Keeping the sport afloat

Last updated 10:00 18/12/2013
Cliff Buchanan

Cliff Buchanan with a pair of sculls in Te Anau colours.

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Cliff Buchanan is our latest Legend of Sport. Don Wright highlights the countless hours of hard work he has put in for the sport of rowing and why he deserves the accolade.

Semi-retired businessman Cliff Buchanan of Te Anau and other rowing enthusiasts are focusing on exploiting the third time lucky proverb with the proposed Fiordland Rowing Club.

A life member of the Invercargill Rowing Club and Southland Rowing Association, a former World Umpire (1997-2008) and twice Southland Rowing Administrator of the Year in 1990 and 2008, Buchanan is a committee member of the Fiordland Rowing Club that twice went into recess in earlier years.

"The first occasion attempts to float a club failed was about 30 years ago and the second time 11 years ago," recalled the former Rowing New Zealand councillor.

"The club failed earlier because Te Anau was largely composed of working people who did not have enough time to row through the busy summer period, but now we have more retired and semi- retired folk keen on Masters rowing, also others keen to see Fiordland College pupils become involved to Maadi Cup level if possible."

Buchanan, 70, and his wife Merle operate the House of Wood Bed and Breakfast.

A keen outdoors man, he also works part-time for Real Journeys.

Buchanan is confident the Fiordland club formed a year ago will survive and prosper with a committee of eight and 25 interested people.

"At this stage we are looking out for boats. We have three that came back from original clubs and other clubs have assured us they will assist with boats surplus to their requirements," he said.

"By way of support from the Meridian Energy Fiordland Grants Trust Fund, we've been able to buy new sculls and oars. We should soon have boats on the water and, when we've completed building sheds near the Te Anau Yacht Club, that will become our base."

The new club has boats based on trailers that can be transported to and from the yacht club.

If Lake Te Anau is too rough, the operation can be switched to Manapouri below Pearl Harbour on the Upper Waiau river, down almost as far as the Mararoa Weir, a distance of almost 10km.

"If strong winds are blowing on Lake Manapouri, it can be much calmer down on the Upper Waiau stretches down to the Mararoa Weir. Long distance races up to 10km downstream, starting from the Real Journeys wharf to just short of the weir are a reality."

The new Fiordland club had attracted men and women of all ages.

Providing a challenge for aspiring Fiordland College rowers was an exciting possibility if they could one day make it to exalted Maadi Cup standards for alternating inter- island competition.

"The Maadi Cup is the biggest sporting event in the country on a basis of number of participants at over 2000," Buchanan said. "You can imagine the noise of 2000 screaming kids at Twizel [Lake Ruataniwha] can't you?"

It would be a major achievement to have Fiordland College pupils involved at Twizel at "a quite spectacular Maadi Cup fixture with an avenue of tents down the side of the lake in all colours."

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Rowing in Fiordland can count its blessings that a man of Buchanan's experience and expertise is helping in an attempt for Te Anau to join other Southland clubs Waihopai, Invercargill, Awarua (Bluff), Wakatipu and Riverton.

Rowing owed much to those who controlled the popular southern recreational pursuit in the 1950s and 1960s onwards, including men of the reputation of Rex Boniface and George Hopwood (Invercargill), Graeme Robertson and Owen Nuttall (Riverton), Bill Burtenshaw and Graham Metzger (Awarua) and Stan Adamson and Jack Hogan, of Waihopai.

"They were men of dedication and foresight who provided rowing with impetus when clubs bought boats from raffle profits and other forms of onerous fundraising," he said.

"However, the later wonderful support of the Invercargill Licensing Trust, The Lion Foundation, Aoraki and other charitable trusts has made rowing easier with helpers able to put more time into actual rowing instead of time-consuming fundraising."

Buchanan's lifetime love of rowing was ignited at Southland Technical College and he rowed for Invercargill for 17 seasons, before moving to umpiring.

His voluntary contribution to the club numbered 56 years and he now views his efforts for the Fiordland club as an extension of that.

International experience included attending the World Seminar on Disabled Rowing in the Netherlands and starting Rowing for the Disabled with Southland Special Olympics, work now carried on by Dave Galbraith at the Invercargill club.

Before stepping down as an umpire at the compulsory retiring age of 65, Buchanan umpired at five world events, mostly in Germany, including a pre-Olympics regatta in 2007.

He still holds his New Zealand umpiring position.

An original 1975 founding member of South Island Rowing, he has served as president and is vice-president of the body at its Lake Ruataniwha (near Twizel) headquarters.

In 1978, through Charlie Stapp and Max Smith, the Lake Ruataniwha course was formed.

At that stage, all that was there was water, tussocks, scrub and rabbits everywhere, Buchanan recalled.

"Now the complex - which is worth about $2.5 million, with rowing sheds, accommodation blocks and a course of international standard - is a decided asset that rowing can justifiably be proud of."

- The Southland Times


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