2 towns, 1 river, 5 races, 6 battling bonfires, an armada of joy


Race: approx 1.15pm, Sunday July 9 2017
START: Malling Recreation Ground, Lewes
FINISH: Newhaven Harbour, approx 2 – 2.30pm

A THRILLING rowing race will pitch Lewes versus Newhaven in the 2017 Ouseday regatta.

Crews in two wooden boats will compete over an exhausting seven-mile course in a new annual challenge named Ouse the Daddy.

Mayors of both towns are calling for residents to line the riverbank and cheer on their home boat, from the race start at Malling Recreation Ground, Lewes, all the way down to the finish line In Newhaven Harbour. Sponsors Oakley Property have commissioned a unique new trophy for the race, which will be a highlight of the Ouseday regatta on Sunday July 9.

Lewes will be represented by Betty, a 30ft bright green cutter with a crew of four rowers and cox from Lewes Rowing Club.

Newhaven will be represented by Amelie, a 32ft  bright yellow Cornish pilot gig with six rowers and cox from the town’s newly formed gig club.

Officials say the boats are fairly matched because Betty has a lighter build and so achieves the same speed as Amelie, despite having two fewer oars. (Betty is technically around 1.5 minutes slower over five miles)   Both boats should be able to maintain around 5 knots, making the race an hour long.

Crews have been training for months to perfect their technique and timing to increase speed and to build up stamina. Betty had to be restored at the rowing club after being rescued from a garden in Scotland, where she had been rotting for five years. Amelie has become a much-loved sight since arriving in Newhaven harbour last year, with hundreds of volunteers lining up to try rowing. Captains Ben Fowler and Nicola Tweedie will have the tough job of picking the crew with the best chance of winning. Wooden boats used to race on the Ouse but this is the first event for many years.

Ben built Betty out of Douglas Fir and oak 20 years ago and modelled her on the world’s oldest known wooden racing boat, the Royal Oak from 1780. Ben said:  “I raced Betty 15 times on the Thames so it is a great joy to see her ready to race again, for the honour of club and town and to bring rowing back to the River Ouse. Betty is a beautiful boat and I am only sorry that the Newhaven crew – a lovely bunch they are –  will only get to see her from the rear as we race ahead to the winning line. Ouse the Dady? Betty is.”

Newhaven skipper Nicola, chairman of Newhaven Gig Rowing Club, said: “It is a privilege to be representing Newhaven and the gig club in this race. The town has taken Amelie to its heart and the feeling is mutual.  Both boats are beautiful but Amelie will be showing Betty a clean pair of heels on July 9. Ouse the Daddy? Amelie is.”

The Ouse the Daddy challenge is one of half a dozen races in the regatta, which for the first time includes events in Newhaven as well as Lewes. Main event is the 43rd annual Round Table charity raft race from Lewes to Newhaven. Organisers say they have 36 confirmed entries after a record 185 requests for application forms.

In Lewes spectators will gather at Malling Recreation Ground, where all races start and a food fair is being organised by Food Rocks. In Newhaven plans include a canoe race around harbour, and a race between the two row boats some time after 2.30pm, plus music and stalls on West Quay from 1pm – organized by Newhaven Town Council.

Newhaven mayor June Dyer said: “I urge all in Newhaven to come along, join our new festivities, see the rafts arrive  and cheer our own dear Amelie as she sweeps home ahead of the Lewes boat Betty. Ouseday unites both communities but I think we can be forgiven a little friendly rivalry for the new rowing race.”

Lewes mayor Mike Chartier responded: “What a tremendous event this regatta has become. We congratulate all involved in Ouseday and extend our commiserations to the crew of Amelie and all our friends down river at Newhaven. There will be no shame in coming second to Betty, from Lewes. I urge all residents to come cheer on Betty!”

Sponsor Chris Oakley said: “We are thrilled to be supporting Ouseday. The new rowing race promises to be great entertainment and hopefully an annual event that brings Lewes and Newhaven together in friendly rivalry. As we have business in both towns, I guess at Oakley we will have to say: Go Betty!  And Go Amelie!”

