row2k Features
Letter from St. Petersburg
Golden Blades, post-race
June 13, 2011
Brad Alan Lewis

St. Petersburg-ian for life

Win or lose, racing was over, fair enough. Dinner at the hotel, decent and plentiful.


But we’re not done yet. At 9:00 PM, onto a bus parked in the alley behind the Corinthia Hotel for a 37-minute drive to Kamenny Island. According to one native, this is a place of great annoyance to the locals, the island having recently been appropriated by the moneyed of Moscow, who are in the process of building McMansions of monstrous size and brash inclinations. My response of “You think this is bad, you should see Newport Coast,” fell on deaf ears.


The bus wound up and down the narrow streets on Kamenny Island, finally stopping in front of a new convention hall, long and lean, aglow with lights. The bus emptied in short order and a friendly scrum formed straightway in front of two dispensaries of the class 7 Mojitos, using the regatta sponsors’ vodka. Several freestanding tables piled with vodka (straight up) and red and white wine attracted the guests who preferred not to wait.


No money was charged for the drinks, no limit was imposed on the drinkers, and no fault was to be found in the amount of alcohol that had been ordered for the party, which pretty much guaranteed the eventual outcome: joyful and scary dancing.


After 30 minutes of congratulatory speeches, (in Russian then translated into English), awards were doled out to every attendee with a working pulse, (again with lengthy translations.)  Afterwards the translator was seen huffing vodka, two fisted, relived that her duties were over. She’d been hired only an hour before and was totally unfamiliar with rowing, sports, etc. Plus the stakes were pretty high considering the local elite, political and otherwise, who’d gathered here in addition to the athletes.


At the stroke of midnight the rowers were given a choice: return to the Corinthia Hotel straightaway by bus or get on a low slung tour boat for a 90 minute tour of the canals of St. Petersburg and then onto the bus and back to the hotel.


Rumor has it that an hour or so later, the river was being searched by the local police for two visiting rowers who’d opted for the canal tour, but then decided it was time to call it a day. Rather than go all the way back to the convention center on Kamenny Island and take the bus to the hotel, they figured it’d be faster (and the stuff of legend if they survived) just to jump off the stern of the tour boat, swim to the edge of the canal, find a place along the steep canal embankment to haul themselves out, then jog back to the Corinthia no worse for wear and grab a beer in the hotel bar.

True or not, all visiting rowers survived the night and have since excited for their native lands. No doubt next time these swimming rowers will call forth the classic line by Frederick Forrest’s character Chef in Apocalypse Now: “Never get off the boat.”

New book by Brad Alan Lewis: LIDO FOR TIME: 14:39 now available from

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