On the Chao Phra River, Bangkok, Thailand

No mystery about it. PBC senior member Neal Young set a goal to row on every inhabited continent in the world, and darn if he didn’t just check that box a couple of months ago. Congratulations, Neal!

We may never do what Neal did, but setting a similar “non-traditional” goal like Neal set may be just the thing we need to do to keep us focused through another DC winter. In the meantime, Neal’s adventures have definitely provided us with new fodder for our rowing-related at-work daydreams.

If you want to add some international water time to your list of rowing goals, read on! Below, Neal shares his short list of tips for getting it done, along with some cool photos to inspire you!

And if someone catches you daydreaming at work about rowing in Thailand or Rio over the next few weeks … just blame it on Neal.

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Boathouses dotting the river in Adelaide, Australia, taken from hotel room window

Like many of us out there, I took a break from rowing after college to focus on the other important things in life, like marriage, children, and making a living.  Long after the break had turned into years, I was attending a medical conference in Sydney, Australia, where a dinner conversation with another attendee turned to the subject of rowing.

The next morning, I found myself in the middle of an exhausting excursion in a double in Sydney Harbor, and knew that Thompsons, the PBC wait list, relearning (sort of) how to scull and to race, and buying a boat were all in my future.  Although I didn’t realize it then, this fortuitous opportunity to row in Australia was the beginning of rowing adventures I would have all over the world. Later, I would launch a personal goal to row on every inhabited continent, a goal that I just completed a couple of months ago in the Lagoon in Rio.

Following is the list of continents and venues that I’ve been lucky enough to experience as a rower as a result of setting that goal:

Rowing from the Roodeplaat Rowing Club, Pretoria, South Africa

Africa: Roodeplaat Rowing Club, Pretoria (South Africa)
Asia: Bangkok (Thailand); University of Tokyo Boat Club (Japan); Madras Boat Club (India)
Australia: Sydney Boat Club; Riverside Rowing Club, Adelaide (Australia)
Europe: Helsinki (Finland); St. Petersburg (Russia); Ruderklub am Wansee outside Berlin (Germany); Hannover (Germany); Trinity Boat Club in Dublin (Ireland); Danubius National Rowing Club, Budapest (Hungary); Aviron Cannes Mandelieu (France); Faro (Portugal); Nautical Club of Ioannina (Greece); Pavia University Rowing Club (Italy); Canottieri Firenze (Italy); Societa Triestina Canottieri Adria 1877 (Italy) [For a list of rowing clubs in Italy, click here or on Facebook here.]
South America: Flamengo de Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
North America: Potomac Boat Club (DC); Baltimore (MD); Cambridge (MA); Gull Pond (MA); Carnegie Lake (NJ); Cayuga Lake at Cornell (NY); Norristown Pond (DE); Occoquan (VA)

An extremely hot and muggy midsummer day rowing in Tokyo at the Olympic venue; I passed the quad later

So, sound like something you might want to do?  Despite my chance row in Sydney, it takes a lot of advance planning to ensure that you can get in a good, safe row when travelling overseas, but you’ll find your effort well worth it.  Fortunately, there are a lot of great resources available on the Internet, including the Rowers Almanac and the online Boathouse Finder.

Of course, once you’ve identified where you want to go and have reached out, it can sometimes feel like a bonus when someone actually responds to the email you’ve sent to a boathouse contact email address!  But be patient. When someone does take the time to answer, he or she is usually very accommodating and willing to help out, as I know we are at PBC. You’ll find that one of the great rewards of attempting this goal is that you will share your enthusiasm to row with a worldwide community of rowers who are equally enthusiastic about our sport.

Once you arrive in your destination country, you still need to get to the rowing facility, and it may not be as obvious as looking for the closest body of water.  We are fortunate that PBC is located in the heart of a city, but in many places, the closest rowing venue may be quite a distance from the center of town.  My advice?  When in doubt, get a ride!  Not having transportation with a knowlegeable person at the wheel can translate into hours of your trip wasted on public transit or on foot instead of in a boat.  For example, reaching the training camp for the University of Pretoria in South Africa, where the reservoir is hungry hippo-free, required both a good guide and an off road vehicle.

In the freezing rain in St. Petersburg, Russia, wearing the jacket that I could not find a way to purchase

To make the most of your experience, take some time to enjoy the camaraderie of your host rowers, if you can.  Most of my outings were one time events, but I have shared a few breakfasts with master Australian rowers and some dinners with boisterous German novices.  And if I’m ever back in Thailand, I now have a boat to use in Bangkok.  A very successful Thai businessman ended up purchasing a Peinert after I extolled the virtues of our sport upon learning that his apartment building – and I mean his entire building –  is on a river.  He couldn’t make a go of it without coaching (… needed to know a few of the little things we may take for granted, like how the oars fit in the riggers), but kept the boat.

Since you will make new friends and also want to show your appreciation to your host in general, it’s always good idea to bring a gift in anticipation of your host’s effort or at least remember to send one afterward.  And don’t forget to bring cash for gifts for those you’ve left at home while you’re on your rowing adventure … and for yourself! Some terrific gear is available out there. Italian unis are especially stylish; on the other hand, I found the free market had not quite penetrated all of Russia while I was there.  Finally, bring along a camera or cell phone to make sure you capture photos of your adventures for the Star and for anyone out there in the future who may not believe that you’ve dodged sharks in your single in Sydney!

That’s it, for now. I leave you with a few of my “bests” and “worsts” from my own journey. Good luck!

In Florence with my son Giorgio Young; the famous Ponte Vecchio in the foreground

My Zagat-Like List of SuperlativesMost tranquil: Ioannina, a placid lake with ancient monastery on a small island
Most exotic: Bangkok! From ducking giant barges on the might Chao Phra to tiny residential canals, dotted with Buddhist temples
Most historic: WWII by water – Wansee to Potsdam
Most miasmal: Madras, amid mosquito swarms; however, boat porters and gin and tonics
Most miserable conditions: St Petersburg; an industrial site, cold rain, Soviet-style club (not for amateurs; no way to buy their outfits; Putin arriving next day, etc.). Still…it was Russia and that was cool
Most technically advanced: University of Tokyo’s robotic forklifts, programmable to retrieve shells stacked really high
Most financially secure: Flamengo, supported by Brazil’s most popular football club (it’s a long story)
Least financially secure: Rowing facility in Portugal; mostly a shed, a couple of boats, tricky access to local mud flats, and one very dedicated and kind young woman to provide access
Best food: Anywhere in Italy, but a nice trattoria inside the Florence club and famous Fiorentina steaks provide an excellent source of muscle building protein
Best opportunity to be food: A tie, between Syndey (sharks; I was assured that they were there) and South Africa (hippos; I was assured that they were not there)
Most dedicated cities/sites: Adelaide, where my hotel sat on a winding river reminiscent of England, full of rowing clubs; also, Cannes, where the canal is dedicated to rowing