On bus conductor duty – Colin Birch

Colin Birch. Photo: Roy Pilott.

Colin Birch barely needs to look at his run list.

“Yes, they can come through – but they are really early,” he says.

Cambridge based Birch is acting as the effective bus conductor – the gatekeeper as rowers come and go with the boats to and from the water at Lake Karāpiro.

And a request has come from a crew who want to get on the water now.

The businessman who has spent 10 years as a rowing umpire is one of countless volunteers in grey and blue shirts ensuring the North Island rowing championships go off without a hitch – albeit in frequent driving rain.

It’s three days of racing, virtually non-stop as clubs from all over the country battle it out on the water. For many rowers it’s part of the build up to this year’s Maadi Cup to be held at the same venue starting on March 27.

Another crew arrive and a member is swiftly asked to turn off his Bluetooth speaker and does so immediately. There’s no question about who is calling the shots here.

“Etiquette is very important,” Birch explains. “You don’t want to be talking to a team about their upcoming race with loud music in the background.”

He became involved in rowing when the first of his three children took up the sport. When Victoria, now 27, Henry, 24 and Alexander, 22, left school, he remained as a volunteer.

He served on the Cambridge Rowing Club committee for five years before, in 2018, starting a now completed stint as its chair.

Wife Mary is also a qualified rowing umpire.

Today, when rowers  are on the water, they will be there too. Saturday and Sunday involved 14-hour shifts. Monday was a bit shorter. The family home’s doors were opened to visiting volunteers from Tauranga and Auckland.

Other volunteers at the weekend arrived from Whangarei, Whanganui, Auckland and Wellington.

“You have 65-70 volunteers at every regatta – people at the start, eight on the water, support crews, a couple of safety boats, judges in the tower, people tabulating the results…”

He points to the efficiency of it all. When a thunderstorm announced itself on Sunday the call was made to evacuate the lake.

“We have up to 100 boats on the lake at any one time. The races in progress finished – and the lake was evacuated in about three minutes.”

Birch just loves it. Talk to him for a short time and you will be encouraged to join up too.

He is hugely impressed by the calibre and discipline of the young men and women who get involved in the sport.

“It’s just a fabulous environment,” he says.

And a rowing backgrounds isn’t a bad thing on a CV.

Birch owns Smart Climate Solutions and Lilies by Blewden, and he says the moment someone comes to his company with a CV that mentions an involvement with rowing, they will be given an interview –  because “you can tick off 10 things” about them straight away.

See: Down the drain at Karāpiro

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