Timings for all races depend on the tide and details will be published nearer July 9. Ouseday opens with a parade of boats through Lewes, starting at around noon. Then come canoe races, Ouse the Daddy, the Round Table raft race and finally a dramatic and fiery battle between the bonfire societies – all packed in to around four frantic hours. Full details can be found on the event website: ouseday.com.

This year’s raft race has the post-Brexit theme Britannia Rules the Waves and it will raise funds for two local charities that support young people, Home-Start East Sussex and A Band of Brothers.

Ouseday is organised by Riffrafters, a group formed by members of Lewes Rowing Club, Round Table, Newhaven Gig Club, both town councils and the Bonfire Council. Up to 500 paddlers and boaters will take to the Ouse, managed by a dozen safety boats led by crews from the RNLI and

Sea Training Sussex. On land an army of more than 50 stewards will manage crowds at Lewes, Southease and Newhaven.

Riffrafters chairman Gavin Keegan said: “The rowing race should provide a thrilling spectacle. It is going to be a challenge because the river is tidal, narrow and the boats have to go under several bridges, one boat at a time. This is going to be our version of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race, but with hobnail boats on. We are delighted to be bringing rowing back to the Ouse, thanks to the enthusiasm of members of Lewes Rowing Club and the Newhaven Gig Club. Hopefully this will lead to many more races, and much more rowing.”

Ouseday is also sponsored by solicitors Lawson Lewis-Blakers, Veolia, Brewers Decorators and NTD Internet Solutions.

The regatta was created by Lewes Rowing Club and Round Table in 2015 after a decline in entries for the 40-year-old raft race. There were four rafts and a handful of spectators in 2014. The raft race start was moved from the rowing club in Cliffe to Wiley’s Bridge at the top of Lewes, allowing spectators to line the riverbank through the centre of town, many of them armed with flour bombs which are traditionally thrown at the paddlers. The rowing club added in extra events to create a regatta. The four rafts of 2014 instantly became 20 rafts, 20 boats, 20 canoes, four bonfire societies, 5,000 spectators and £10,000 was raised for local charities


BETTY: Cutter, green, 30ft length, 4ft 6ins beam, made from strip-planked Douglas Fir and oak with GRP sheathing, weight, light at 300 llbs. Four oars.  Modelled on The Royal Oak, oldest known wooden racing row boat (1780) now at Henley museum. Ben Fowler’s crew were last to race in Royal Oak in late 80s and he was inspired to build Betty, which he raced 15 times in annual Great River Race, 22 miles along the Thames between Richmond and Greenwich. Betty was rescued after five years in garden in Scotland, brought to Lewes Rowing Club and restored by members led by Ben and boat restorer Ryan Kearley.

More info at: lewesrowingclub.co.uk and ouseday.com

AMELIE: Cornish pilot gig, yellow, 32ft length, 4ft 10ins beam, built Cornish narrow leaf elm. Six oars. Gigs strong, stable even in rough sea but fast enough to reach vessels approaching port first and so win pilot contracts. Also recognised as one of first shore-based lifeboats with rescues recorded as early as 17th century. Max speed: take square root of waterline length in feet (32) multiply by 1.35 and get max displacement speed of 7.6 knots. Crew will be doing some practical on water testing to calculate how much energy is required to increase hull speed. Rowing at moderate pace for 30 mins burns 210 calories for 125lbs person and 311 cals for 185 lbs person, according to Harvard Health.

More info at Newhaven Gig Rowing Club website:  https://ousevalleywatersports.wordpress.com

HANDICAP: Betty and Amelie have been judged equal for Ouse the Daddy race by Mark Edwards, handicapping committee of the Great River Race. Mark calculated that Betty, lighter and shorter but with four oars against Amelie’s six oars, should be no more than five to 10 mins slower over 10 miles of water, effectively equal. (Mark was builder of Gloriana, the Queen’s 18-oar Diamond Jubilee Rowbarge)


Ben Fowler: fowlerco@fastnet.co.uk
Nicola Tweedie, chairman Newhaven Gig Rowing Club:
Via website:  http://ngrc.co.uk/