Leiderdorp, 07:00. At the Asopos de Vliet student rowing association, the ViciMetro&Co team is preparing for the Ringvaart Regatta in the middle of a tangle of boats, oars, rowers and spectators. The Ringvaart Regatta is an annual rowing tour of 100 kilometres organised by the Laga TU Delft students association.
All nine rowers – three from Virgiel, six from the DSC Delft student club – slept and ate well despite their nerves. There are two litres of water per person packed in the boat. The support car that follows them and stops at every stop, is crammed with bananas, current buns, fruit bars, sweets, and spare clothing. Enthusiasm dominates. “We worked so long for this day. We’re going to ace it!”
Up till six months ago, neither Noor nor Roos, Vivian, Maud, Sanne, Lotte, Inge, Janna or Elske had ever even sat in a rowing boat. Despite this they signed up for the Laga Ringvaart introduction in autumn which meant that for their training they could use the facilities and expertise of the rowers on the Schie river. Their team name is a combination of their three fraternities: Vici, Metro and Cordero.
Self-imposed training schedule
They are taking a break from their normal student life and are working towards a shared goal: rowing the Ringvaart Regatta ‘in part on strength, in part on determination’. Their coach Emmanuel confirms that they were very serious about it. “We did not really give them a training schedule, but they put together a schedule themselves: rowing twice a week on top of other sports, and no alcohol for two months. We are very proud of them.”
The brand new rowing team wanted to support a good cause with their efforts and chose the ALS Netherlands Foundation. They collected money to fight the disease, which a couple of them have experience of in their immediate surroundings. They collected more than EUR 4,000 for the Foundation on Wednesday.
When the nine push off from the side at 07:45 - more than half an hour later than planned - they face a row of 100 kilometres. From Leiderdorp the route first goes up to just below Schiphol, and then from Haarlem goes down to Leiden. From there they continue rowing to the finish at Lijm & Cultuur in Delft. This year 154 boats are at the starting line, ranging from eights like ViciMetro&Co (eight rowers plus one coxswain) to skiffs (narrow one-person boats).
The weather could hardly be better, although the ladies were a bit nervous about heat in the middle of the day. The fairly strong northerly wind is very good news: the rowers head into the wind for the first 30 kilometres, but after the 39 kilometre stop in Zwanenburg the wind consistently blows them towards the finishing line in Delft.
ViciMetro&Co does not take a break at the first stop in Aalsmeer, 25 kilometres from the start – ‘It was busy and we were not really tired’. They did take a break in Zwanenburg. Up to that point ‘it was OK’. The only thing was sore hands as their blisters had become even bigger and more painful.
At the next break too in Lisse, 20 kilometres further on, the ladies were still positive. The ‘very welcome’ wind in their back since Zwanenburg meant that they were going faster than in their training. They were not ‘sick with fatigue’, just have some aches and pains.
When the planned stop in Leiden appeared to only be for emergencies (‘we had to succumb to the idea of not stopping’) the boat arrives at 18:45 in Leidschendam after 90 kilometres. The rowers are ‘very happy to see Leidschendam’ – the 30 kilometres without a break since Lisse took its toll. Thanks to a parade of family and friends (gathered together in a WhatsApp group of 243 members), some of whom followed them on bikes, all nine of them step out of the boat laughing.
This was not only because of the cyclists who were still in good spirits, but also because of the box in the boat that turned out to be very welcome. “People were sending encouraging messages by WhatsApp and we played fitting song requests like Pump It and Ferrari (because of the red Laga oars).” They got all sorts of messages. “We even received an eight minute message of only bad jokes. You can’t leave so you have to listen.” While they were still well part of the race (“just a bit of painful bottoms”), all nine ladies wanted the last 10 kilometre to Lijm & Cultuur to be behind them. “I want my first beer!”
After the rowers leave Leidschendam to loud cheers, the last kilometres fly by. No more breaks, not even for a gulp of water, and the nine of them are pumped up with adrenaline. As they creep closer to the finishing line, the encouragement from the side gets louder and louder. To make their performance even more powerful, the team finishes with a final sprint. They reach the finish after 500 metres of ‘hard pumping’. The oars can be put down, they are highly relieved and feel euphoric.
After six months of preparation and a whole day on the water, it is done and dusted. The boat needs to be returned to the shed and the official Ringvaart token (a round coin, the customary rowers medal) is in the pocket. Almost all the rowers drink a couple of beers at the finishing ceremony at Lijm & Cultuur, but the tiredness quickly gets the upper hand above the victory adrenaline. They sleep ‘like a baby’ that night.
Next year they will leave the boat to other crazy people. “I will never row again. But I recommend it to everyone as it really is a wonderful experience.”