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From Thames to the ‘lake of tigers’

“Are the waters safe? A friend told me that tigers hunt in the waters of this lake and it can be very dangerous if you go overboard,” said David Spencer after his maiden row at Rabindra Sarobar.

His fears were not entirely assuaged on being told that his friend had confused the Lakes with the Sunderbans and weeds getting entangled with his legs was the worst that could happen if his rowing boat toppled over.

“We will just not go overboard,” David grinned.

He and Sadie Anderson are representing Molesey Boat Club, Surrey, UK, in the ARAE-FEARA Calcutta Regatta 2012, being held in association with The Telegraph at the Calcutta Rowing Club.

“The water is smooth and calm but the city is very hot. My palms are sweating. Back home, if we were rowing now, we would be wearing fleece and jumpers and gloves,” laughed David.

The boats too need some getting used to for the two, who usually row in fours or eights. “Our boats are heavier. This boat is so light: it was like sitting on water!” exclaimed Sadie, an architect.

David, an IT professional, chipped in: “It’s like riding a motorcycle when you are used to driving a lorry.” That will not deter him though. Such is his enthusiasm for the sport he had discovered only six months ago that he wants to participate in as many categories as he can.

Sadie, who has been practising extra for the regatta, is more circumspect. “I only row in fours. I am not too confident of rowing single and here they do not have a mixed fours category. I will try to contact a friend who is attending a wedding in the city to see whether she can go double with me or else I will only participate as a coxswain for the fours,” she said.

Coxing is different from rowing. “You do not need to be as fit as you need to be to row. Back home, we row in the Thames, which is a tidal river and has bends. The coxswain needs to be aware of the rules, the terminology, the waters and the conditions. For example, in a race that I participated in recently, the coxswain of the other boat navigated the bends in a way that helped them win. Here, it will be simpler… there are no bends,” she said.

The two, visiting India for the first time, dropped by at Victoria Memorial and the Kalighat temple on Wednesday.

“Kalighat was very crowded. But we pushed our way to the front and offered our prayers,” said Sadie, pointing at the dots of vermilion on their foreheads.

“I am excited about the food here,” said David, who reached India on New Year’s Day and has already toured Delhi, Agra and parts of Rajasthan.

“The trains are nice, but the roads are mad. I could not drive for more than 10 minutes near Fatehpur Sikri,” he said. And since there are no tigers in the Lakes, he would also like to go to the Sunderbans and a beach that he had heard about but could not remember the name of.

Two more members of his club, which is participating in the event for the second time, are expected to reach soon. “They are experienced rowers and have participated and won this regatta before. That time too, the venue was Calcutta, we are told,” said David.

Some of the club members are training for the London Olympics, like captain Andrew Triggs-Hodge, who was a member of the fours that won a gold medal in the Beijing Olympics.