Townies vs Baymen—Rivals or a new team?

Grand Townie vs Baymen first annual punt race 2013
Grand Townie vs Baymen first annual punt race 2013

There are clear lines between being from St. John’s and being from anywhere else in Newfoundland, considered by the St. John’s crowd to be the ‘bay’.
“Town” is a great place to visit, but who would want to live there.
There was even a series of car commercials Townies VS Baymen themed by Mitsubishi of all brands.

There are probably some traces of these sentiments around but there comes a time to make old rivalries work for you.
This summer, The Narrow’s Group, wanting to create publicity about the need for restoration of the Battery and Fort Amherst areas around St. John’s Harbour partnered with the Shorefast Foundation’s The Great Fogo Island Punt Race To There and Back to pull together a test of human endurance. A punt race in St. John’s Harbour.

The Narrows, the entrance to and exit from St. John's Harbour, NL
The Narrows, the entrance to and exit from St. John’s Harbour, NL

Fogo Island was bringing in the punts and the Townies were going to beat them at their own game! Or were they?

Punts are small wooden boats that were once the workhorse of Newfoundland outports. Powered by oars and rowers, they were used for transportation, trips to church and fishing. As technology changed, motor boats, long liners and even cars became more popular modes of travel and the punts, like the boats in the Stan Rogers song, Make and Break Harbour were ‘pulled up and rotten’.

The beautiful lines of a Fogo Island Punt in St. John's Harbour, NL
The beautiful lines of a Fogo Island Punt in St. John’s Harbour, NL

As one of the many initiatives by the Shorefast Foundation on Fogo Island, small boat building was identified as a craft that was in jeopardy of disappearing on Fogo and Change Islands. Punts weren’t needed anymore, so a need was created.
The Great Fogo Island Punt Race: To There and Back was started in 2007.

Initially, a challenge to row from Fogo Island to Change Islands and back, the race was modified this year to depart and return to Joe Batt’s Arm, approximately 7 miles in open ocean. 15 teams competed in the 2013 edition in punts made exclusively by Fogo or Change Island boat builders.

Traditional specifications. None of this fiberglass stuff.

I’ve never made it out to see the Fogo Island Punt race so when I heard there was a challenge in St. John’s Harbour, arrangements were made, Baymen t-shirts were bought and off we went to cheer on the Fogo Island “Baymen” rowers.

This Townie challenge was a quickly pulled together first time annual event. A plea went out for rowers to defend Townie honor and a women’s team, fresh from the St. John’s Regatta (not a PUNT race) stepped up. The Two Townies men’s team looked less like regatta participants and more like fellows who’d had a bit of fun in a punt once or twice before. They elected to row topless to be more aerodynamic, or at least that’s the excuse I’m creating today.

This is the Two Townie team in their team colours.

Two Townies, Rowers for the St. John's crowd.
Two Townies, Rowers for the St. John’s crowd.

The race was set for August 10 from Harbourside Park in St. John’s. Arriving early, the crowd seemed small but they gradually came from all directions.

No, the blue one is NOT a punt. Neither are the sail boats.
No, the blue one is NOT a punt. Neither are the sail boats.

Working the crowd and helping the Fogo Punt Race team promote their own event next summer, I met lots of tourists, people with Fogo Island roots longing to see a punt again and a couple of Townies. 😉

Fogo Punt Race crew working the Townie crowd
Fogo Punt Race crew working the Townie crowd
Observers and curious arriving at the Grand Punt Race, St. John's, NL
Observers and curious arriving at the Grand Punt Race, St. John’s, NL
Harbourside Park offered tiered viewing points to gather, visit and watch the races
Harbourside Park offered tiered viewing points to gather, visit and watch the races

Any large or formal events or gatherings in Newfoundland start with the Ode. The Ode to Newfoundland is a beautiful anthem used when We’ll Rant and We’ll Roar like True Newfoundlanders is not quite appropriate. The Ode was lead by Mark Hiscock native and current resident of Fort Amherst and an amazing traditional musician and singer and one of the event organizers.

The first race was the women’s race. Three punts were bought from Fogo Island. One for each team, and one that was put on raffle as a fundraiser for The Narrow’s Group. Fresh out of the boat builder’s hands, the punt had only been painted that week.

Now, the Townies are pretty formal. A  fully uniformed representative from the Signal Hill Tattoo provided the beginning and ending gunshot to the race. This lady’s team from Fogo Island were in their blue Punt Race t-shirts, the Townies in black, in case the smoothness of the strokes don’t give you a hint.

In all fairness, Regatta Rowers are used to rowing with a team, a coxswain and in a totally different kind of boat. Oh, and on a Pond.  These ladies had their first punt experience the day before when they did a practice run in the punt lent to them by the Fogo teams.  The Royal St. John’s Regatta has origins in seasfaring history and Regatta Rowers are athletes. But they aren’t punt racers.

Baygirls 1- Townies 0

The men’s teams lined up and. once again, they were off.

Again, the blue shirts were pulling strong as the Fogo Island team, representing all Baymen everywhere, won the first annual event. My camera isn’t great for distance shots, but the Townie men are to the left, near the Battery…

Like my whale shots. Take my word for it.

This was a great bit of fun. The Townie team competed against the best of Fogo Island who not only were rowing in Fogo Island punts, they were rowing in their own personal punts. A similar race on Quidi Vidi Pond in regatta gear would have certainly produced different results. The real excitement will see if other Bays participate next year. It was a last minute deal this year. There’s time to start training. Sure, if you know how, there’s time to build a punt!

But for now, let the record books reflect Baymen 2- Townies 0.

Make that Fogo Island 2- Townies 0
20130810_112022

I now really need to see the real thing, the Great Fogo Island Punt Race. Opened this year to the ‘world’ anyone can register. You must however have a punt built by either a Change Island or Fogo Island boat builder. Not entirely impossible, because last year they had some extra punts that were awarded in a system of a random draw. Start training now!
Details are on their web site.
http://www.fogoislandregatta.com/default.html

The real winner of the day was a Mr. Wiseman. The third punt brought in from Fogo was purchased by Captain Charlie Anonsen of the Tour Boat, Scademia. He donated the punt as a prize to raise funds for The Narrows Group. Mr. Wiseman bought the winning ticket and won this beautiful punt. Perhaps you can borrow it for either one of these races next year? I wonder if he was a Bayman or a Townie?

Mr. Wiseman, in the red jacket, getting some tips from the Fogo team members.
Mr. Wiseman, in the red jacket, getting some tips from the Fogo team members.
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