From 1867 to 1900: The Start

The 19th Century saw the Britishers start boating activity in many cities in India. This should come as no surprise considering their maritime prowess. Madras, being home to three rivers, i.e., the Kosathalayar, Cooum, and Adyar, was home to one of the first rowing centres started by the British. In 1867, quite a few of the Britishers in Chennai took to the sport in full vigour and their congregation was christened the Madras Boat Club (MBC / Club).

The first formal boating (sailing and rowing) activities of MBC took place on Ennore Creek, which is fed by the Kosathalayar. In the last quarter of the century, rowing was active on the Cooum, which winds its way through the city. Towards the end of 19th century, rowing was active in the Long Lake of Nungambakkam (this lake has since disappeared). As the commerce of Chennai moved South, perhaps driven by Mount Road, from Fort St George to St Thomas Mount, rowing activity slowly shifted to the Adyar River flowing straight through South Chennai. In all these places, boat houses were constructed appropriately.

The first available record of MBC, the annual report for 1874 and the 8th since the Club’s inception, speaks of 32 rowing and 24 non-rowing members. The Club, by then, had also the position of Captain of Boats, a tradition followed till date. This annual report speaks of sending a team to Poona (Pune) for a regatta. Annual Regattas soon followed which included events such as Coxed Ladies Pair.

Towards the end of the century, rowing had firmly moved to the present location. Rowing was active in all categories of boats including Eights. And in the year 1898, the club coat - dark blue with brass buttons - and the club monogram, which is in use even today without modification, were adopted by the then committee. That year also saw the first races between Madras and Colombo. This was the start of a rivalry that exists even today. 1900 saw the launch of the Merchants and Bankers Regatta with participation from British mercantile firms like Binnys, Parrys, Gordon Woodroffe etc.

From 1901 to 1950: Long and hard

By the early part of the 20th century, the Club was holding three regattas a year. These were the Cold Weather, Hot Weather, and Monsoon Regattas. MBC expanded its facility on the Adyar River to 5 boat bays during this time. By 1911, the sailing boats were handed over to the Yacht Club and MBC remained a Rowing Club. Over this period, Club steadily added more facilities like pontoon, landing stages, ladies room, bar and shower rooms. With gay bougainvillea and large tree cover, MBC was a pretty picture.

The First World War (1914-18) saw a dip in activity as many of the senior members were occupied on the war front. Post war, Rowing revived in 1920 and to the delight of the Club, younger members took to rowing with enthusiasm. By 1930, apart from rowing against Poona, Calcutta and Colombo, MBC took on Rangoon Boat Club.

In the year 1933, the Amateur Rowing Association of the East (ARAE) was formed. Madras Boat Club along with The Bombay Gymkhana Club, The Calcutta Rowing Club, The Karachi Boat Club, The Rangoon Boat Club and the Royal Connaught Boat Club became the founding members. In the first regatta held at Poona in 1933, the Fours was won by the Madras Boat Club and it is on record that a ‘Pair Oared Race’ was held, which was also won by Madras Boat Club.

During this period, Club was steered by the Rt Rev E. H. M. Waller, Bishop of Chennai. Rowing benefitted from the Captainship of P.H.Wilson.

The Second World War (1939 – 1945) once again saw a major dip in rowing activities of the Club. With India attaining Independence in 1947, membership of the club was opened to Indians in 1949. The first Indian members were Dr. K.S. Sanjivi, K.S. Appa Rao, K. Gopalakrishnan, K.M. Nanjappa, K.S. Ranganathan, K.S. Anantharaman (ICS), V.S. Shankar, N.S. Arunachalam, M.V. Arunachalam, M. Hussain, and C.V. Narasimhan (ICS). However, till the 1950s, rowing continued to be dominated by Britishers.

From 1951 to till date: Settling Down

In 1953, Janji Varugis and M.M. Muthiah were elected as Members. They both left a mark on the club in their own way. In 1956, Varugis became the first Indian to be elected to a Committee. In 1957, he became the first Indian Captain of Boats. Varugis named two of the boats, Buddha and Ganesan, in

memory of the former Head Lascar and Butel respectively. In 1968, M.M. Muthiah became the first Indian President of the Club. Between them, they steered the transition of the Club from British led to Indian managed.

1957, at the instance of M.M. Muthiah, club doors were opened to student membership. This was a move that would bring a steady flow of talent that continues till date. In 1962, modernization of the club facilities was completed. Boat buildings were set back from the river and a lawn was accommodated between the building and the river.

In 1963, U Prabhakar Rao became the first Indian to win Challenge Sculls. In 1967, the 100th Annual General Meeting was held on 13th January. In the same year, Club also won the prestigious Willingdon Fours at the ARAE Regatta. In 1969, perhaps a first in the world of rowing, the Ramakrishnan sisters Vimala, Uma, Prabha, Gita and Rama (Cox), won the Ladies Fours in Madras-Colombo Regatta.

