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Thanks to rowers the Rhine was alive with the sound of swearing

Emotions can run high when rowers race on the Rhine, as they proved during Basel Head last Saturday.

By Martin Pütter

On Saturday the Rhine was firmly in the hands of the rowers, even during training in the morning

Saturday, 18 November 2017, 1:58pm, Wettsteinbrücke, Basel: a cormorant has enough. The catch along the left bank of the Rhine has been insufficient to satisfy its hunger. So the bird decides to switch sides and flies to the right bank, landing just above the pier for the Münster ferry. It is a bad choice, as the cormorant is about to find out a few moments later – for the next few hours this and other fish eating birds can forget the Rhine in Basel as source for finding food. Basel Head takes place – and then rowers are the dominant feature on the Rhine.

Just after the start Germany 1 is approaching a jam-packed Mittlere Brücke

1:59pm: the Mittlere Brücke’s side facing downstream is packed with people. They are waiting for the starting signal to Basel Head, a rowing regatta for eights which, despite its young history, has already become a fixed item on Basel’s sports calendar. At precisely 2pm the race begins: the Germany eight is the first boat on the 6.4 kilometre (4 miles) long course, with a turn just below the hydro-electric power station at Birsfelden. In the end last year’s winners – who are also current world champions and world-record holder – are again the fastest among 100 participating boats, and with 18:41.45  they have pulverised the course record, set by them last year, by just over seven seconds.

After Wettsteinbrücke Germany 1 has increased the distance to the next boat

2:20pm, Wettsteinbrücke, right bank: here the boats have to choose: left or right of the permanently fixed buoys? To the right  the current is stronger than left, but there is only little space between buoys and embankment, the cox’ skill is on demand. One boat chooses left – and regrets it almost immediately. First two oars touch the buoys, then the cox overcompensates – the oars on the boat’s right side hit the embankment. The boat comes to a standstill, needs to let others boats pass before it can continue the race. The boat’s hopes for a good result have sunk to the bottom of the Rhine.

This boat, unlike a few others, found the perfect course in a narrow channel

2:40pm, footpath hydro-electric power station Birsfelden. This spot offers a perfect view onto the turn, which is situated less than 100 metres below the dam. The boats approaching the turn remind the spectators of pearls on a thread. A running commentary comes over the tannoy. Suddenly the commentator announces: “And soon we’ll have a sandwich” – meaning: three boats are almost level just before the turn. As was to be expected the oars touch – and thanks to the wind, which is blowing upstream that day, the spectators at the power station get the belief that the Rhine is alive with the sound of swearing.

Trouble looms at the turn with this “sandwich”

6pm: Basel Head is over, it is dark. The rowers have left the Rhine, and even the cormorants have gone home to roost. The brook, as the Baslers lovingly call the Rhine, has become quiet and peaceful again. However, in a year’s time, the Rhine will again belong to the rowers for a few hours.

This little basilisk, however, remained unaffected by the rowers

Basel Head (English)

All pictures © 2017 Copy right TBJ/Martin Pütter

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