and Sculling club looked around dubiously. “Are you sure this is it?” we asked our shuttle driver who had picked us up at the Ljubljana airport and driven us directly to our cabin reserved through AirBnB.
Exhausted but not dispirited, we now uncertainly looked around for some kind of abode. Across from the ski lift (Straza) parking lot, there was a modern metal gate and high above it there was some kind of wooden structure. Peggy, having made the arrangements, knew that there was a bit of a climb to the house, so she set off to see if this was the right place. Connie took a tentative step on the first uneven stone step, lost her balance and performed an elegant duck and roll to the ground, suffering only a scraped arm. An inauspicious start.
Peggy returned, however, with two tall young brothers, Mark and Philip, who neatly grabbed all the bags allowing us to climb the hill followed by about 100 heavily aged and rickety wooden steps up to the cabin. But what a cabin! A ski cabin that has been in the brother’s family for many years, it has a fully stocked kitchen, large living and dining rooms, and four bedrooms upstairs. It looks over the ski area and Lake Bled, and has many pictures of young healthy blonde people skiing over the generations.
We had arrived on Sunday; the formal racing did not start until Wednesday. Monday and Tuesday was spent exploring Bled and the Rowing Centre. The town was on one side of the lake, and the boathouse/Rowing Center on the other, but as the lake is only a little over a mile long, it was generally easy to walk everywhere. As part of our registration package, we received a bus pass that let us catch the bus that drove around the lake during the day. Rowing in the lake was like rowing in a fairy tale: clear turquoise water, surrounded by mountains and forests, with the medieval Bled Castle towering over it and a historic church on a small island in the middle of the lake.
See Katie’s panoramic videos here )
Chaos reigned for the first couple of days as we tried to find our Avalon crew members and figure out if we were going to have a chance to practice. Avalon is a virtual rowing club that you join online, and this amazing woman Sally arranged all of our boats and races. Roger rowed with his men’s Octo group, so they were more organized and practiced quite a bit in the first couple of days.
Photo from Row2k
The venue was amazing – hundreds (thousands?) of boats, a record number of rowers (4,700) from all over the world. We figured out how to register and get our bus pass, a card which allowed us to buy swag, and finally found the Avalon tent and met some of our fellow rowers.
Much of Monday and Tuesday were spent trying to find the best short cut from our cabin to town. Some preferred the route past the Golf Hotel and down into the shopping mall (this was the best route to go to the market);
Here is how sprint racing worked. First you navigated your boat through a crazy maze of people and boats all yelling at each other in multiple languages – I was amazed there were not more crashes just trying to get the boat in the water. A team was allowed on the water not earlier than one hour before the start of your race. After dock launching, you would have the length of the lake from the boathouse, past the church island, towards the main town (about 2000 meters) to warm up, check your settings, and practice racing starts. At the top of the lake, you turned around into the lanes above the start, which were in the middle of the lake. This gave you another 1000 meters to warm up, but often this period was primarily spent dodging other boats. Finally, within a few minutes of your start, you proceeded down to the judges stand where they would yell at you when it was time for your heat to proceed forward to the starting gate while the heat before you was in position. (Or they would yell at you to get out of the way if you were there too early.) As soon as the heat before you started the race, each boat gently rowed to the front of your starting platform, then back in (ever so gently) so that the person hanging out over the platform could grab your stern in preparation for the race. These young men and women had the hardest jobs, in my opinion – they spent hours lying on their stomachs in the sun, wind, and rain, hanging off awkwardly holding the stress of boat after boat. For our quad race, the poor young woman had already been there for 5 hours! Then, the racing judge would say something like “2 minutes” which meant that you had about 30 seconds left. Then…”Attention….Go!” Off you go to row as hard as you can for 1,000 meters, which takes about 4 minutes. As you passed the finish line, you had to put on the brakes HARD as you were now at the end of the lake, and you regardless of how tired you were, you had to row quickly to get out of the way as the next heat was coming down upon you. The winner of each race then rowed to the podium to receive their gold medals (I heard), while the rest of the boats made their way back to the dock to fight their way back to boat parking lot.
Wednesday, first race day! Only Roger and Peggy had races today, both in 8’s, and both wutg the same wonderful coxswain from Avalon named Anne. Here are the results*:
109/Roger (I-K 8+); 4/6; 4:16:86 (Roger bow) 112/Peggy (E 8+); 6/6; 4:14:69 (Peggy stroke)
*Note all results are listed as Event Number/Rats (boat class); place # out of total; total elapsed time. The letter refers to the age class: A. Minimum age: 27 years B. Average age: 36 years or more C. Average age: 43 years or more D. Average age: 50 years or more E. Average age: 55 years or more F. Average age: 60 years or more G. Average age: 65 years or more H. Average age: 70 years or more I. Average age: 75 years or more J. Average age: 80 years or more K. Average age: 85 years or more
Thursday was the big race day with Mari in three races and Ann in two races (two of Roger’s races were cancelled during the week due to illness of one of the octo’s).
Race event #235, at the very end of the day (after 6:00 pm!), the 8 with Mari, Ann, and Connie had an exciting finish, coming from behind in the last 250 meters to streak ahead of the competition by more than a boat length!
Results: 211/Mari (G 4x); 6/7; 4:23:40 (Mari stroke) 211/Peggy (G 4x); 5:58.30 (Peggy stroke and broke an oar) 219/Mari and Ann (H 2x); 4/7; 4:54:41 (Mari bow, Ann stroke) 229/Roger (J-K 2+); 4/4; 5:13.78 (Roger was bow!) 235/Mari, Ann, Connie (G-K 8+); 3/4; 4:43.58
310/Peggy (D 8+); 4/5; 3:57.43 (Peggy stroke) 325/Roger (J-K 4x); 3/4; 4:28.51
On Friday, most of the crew went on a field trip to a Beekeeping Museum (Apiculture) in the quaint nearby town of Radovljica. A father of beekeeping was from Slovenia, and it was an important part of agriculture as well as folk art. It has the largest collection of painted beehive panels from the world of Slovene folk art dating back to 1758. The museum also features an observation beehive with live bees.
On Saturday, Mari was again coxing and this time a quad. Mari and Connie were in one quad with another octogenarian from Avalon named Hanne. Ann was in the same event but in another heat:: 406/Mari and Connie (H-K 4x); 2/3; 2:42:03 (Mari bow) 406/Ann (H-K 4x); 2:36.04
On Saturday night there was a reception up at Bled Castle and Connie received her octogenarian medal. After rowing, we scattered to different parts of Europe for further adventures. (Thank you Katie and Peggy for the excellent photos! see more photos here and here)