• Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Jul 28, 2009 1:16 PM
By Nancy Crossman

My grandfather died when my mother was only 14 years old, so I never got the chance to hear him tell the tale of the day he and the crew from Outer Cove set the famous 9:13 record at the 1901 Royal St. John's Regatta. However, my mother told us the story about her father and the 9:13 ever since I was a child. She has since passed on as well, the last surviving member of Denis and Mary Croke's children. She was very proud of her father and loved to share his story with us.

Denis Croke was Irish, and a fisherman who supported his family by the sweat of his brow. My mother told me he was a very strong man - "strong as an ox," she would say. The men who formed the Outer Cove crew were friends who enjoyed a strong rivalry with the Torbay crew.

Today, I still feel an immense sense of pride in my grandfather. He and the Outer Cove Crew are a very big part of the history of the Royal St. John's Regatta, and are listed in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. One has to wonder, if the crews who row in the regatta today still used the same equipment as the 1901 crews, would the 9:13 record ever have been broken?

In 1989, I visited the CLB Armory in St. John's and had a golden opportunity to view the Blue Peter, the boat my grandfather rowed to victory. It was suspended from the ceiling, and I remember feeling completely awestruck by both its size and what it represented. I felt overwhelmed with emotion and couldn't hold back tears as I imagined my grandfather sitting in the third position in the boat as they rowed into history. The Armory burned to the ground not long after that, and the Blue Peter was lost forever. The pictures I took that day didn't turn out very well. But I have tucked snapshots of what I saw, like precious gems, into my memory.

I only wish I could have met my grandfather. How amazing it would have been to hear his story in his own words. I can only imagine how fierce the competition must have been that day on Quidi Vidi Lake. My grandfather and the Outer Cove Crew had no idea they were making history when they won that race, in the fastest time recorded in 80 years.

The following is a poem I wrote in memory of my grandfather and his place in Regatta history.


My Grandfather and the St. John's Regatta

The St. John's Regatta is alive and well,
Now it's nearly two centuries old.
My grandfather is part of its history,
But his story is seldom told.

A poor Irish fisherman was Denis Croke,
Proud and strong was he.
More at home in a dory than on the land,
He spent most of his life at sea.

Denis was from Outer Cove,
And the man could handle an oar.
He joined his friends to form a team,
The Regatta they were aiming for.

In 1901, on Quidi Vidi Lake,
The Outer Cove team set the pace.
They rowed their boat Blue Peter,
And they won the race.

But winning wasn't all they did,
Although their victory was sweet.
Their record time was nine thirteen,
And it took 80 years to beat.

It's been a hundred years or so,
Since Granddad had his win.
Though he was gone before I was born,
I'm so very proud of him.

Barbara Wilkins

Very heart warming Nancy. Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

colleen jack

My grandfather was also a member of this crew. He was David Hickey of Outer Cove. I love to look at the old photographs of that crew and wish I could have been there to see them win. Colleen ( Hickey )Jack.

Ashley C.

Great story and poem, Nancy. Does anybody else have a special Regatta memory?