Like any parent and anyone involved with kids and sport, I’ve volunteered to help out at all sorts of things over the years. You won’t be surprised to hear that I’ve just finished four days of heavy duty volunteering at the Australian Masters Rowing Championships, which were held at West Lakes last week. I was supervising the area allocating bow numbers, where our days started at least an hour before the day’s rowing and finished well after and, really, we just stayed in one spot all day with the occasional comfort break when there was a lull between bursts of frantic activity. Dr B came down to see us one afternoon and he thought we were busy. At that particular point, we were having a quiet moment where we could pretty much tick off numbers as they came back in and hand them out as required without too much delay.
For those of you unfamiliar with rowing terminology, let me explain what I mean by bow numbers. Each boat carries a little colour-coded square with an alphanumeric code on it, to identify it by lane and correct race, which goes in a holder on the bow (I know, duh). There’s a set of numbers from A1 to A8 all the way through to Z1 to Z8 so, as you’d understand, in a day that has anything more than 26 races, and they all do, you go through the set of numbers more than once. Therefore, it’s important to get all the information correct AND to get the bow numbers back ASAP after races so they can be reissued for their next use. There is a system of fines for non-return of bow numbers, so I’ve spent four days reminding people that the club will cop a fine if they don’t get that bow number back in time, then further threatening them with removal of digits and limbs and calling in my Italian mate with the cement truck if they really don’t bring their bow numbers back in time. (Yeah, it has been that much fun.)
The weather was appalling the first two days but Saturday was not bad and Sunday was lovely, if a shade cool and perhaps occasionally windier than you might want. The race schedule was reinvented a few times which meant that there was a day where the alphabet began at O. Luckily, by that stage we were using a linked computer system, which expedited matters enormously (we’d previously had a manual system that kept being outsmarted by folk with smartphones). By and large, rowers are a fairly good-natured lot and they were patient through the trying part of getting the systems in synch. We made one mistake in handing out numbers, which we caught fairly promptly and notified to the referees, so no harm done. By the last day, as you’d hope, we had things running very smoothly and received many a word of thanks and congratulations for our efficiency. That’s always heartening. Bad weather can and does happen everywhere but if the event is well organised and runs smoothly in other respects, then you don’t feel quite so grumpy about what’s beyond your control.
As part of the packing up procedures, one of our admin/runner volunteers did a sweep of the boat park and nabbed a few bow numbers that had been overlooked and brought them in for us. Because there were so many composite crews, the chain of communication and responsibility was often a shade smudgy, with one club assuming another had done the right thing and nobody having actually managed it. It’s therefore truly astonishing that we managed to pull off what we were told was a first: that is, not lose any of our bow numbers. By that I mean that we had a full set of numbers at the end of the regatta and were only missing one from the spare set for which we really couldn’t account, because it didn’t appear on any list of lost numbers (truly, it was probably lost at sea on the day where conditions were so rough that a couple of bow numbers broke). I personally think the threat of the cement truck did the trick. 😉
It would really be remiss of me not to mention our young boat holders. They were all high-school kids and some of them probably in their early secondary years. They did a fantastic job. One lot received a thoroughly deserved standing ovation from the rowers when they finally staggered into the main pavilion at the end of the day when there’d been whitecaps on the water. They’re not that common a sight at West Lakes and those who’ve been around the place a lot longer than I have were saying they’d never seen such bad conditions there. Through all of that, two lots of kids were working hard on the pontoons to hold the boats. I heard that one of the girls was chucking up over the edge but, heck, the waves were breaking over the pontoon so you’d need to be a very seasoned sailor indeed not to be adversely affected. I hope they haven’t been put off by that, though I’m not sure I’d blame them if they were, because they are the sorts of people who will be the tireless volunteers of the future.
Lest you fear that there was a complete absence of knitting and things of that ilk, I’m pleased to report that I discovered that one of the other head honcho volunteer folk is a very serious knitter who makes lovely little scarves in yarn that’s a wool and silk blend, bespoke dyed by one of her friends in muted colours, and as soft and cosy as you could wish to have around your neck (I accept that my Ballarat scarf is a little on the scratchy side because of the metallic yarn). We swapped a few yarns – sorry, couldn’t resist – about our various knitting projects. During one of my short strolls around the place during a comfort break, I was complimented on that very same Ballarat scarf by one of the vendors (I resisted the merchandise). She said that the colours are lovely. So they are.
Besides knitting confreres (I spotted a few amongst the rowers, too), one of my bow number co-volunteers admired the above tote that I made from those samples of furnishing fabric given to me by an erstwhile colleague (I’d used the tote to tote my day’s supply of water bottles). She recognised it as a particular linen – apparently that furnishing fabric is distinctive – and congratulated me on how sturdy it was while reminding me that I’d pay a lot of money if I wanted to buy such a thing. She’s quite right. And while I suppose it might not be everyone’s idea of chic to cart around a bag made from fabric that’s recognisably the same as Great Aunt Susie’s sofa, I’m really pleased with mine (and couldn’t care less whether it’s chic or not). It works well and I know it’s much better made than any I’ve bought so far.
Have you been volunteering of late? f so, I certainly hope you’ve enjoyed yourself as much as I did.