6 February 2018

Canberra rowers taking on the George Bass Surfboat Marathon

| Ian Campbell
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Gary Pettigrove sweeping his crew from Canberra in 2016. Photo: Jackie Jones Facebook.

Gary Pettigrove sweeping his crew from Canberra in 2016. Photo: Jackie Jones Facebook.

While communities around the nation’s capital spent the last day of 2017 buying ice, blowing up balloons, and compiling a New Year Eve playlist of songs, Canberra surfboat rowers made a start to an epic adventure down the Far South Coast of New South Wales.

The George Bass Surf Boat Marathon set out from under the Batemans Bay Bridge at 9:30 am on December 31. The first day of this one of kind event finished 31 kilometres later on the sand in front of Moruya Surf Club at South Head.

Gary Pettigrove is sweeping for the Broulee Capitals Open Women but has also been training the Men’s Masters crew. Both Canberra based teams row under the banner of Broulee Surf Club – a cross-border relationship that goes back a number of years.

“We’ve been training five mornings a week since May, a 5:30 start on Lake Burley Griffin, and every fortnight we’ve been coming down to have a row on the coast,'” Gary explains.

This will be Gary’s eighth Bass, for some of his rowers, it will be their first.

“At the end, you’ve got a memory that lasts a lifetime, it’s a grueling event – seven days, 190k’s, busting your gut the whole way,” Gary says.

Canberra's Gary Pettigrove competing in his eighth George Bass. Photo: Ian Campbell

Canberra’s Gary Pettigrove competing in his eighth George Bass. Photo: Ian Campbell

The George Bass started in 1975 and is named after the famous explorer who mapped the southern coastline of NSW in a whaleboat under Governor John Hunter, setting out in December 1797.

Taking place roughly every two years, this will be the twentieth Bass, which has drawn competitors from the Northern Territory, South Australian, Western Australia, Queensland, and Victoria as well as strong support from NSW surf clubs.

Tathra and Moruya are the only two surf clubs to have competed in all twenty events.

Over seven days these brave souls tackle a different section of coastline, finishing in Eden, 188 kilometres from where they started.

This is the first Bass for the men from Canberra, while some in the women’s crew have rowed in four events.

Gary Pettigrove has finished in second place twice and is hopeful of better this time.

“We are a competitive group, but we are here to have fun, that’s the main thing,” Gary says.

“One of my girls competed in 2004 with me, she’s back again now for a second time 13 years later. She’s had kids in the meantime but loved the comradery and is back.”

Coogee negotiating the coastline south of Batemans Bay in 2016. Photo: George Bass Facebook

Coogee negotiating the coastline south of Batemans Bay in 2016. Photo: George Bass Facebook.

For Gary and his two crews, it was a solid start to this long game. The Broulee Capitals Open Women finished third in a time of 2:44:57, the Men’s Masters finished in ninth position in 2:44:45.

“It was a tussle with Moruya for third right till the end in the Open Women’s, we got about five lengths in front just before the last turning buoy and held them off till the end,” Gary says.

Crews started with a southerly breeze in their face as they turned at the Tollgate Islands, and pulled past Malua Bay, Tomakin, and Broulee for the run to Moruya, where winds shifted more northeasterly and gave crews a nudge home.

“Some of the girls that have only rowed on the Lake [Lake Burley Griffin] struggled a bit in the choppy conditions and we dropped back a bit, but once we passed Burrewarra Point we had a tailwind and good swell and made up some ground,” Gary says.

Good food, good sleep, and a masseur will help the Broulee Capitals in the days ahead, the race culminating in Eden at Snug Cove on January 6.

You can follow their progress each day via the George Bass Live Tracker.

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