The Development of Coastal Rowing in Australia

The Dream of Coastal Rowing.     The concept of Coastal Rowing in Australia began when, two friends, Warwick Marler and Creagh Mecham, discussed the new FISA class coastal rowing boats, that Warwick had rowed in the Bay of Biscay, while on tour in France, 2004.  The boats had been designed in 1986 to provide a high level of safety in coastal waters and to develop an international ocean racing competition. Europe had a long history of rowing in traditional boats and the modern standard design was an immediate success. 

Owners of first Coastal Rowing Boat Creagh & Rachel Mecham and Warwick & Bronwyn Marler Noosa 2006 .

As none of the Australian boat builders were making these boats, Warwick suggested importing a coastal rowing boat. This would entail substantial additional cost.  After a year of unsuccessfully trying to encourage like-minded people to help pay for a boat, Creagh and Warwick, with their wives, decided the only way forward was to bank roll the purchase themselves.  This decided, an order was placed, and a prototype Coastal Rowing boat was built in China. Klaus Filter, who laid down the original specifications for FISA, oversaw the design of the boat.  The first Coastal Rowing boat in Australia was delivered to Noosa in late 2006. 

First row 7th October 2006, Noosa. Crew: Rachel, Bronwyn, Warwick and Creagh.

Australian Coastal Rowing Begins.        

While surfboats have a legendary history in Australia, starting in New South Wales in the 1900’s and the first race being at Manly in 1908 using boats borrowed from ships in the harbour.  A century later coastal rowing began with the delivery of the first “in line” FISA Class coastal rowing quadruple scull on the 7th October 2006.

Taking delivery were owners Warwick and Bronwyn Marler, and Creagh and Rachel Mecham. The boat came with no instructions and no rigging manual.  Creagh spent many months in the rough waters on the Noosa bar and nearby Laguna Bay learning to handle the new boat and learning how to surf the boat in challenging swells and waves.  After 18 months of operation the boat developed some bulkhead cracks and several other design deficiencies were identified.

The builder of the original boat agreed to replace the boat with a second more capable updated prototype. This second prototype quadruple scull proved to be a much more suitable boat for Australian wave conditions. The new effective rudder enabled superior handling in larger waves. Skill at handling the boat in rough conditions was hard won with three capsizes in the first two years of operation. This particular boat is still successfully operated in the tropical waters off Far North Queensland. 

Skill at handling the boat was hard won. Boarding after a capsize during bar crossing.

Coastal Rowing Club Formed.     

In 2008 Warwick and Creagh agreed to purchase a second boat and decided on a Eurodiffusions Quad Coastal Rowing boat and started the first Club dedicated to coastal rowing and touring in 2009. The Club was called Coastal Rowing and Touring Australia Inc. (CRATA).  At the inaugural meeting Warwick was voted in as President and Creagh as Treasurer.   The Club now has 12 Coastal Rowing boats and has assisted other clubs, schools and several individuals to embrace coastal rowing and buy boats. The Club has bases in Noosa, Brisbane and Townsville and members in three states.  The main aim of the club is to propagate Coastal Rowing and Tour Rowing throughout Australia.

The second prototype CR Boat arrives, this was a much better boat. 

FISA Tour Down Under.   

In 2010 Coastal Rowing Australia, with the support of many friends and supporters hosted the FISA Would Rowing Tour (Down Under), for which half the boats used were Coastal Rowing boats. The Coastal Boats proved to be invaluable due to the high winds following serious flooding throughout the Brisbane Region. These conditions made fine boats unsafe. 

FISA World Rowing Tour, Down Under 2010. CR boats were used due to the winds and choppy seas. 

FISA Commissioner.         

Warwick went on to become a Commissioner on the FISA “Rowing For All Commission”.  In 2015 he was responsible for the FISA World Rowing Tour, Lake Maggiore, Italy and in 2016 FISA World Rowing Tour, Salzburg Lakes, Austria.  He also introduced coastal boats to American Samoa who sent a team to WRCC Hong Kong 2019.

Warwick: FISA Rowing for all Commissioner with wife Bronwyn, co-founders Coastal Rowing Australia.

Rowing Tours and Races. 

Creagh has run several rowing tours in Australia. Organized the Sydney Harbour Rowing Tours in 2015 and 2016.  This involved taking three Coastal Quads 982 km from Noosa to Sydney, touring on the harbour for 4 days and entering the boats with other Sydney based coastal boats in the “Bridge to Beach Race”. The race is run over 11km from the Harbour Bridge to Manly Beach. In 2015 Rowers encountered strong winds and tides plus 3-4 metre pacific rollers while passing the heads. In 2016 conditions were much better and Coastal Rowing Australia won their race in record time.

Creagh has run several tours and several coastal rowing endurance races. He is a cofounding member of Coastal Rowing Australia. He is pictured here in Italy.

The Future.  

In the future, CRATA is anticipating that coastal rowing will attract younger rowers seeking the challenge of Beach Sprint Racing and the longer Coastal Endurance Challenge Races. 

In just 14 years Australia has established a growing fleet of over 37 boats. Clubs, Schools and individuals have purchased these boats and many hundreds of rowers have experienced the excitement and safety that coastal boats offer in challenging sea conditions. FISA are now looking at ways to make Coastal Rowing an Olympic sport. Rowing Australia has established a working group to examine the strategies needed to grow and develop the sport throughout Australia and embrace it within mainstream rowing.

The challenge now is that Rowing Australia and the State rowing authorities develop and grow the sport. This will involve a younger generation taking over the running and development of this truly exciting branch of rowing and widening the appeal of our sport to new rowers and to the public. Public support is so important, racing must always be in front of a crowd, their support and involvement will accelerate growth. Coastal Rowing in all it’s formats has enormous potential for sports tourism. In coming years boats will be manufacturing within Australia. This will also accelerate growth by bringing boat prices down and making them more accessible.

Manly Beach following the finish of the 2015 Bridge to Beach Race, Sydney Harbour.