Veteran rowers set to steal the Freedom Paddle show 

 March 16, 2022

After stealing the show at last year’s event the veteran rowing boat team will be returning to the Prescient Freedom Paddle on 27 April with fresh plans for the tough 27 trip from the V&A Waterfront around Robben Island and back.

Dubbed the “Billy Boys” the crew is assembled around a core of four rowers and a cox who take out their whaler rowing boat from Hout Bay harbour every week, the retired men row to stay healthy and enjoy the camaraderie on board the ocean rowing boat.

“Three of us are in our eighties, and there are a couple of youngsters in their sixties and seventies ,” said 81 year old Roger “Rusty” Gillett.

“Tim Cartwright has been rowing that boat for over thirty years, while I have been part of the crew for around twenty five years.

“It is great fun and because we sit side-by-side in the boat. The design of the whaler is not the fastest so that gives us time for plenty of chatter. It is very sociable,” said Gillett.

The “Billy Boys” in action at last year’s Prescient Freedom Paddle in their whaler rowing boat, from left Tim Cartwright, Greg Walton, Roy Curtis and Rusty Gillett.

The whaler crew was given a half-an-hour head start at last year’s event, and proudly won the bragging rights for being the first boat to reach Robben Island, before returning to complete the 27km course in four hours and two minutes.

This year they have asked the organisers for permission to add a fifth name to their entry, and to rotate the crew at various stages of the race by changing rowers from a nearby support boat.

“That’s all part of a plan to get more people involved in rowing.” Said Gillett.

“It is amazing to see such a variety of craft taking part,” said Gillett. “Last year there was another rowing boat manned by this very strong crew of women.

“They were just fantastic to watch. At one stage I thought they had an outboard engine on their boat,” he recalls. “We were discussing plans to try and throw a tow rope over their stern!”

“The Freedom Paddle is a fantastic day and we all thoroughly enjoy it,” he said, adding that the whaler crew had their eyes set on a False Bay crossing from Gordons Bay to Simonstown once they have successfully completed the Prescient Freedom Paddle at the end of April.

Post-script from Tim Cartwright:

I started this coastal rowing effort in the mid-1960s. As PRO for Murray and Stewart ( the southern half of what became Murray and Roberts) I was given permission by the MD Des Baker, a legendary workaholic , to find an appropriate boat for our own rowing crew. We settled on the inexpensive Moby Dick, a 6,5m mini-whaler designed by the editor or SA Yachting, Brian Lello, who helped us to find the fibreglass mould. (Right now, no-one can tell me where it or its successors are). The present boat which we are using is the third from the mould that we have rowed and is about 15 years old. The Moby Dick was designed to be an all-purpose vessel. It can be fitted with an inboard or an outboard engine or a mast and centre-board. It is a very slow boat to row being over 2m wide but, like all Lello designs, very seaworthy.

The original boat with various crews –but with myself always a crew member- did several long trips, the most arduous of which was east to west across False Bay. Lello was coxing and was forced to enter a thick mist if we were to persevere. Lello then misread the swell pattern and took us far too far south—so that we emerged from the mist at Buffels Bay and had to turn hard right to get to our destination, Simonstown. That trip took us 7,6 hours of unrelieved rowing (Lello coxed but did not row). Today’s crews all take turns to cox, which gives us a welcome break every hour or half hour. Later we did the trip west to east in just over 6 hours  i.e. averaging 7km per hour. We also did two 2 day trips to Langebaan from Melkbosstrand and we won the Anything that Floats 21km race on Republic Day about 1975. To do this we beat several well-known yachts -because off Clifton and Sea Point there was absolutely no wind. Being a lot younger then, oarsmen like Jamie Heathcote-Marks, Agmat Suleiman, Rob Read, Peter Lillienfeld, Angus and Jon Hemp, Biff Lewis and Murray Moore were much fitter than any of us are today—and we trained hard, having at one stage permission to keep the boat at Grainger Bay and later at Simonstown Yacht Club of which some of us became members.

The current crew have been together for some years now and row from Hout Bay most Saturday mornings—wind and weather permitting. We are regularly stroked by Bruce Alexander, the former UCT and Western Province stroke, with Greg Walton and Jeremy Taylor providing the main power and Roy Curtis-Setchel, Rusty and myself doing our bit.  (We are octogenarians). Bruce and Roy will not be rowing the Freedom Row this time—health constraints. Last time St John Springett, who IS younger and  stronger than all of us,  was in the crew and we are hoping he will be on hand this time in the accompanying  escort boat to relieve any who need a break.

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