Dory racing revival: How people in eastern P.E.I. are trying to rebuild the sport

Organizers are hoping that cash prizes and some keen young competitors will help revive interest in the P.E.I. Dory Racing Championships.

Dory racing has been part of the Northumberland Fisheries Festival in Murray River, P.E.I., for decades. This is the 40th year for the festival.

"This year we have some new competitors, a couple of new junior girls which we're thankful for," organizer Beverley Gosbee said.

"And so we're looking for all kinds of dory rowers for all divisions that we have and the prizes are good."

The winning pair splits $100, with $50 for second place and $25 for third place.

Organizers are also excited that rowers from Lunenburg, N.S., are coming to the event.

"Last year though we had a two or three of them come over," Gosbee said. "But this year, we're hoping to revive the dory races a lot more and we're hearing that quite a few people are coming."

Big crowds

In its heyday, the dory races in Murray River attracted hundreds of spectators.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

"The wharf over here was lined with cars and people and it was a big, big thing," Gosbee said.

Participation plummeted in 2017 and organizers have been working hard to build up interest.

They brought in new sponsors and offered cash prizes and attracted 12 teams to last year's event, with even more expected this year.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

"It's 35 plus years that we've had it here in the community," Gosbee said. "We just feel we don't want to let it die, it's a provincial dory race."

Generations of rowers

The community owns four wooden dories that are used for the competition, as well as a practice dory.

It has been busy in recent weeks as locals prepare for the competition.

Jack Miller, 14, started when he was just five — the third generation in his family to race dories.

Submitted by Ruth Richman

"It has been fun, it's faded off and it's started to come back now, lots of people are getting into it," Miller said.

Miller said the boats are big and heavy.

"They like to catch the wind a lot and they go with the tide," Miller said. 

"A lot of [the] time you might be rowing with only one arm — just keep out of the wind, they're big boats."

Randy McAndrew/CBC

Grace London, 13, is in her first year of dory racing, having been recruited by a friend's mom. She admits her first time in a dory had some challenges.

"It was very awkward, my partner was rowing forward and I was rowing backwards and we couldn't go anywhere," London said.

London would like to see more young people get into dory racing. 

"It would be nice to have even more competition," London said.

Rowing since the 80s

Ruth Richman started rowing with a friend in 1987.

Up until that time, there was only two women rowing in the races in Murray River and they were on her softball team and she wanted to show them up.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

 "So we rowed and we lost to them by a second and they retired after that and we kept going," she said.

Richman has competed for more than 25 years and won at least 20 times.  She has also travelled to Nova Scotia to compete.

"In Lunenburg, there would be a lot of competition," Richman said. 

"We'd have to row two heats to have a race and there'd be eight, nine boats of women over there and they are really strong racers and we were kind of Sunday-afternoon rowers."

Submitted by Ruth Richman

Richman said dory rowing has lots of offer.

"I've rowed shells and they're super nice because they go smooth and fast but there's something about a dory, there's the sound, there's the clunk clunk of the oars," Richman said. 

"It's very meditative, it's very relaxing." 

Looking to recruit

Richman agrees it's important to get more people into dory rowing.

"We've been trying for years to get more women and now we need an effort to get more people just generally," Richman said.

Randy McAndrew/CBC

"We just have to be more out there and advertise and have free classes because everyone I've introduced to the boats has loved it."

Richman would like to compete in the Murray River race as well, but she's still looking for a partner.  

The dory races start at 10 a.m. Saturday, July 27, at the Murray River wharf. 

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