Sometimes you just stumble on things that bring joy. Just like the licorice surprise of tiger tail ice cream. That’s how it was for my rowing pals and me when we happened on a brochure attached to a Victoria Harbour notice board three years ago.

Whitehall Spirit Row Club, it said. Take an introductory orientation and training session, then sign up to enjoy rowing at your pace and on your schedule.

I can’t tell you how much the independence of that offering appealed to us.

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This is because the year before, in our most recent bid to keep fit, the four of us had tried our hands at sculling, out rowing in competitive racing shells. With zero experience, we signed up as a quad team for a corporate regatta, named our team – Jamaican Bobsledders Rowing Team – and got the T-shirts. If ever there was an apt name for a group of rowers, it was ours. We were all well into, and perhaps even a little even past middle age, and our bodies, if not our minds, recognized this. Our boats were racing shells, which are tippy, and each time out our venture onto the water was fraught with worry. They’re heavy too. Hike that scull up over your head and portage it to the water, then back again to the racks afterwards. While we wanted to be on the water, sculling in a racing shell type of boat probably wasn’t for us.

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Then we happened on that brochure. I’d some passing familiarity with Whitehall rowboats. In another era, I’d interviewed founder and owner Harold Aune and come away struck by the classic beauty of his company’s Whitehall rowboats. Built of hand-laid fiberglass and trimmed with teak and brass they were romantic and evocative of gentler times. One day, maybe…

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Three of us signed up for our Whitehall Row Club initiation and to our happy surprise, discovered Whitehall rowing boats were the perfect vessel for us. Classic, beautiful, and sturdy, each of the club boats has all the equipment; sliding seats, foot stops, and hinged outriggers for sculling oars. This meant all of the fitness benefits of a racing shell with none of the tippyness. These boats steadily ply our waters on the windiest Victoria days and with none of the in-and-out jitters we’d previously experienced.

As Whitehall club members, my rowing buddy Linda and I regularly take out a Whitehall Tango 17 double for a row up the Gorge and back. For us, a weekly row is integral to maintaining a fitness level. Equally, it keeps our friendship strong.

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That’s the thing of two people to a rowboat. It’s social.

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We put our backs, legs and abs into rowing, but we also chat while we row; make plans while we row. Occasionally we’ll stop to observe a family of otters slipping into the water or some seals zonked out on a boom log. We’ve even stood up in our tandem rowboat just because we could, without fear of tipping.

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We strive to row year round. Victoria’s waterways are active and busy from May to September. In December and January the waters are ours.

We’re not great rowers. We’re not particularly strong and we’re definitely not fast.

But we sure do love it.

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We’re easy to spot on the water in our team shirts.

The Jamaican Bobsledders Rowing team is still afloat and rowing right along.

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By Gery Lemon