If you have been in Chennai long enough, you surely would have driven around the plush Boat Club Road and had a glimpse of the Madras Boat Club, if only from outside. And on early mornings and evenings it is hard to miss the rowers of different age groups on the Adyar river, if you pass the Kotturpuram bridge. Madras Boat Club might be associated with city’s swish set but it also has a rich history and has been actively involved in promoting rowing as a sport.
Rowing came to India with the British. After the East India Company was formed in the country, the traders wanted to continue with their hobbies and that’s how rowing was introduced here. Wherever the British colonies were set up, be it in Calcutta, Pune or Madras, the British also introduced rowing. And that’s how the Madras Boat Club was set up in 1867 — this one is the second oldest in the country, next only to the Calcutta Rowing Club, which was started in 1864.
But this place, on the banks of Adyar, wasn’t really where they started the boat club in Madras. Originally, it was set up in Ennore. It was only in the 1890s that the club moved to this place. And in the year 1898, the club coat – dark blue with brass buttons – and the club monogram, which is in use even today without modification, were adopted by the then committee. That year also saw the first races between Madras and Colombo. This was the start of a rivalry that exists even today.
By the early part of the 20th century, the Club was holding three regattas a year. These were the Cold Weather, Hot Weather, and Monsoon Regattas. The First World War (1914-18) saw a dip in activity as many of the senior members were occupied on the war front. Post war, rowing revived in 1920 and to the delight of the Club, younger members took to rowing with enthusiasm. By 1930, apart from rowing against Poona, Calcutta and Colombo, Madras Boat Club took on Rangoon Boat Club. With India attaining Independence in 1947, membership of the club was opened to Indians in 1949.
Since the 1990s the club acquired a number of modern facilities and it is today proudly one of the best-equipped rowing clubs in the country. It has close to 600 members from the city.
Now, the club is celebrating its 150th year of existence and we are sure not many are aware about its activities. Merchant and Bankers (M&B) is one of the most popular regattas. This year, as part of the 150-year-celebration, they wanted to revive it and it’s happening this year on June 24. They have changed the format slightly this time and have invited clubs in the city including Madras Gymkhana Club, Royal Madras Yacht Club and Madras Cricket Club. Following this, in July, there will also be International Regatta and Madras-Colombo Regatta. They are planning to get 15 boats belonging to different classes from China before the International Regatta.
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