For even the most diehard of rowers, there is one aspect of the sport that is difficult to feel affection for: the endless, cold wait at the start line of this winter head race. Every rower has been there, hunched shivering in the boat, soaked to the skin, and buffeted into the bank by an icy breeze.
Then there is the laboured, creaking start to the race as stiff joints and freezing muscles try to cope with the sudden exertion of racing. And after that, the prospect of a long, laboured row back to where you originally boated from. This is one of the reasons that, each November hundreds of scullers from around the globe descend on the Italian city of Turin to compete in one of the world’s most unique rowing competitions, the Silver Skiff, a mass participation single sculling event.
Unlike the vast majority of rowing events, the Silver Skiff starts and finishes in the same place, with a turn halfway, a system that eliminates the need to queue for long periods at the start. Competitors boat from one of several clubs situated at the start of the course, warmup downstream, and then race upstream on one side of the river, before returning on the other side. This system maximises the capacity of the scenic stretch of the river Po, allowing the race to stretch to a gruelling 11 kilometres in length, and accommodate a huge number of athletes.