Today is Royal Regatta Day in Newfoundland

The Royal Regatta is scheduled for the first Wednesday of August. If the weather isn’t suitable, and wind conditions are very important, the event is postponed until the next suitable day. Since Regatta Day is a civic holiday in St. John’s, this means that the weather actually determines whether or not workers have the day off. The decision is made early that morning (if not it “goes” the next day).

The annual Royal St. John’s Regatta is North America’s oldest continuing annual sporting event. The Regatta began officially in 1825 and has run the first Wednesday in August every since. Regatta Day is probably the only Municipal Holiday in that is dependent on the weather.

For over 187 years the Royal St. John’s Regatta has been held at Quidi Vidi Lake in the heart of the east end of St. John’s, Newfoundland. The day is a civic holiday for the entire St. John’s area and is a full day of Fixed Seat Rowing Races. The fixed seat rowing shells are unique – being six person + coxswain and the races start and finish at the same spot – requiring all the crews to “turn the buoys” at the halfway point of the race. A crew can be 6 men or 6 women + coxswain and range in age from 14 to senior citizens. Crowds can reach to as many as 30-40 thousand people as many come to enjoy a day at the races.

Many local historians believe that rowing and sailing competitions between the crews from various ships in the harbour and the local populous pre-date any of the records that have been verified. St. John’s, with its magnificently sheltered harbour, had become a growing centre of activity, and an early settlement, as far back as early 1700’s. The fishing and trading season generally lasted from May to September. The rivalry amongst the crews of the various ships in the harbour sparked both sailing and rowing challenges. Early records give reference to the use of “gigs”, “jolly-boats”, and “whale” boats which were used in early competition. A “gig” is defined as: a light, narrow clinker-built ships boat, adapted either for rowing or sailing.

In its early days the boat races were held over a space of three days, and old-fashioned gigs and yawls and long boats were manned by brawny sailors and fishermen who won monetary rewards and fleeting fame and the plaudits of a merry crowd of holiday makers.

During the first 30 to 40 years of Regatta history the races often took one, two, even three days to complete. Some challenges were for sailing while others were for racing. Crews and boats had to be classified or matched so that all challenges could be met. Sailing matches were initially held in the Harbour with rowing matches reserved for Quidi Vidi Lake. Eventually all races moved to the lake.

St. John’s Regatta Day