Victoria Harbour for watersports

Victoria Harbour was at its busy and beautiful best when it played host to the 2019 World Rowing Coastal Championships (WRCC) from the 1st to the 3rd of November 2019, organised by the Hong Kong, China Rowing Association and supported by the Hong Kong Water Sports Council. Over 450 rowers from 28 countries around the world joined the competition and by all accounts from everyone involved it was, without exception, an international coastal rowing experience which will be hard to match anywhere in the world.

Racing in Hong Kong’s working harbour produced some stunning television pictures of coastal rowing, with ferries, working boats, shipping and other vessels appearing to mix with the racing crews. And the live broadcast of the racing against the uninterrupted backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous city skyline have created an amazing and memorable picture of coastal rowing — and of Hong Kong — around the world.

At a time when many international sports events were being cancelled through concerns over the ongoing protests, the special nature of the WRCC, based at the RHKYC and with the events happening on the water, allowed the organising committee to proceed with considerable confidence to carry on, albeit with carefully considered contingencies in place.

Spectators could watch the racing for free from Piers 9 and 10 and anywhere along the Central and Wan Chai waterfront as far as the RHKYC. There were no spectator stands, a deliberate strategy of the committee to give spectators the opportunity to watch and enjoy the events in an unrestricted and more natural manner, walking along the race course to follow the crews or to be closer to the several exciting turning points.

These world championships demonstrated once again the high value of Victoria Harbour for hosting water sports events, both local and international. In the government’s and the Harbourfront Commission’s drive to improve the harbourfront it is not enough to merely provide walkways and harbour vistas without recognising that water bodies are always more attractive to casual observers if there are activities taking place on the water. This requires access to the water for organised water sports and the provision of well-planned support facilities to be built into the waterfront infrastructure at the earliest stages. 

Good planning will allow potentially large numbers of participants from the community to use the water for sport and exercise. It is here that the critical challenge arises to recognise that it is not just the harbourfront land which is a community relaxation and activity resource. It is also the interfacing element — the water itself — which is there to be used by the public in this crowded city environment. Combining land and water is the key to a true harbourfront vision for the community.

Of course, the needs of the working harbour must be respected and be given priority and, in this respect, water sports in the harbour must be on an organised basis. Casual use of the harbour risks interfering with commercial and other working users and presents a safety risk. Organised water sports, based around clubs and NSAs, offer the required element of control and discipline so that users can participate safely under clear guidelines for use. 

The 2019 WRCC showed the possibilities, successfully managing three days of high level racing without disturbing the normal working users of the harbour. Such water sports activities can become a daily occurrence on the harbour, but this should be in an environment of safety, discipline and co-operation with other users and this will need an experienced overall co-ordinating body establishing the guidelines and safety rules for all.

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