In August, just when most sensible people are escaping the heat and taking time off rowing training, I am poised to join the Sport Nautique de Bergerac (or SNB), which is not only one of France’s top rowing clubs, but is also conveniently close – just 1.2 km downstream from Allée Beau Rivage.
With more than 100 national and international wins on the board, and a large, active current membership, SNB is very much a force to be reckoned with in French rowing. The club was founded in 1860 – the same year, it turns out, as two London clubs I know well – the Thames RC and the Twickenham RC. How many other rowing clubs around the world were founded in that year? Cannot be many. How about forming an exclusive 1860 Club, and holding an internationaly competition (in Bergerac of course) for their members?
There are some fascinating historical links between France and the Thames rowing scene.
Charles, Marquis de La Valette, a distinguished politician and diplomat who was Prefect of the Dordogne region at the time, sponsored M. FARGAUDIE who became the founding president of the club.
De La Valette was an anglophile. He was married three times: his first wife was English, the second American, and the third French. In 1869 he was appointed Ambassador to London, where he spent 2 years. Whether he did any rowing on the Thames himself we don’t know. But during this time he would certainly have met his
compatriot and fellow rowing enthusiast Henri, Duc D’Aumale, co-founder and first president of the Twickenham RC, whose (even more distinguished) family subsequently donated the land on which the club stands to this day.
I like to imagine these two discussing the performances of their clubs’ crews, and comparing the water conditions on the Thames and the Dordogne – something I have been doing a lot of lately.
These photos of the early rowers in Bergerac are very similar to ones I’ve seen from the archives of clubs like Putney Town, and Thames RC, and the stories and characters they show remind us how much the sport is really about community.
The photo of a SNB double racing in a buoyed course reminds me of the first LOSBC boats I got racing at the national schools regatta, another bright yellow double! I’ll look for a photo to go alongside this!
The Tank at SNB (see below) is the largest in France. It is set up for both sculling and rowing, and can accommodate a complete crew of eight. I don’t know of anything comparable in London – and hope I will be able to arrange access to this with some of the training groups I am planning to bring to Bergerac in the future. This really is a fantastic asset for the SNB club.
Next summer I will be inviting some current and ex members of my club (Putney Town) to come and help with the garden and house. I’ll also be inviting some of this year’s LOSBC eight (they managed to win First Eights at the National Schools Regatta in 2016 – so they’re pretty strong!) and we’ll see if they’ve forgotten how to scull. .I may also, once they’ve mastered the necessary French vocabulary, be able to get them coached at SNB by the local world champion sculler Stany Delayre.