Two boats snapped in half during a race in windy conditions Saturday, leading to the abrupt end of the Nelson Rowing Regatta.
The boats, both from Vernon, took on too much water before breaking apart during the men’s masters quad final.
Athletes from Kelowna meanwhile intentionally capsized their boat to avoid the same fate while a Nelson team made it safely back to shore. No one was injured.
“It was very chaotic and everything happened at once,” said organizer and athlete Kim Shea of the Nelson Rowing Club, who was acting as a boat marshall at the start line when the boats snapped.
The frightening incident brought the annual event to a subdued conclusion. Two races had previously been scrapped prior to the accident due to choppy conditions on Kootenay Lake, and seven more were called off after the accident.
Some of the 12 swimmers in the water were left waiting for up to 25 minutes as volunteers ferried rescue boats back and forth from the shore.
“I’m very thankful … that nobody was injured, nobody was hurt,” said Shea. “There’s some lost equipment but they have insurance for that.”
Shea said the wind picked up suddenly just prior to the accident. She had previously sent back junior rowers set to compete in a singles event, but thought the larger quad boats could handle the conditions.
“Usually quads are a lot more stable in the water than a single,” said Shea. “I didn’t think it was a concern. I didn’t expect the wind to come up quite that fast and quite that hard.”
Rowing boats have air chambers in the bow and stern to provide buoyancy. But when enough water seeps into the middle where rowers sit, that weight between the air chambers can cause boats to snap as they did Saturday.
Walt Murphy of the Vernon Rowing and Dragon Boat Club was in one of the boats that went under. He said it took on too much water before his team could react.
“It fills up quick. It doesn’t take long. You get four big guys in the boat and we’re rowing along and all of a sudden it snapped and you hang onto the boat,” he said.
“You don’t panic. Stay with the boat. I wouldn’t want to have to stay longer in the water. If you’re not living on the edge you’re taking too much room.”
Making matters worse were several unfortunate events that occurred as the boats went down. First, Shea noticed the radios weren’t working. She was the only one to notice, though, and couldn’t alert anyone because her boat at the starting line was anchored near the Prestige Lakeside Resort marina.
Chase boats that were following athletes had left to get more gas and were at the end of the course ferrying other boats to the start when the accident occurred. Nelson Search and Rescue was also present, but its boat was near the Nelson Bridge making sure motor boats didn’t enter the course.
“In a normal situation, one thing might go wrong and then you can fix it. What happened today was about five huge errors within 15 minutes and dealing with weather.”
Vernon coach Lisa George wasn’t too concerned about her lost boats, only one of which organizers had accounted for after the race with pieces of its hull at the Prestige dock.
“It’s definitely a shame, boats are precious pieces of equipment for us,” said George. “But as long as everyone is safe then that’s our big concern. I think the umpires all did a great job in managing the situation as well as Nelson Rowing Club.”