In the early seventies, Mr. Borun Chanda, introduced a pattern of organized coaching and training and this paved the way for better performances on the water. In 1972, MBC won the Willingdon Trophy and followed it up the very next year, 1973 by winning all the three trophies at the ARAE Regatta. Pervez Mulla won the Willingdon Trophy twice. He was one of the most notable rower in club history and was honoured with life membership. Other notable oarsmen during the period were Pervez Raffath Sayeed and M.M.Sanyal.

In 1974, in order to take rowing beyond inter-club regattas, club members consisting of M.M. Muthiah, Borun Chanda, R.R. Bangara, Prabhakar Rao, J. Varugis, Mahesh Rao, Pervez Mulla, Masilamani, KR Ramachandran, Kapalisastry and Vijaykumar along with MBC, founded the Tamilnadau Amateur Rowing Association (TARA). And very soon, along with Calcutta Rowing Association, they formed the Rowing Federation of India (RFI).

In 1977, the first Indian National Rowing Championship was held in Calcutta. Tamilnadu was represented by rowers from the Madras Boat Club. At the 1979 Nationals, at Calcutta, MBC rowers helped Tamilnadu win the Gold in the Junior Coxed Fours event (Naseer Khaleeli, Arjun Srinivasan, MJ Rajiv, Prakash Madhavan and Coxed by Sanjay Madhavan) and Open Single Sculls (R. Chandramouli).

The Merchants and Bankers (M&B) regatta was well alive in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Companies like Parrys, Metal Box, Dunlop Rubber, Best & Crompton, MRF, Sanmar and Carborundum Universal drove the competition. In another unique crew, the Kesavan family of Sheker, Mohan, Suresh, Pratap and coxed by their father Kesavan, won the Challenge Fours trophy in 1983 and 1984.

In the 1980 National Championship, MBC members representing Tamilnadu, reached the finals of 6 events, eventually winning 2 golds and 3 silvers with the Crew of comprising of Chandramouli, Giri, Ajaz Sikander, Naresh Vasudev and Ramesh Guruswamy won the Gold in Open Fours. And Chandramouli successfully defended his Single Sculls title1981, MBC rowers had the most successful outing in Nationals winning 4 Golds and a Bronze (Vikram Venkataram (Open Single Scull), Ravindra and Ketan (Open Coxless Pairs), Sanjeev Kesu, Zarwan Patel, Bharat Vijay and G Narayan coxed by MV Sriram – Open 4+). This is the first crew from Tamilnadu to win on a course of 2 Kms. Sanjeev and G Narayan also won the Junior Coxless Pair. 1982, performance would be repeated and Zarwan Patel would win Gold in Scull, Pair (along with Sanjeev Kesu) and Fours (with Sanjeev Kesu, S Sattanathan and Ramesh G and Coxed by Ravi V).

Gopal Madhavan became the first Indian to be granted International Umpire License for Rowing. Later Sam Medora (1984) and Chanko Kandathil (2000) would become the second and third from Tamlnadu to get earn this distinction. In 1982, MV Sriram coxed the Indian Fours in the Asian Games. Chacko Kandathil was the Coach for the Indian team. S Ravi was in Reserve. 1983 saw M.J. Rajiv selected to the National Team to represent India in the World Rowing Championship, Germany. Borun Chanda was the Coach and Abraham Kandathil, Manager of the contingent.

In 1985 and 1986, the club juniors came to the fore once again, with Anand Ranganath and S.Sriram, deserving special mention. The year 1986 was also the year in which the MBC senior crew of Sanjeev Kesu, Uday Jairaj, Karan Bhagat and G.Narayan, coxed by G.M.Paul made history in the Phillipines by becoming the first Club crew from India to win the Open FEARA Fours event.

By 1985 James Joseph would join the club and take rowing a level up. Coached by Abraham Kandathil, he would go to win Gold in National Rowing Championship beating the formidable Army sculler and later, win Silver in Double Scull in 1989 Asian Rowing Championship. The late ‘80s belonged to Arati Rao, Vijaya Chari, Pavitra Rao, Gayatri Acharya and Chatura Rao (Cox). They took the Gold in ARAE in 1988, ‘89 & ‘90, Gold in the National Championship 1989 and Silver in the Asian Rowing Championship. They became the first all MBC crew to represent India on Coxless Fours in the 1990 Asian Games.

In 1999, Club hosted the All-India Inter University. Rowers from the club and representing Madras & Anna Universities swept all the medals. And in the National Junior Rowing Championship, the girls crew of Rasika R, Priya N, Divya K, Kirthana C and Swetha R won the Gold in Coxed Fours representing Tamilnadu.

1999 saw the emergence of Lavanya I, Urvasi V, Lekhamitra R, Urmila V and Tulsi N on the Fours. Coached by James Joseph, they won the ARAE that year.

Followed by Madras-Colombo. In the next year, they took the Silver in the National Junior Championship. Coached by Chacko Kandathil, they were chosen to represent India in the Asian Junior Rowing Championship in 2000.

Towards the turn of the new century, the club embarked on a major modernization. In 1998, Mid Waters was opened. Stroke Side was opened in 2000. Club buildings were modernized extensively with the addition of Swimming Pool, Chambers and Committee Room in 2002.

Meanwhile, the next batch of rowers started making waves. Sneha, Sangamitra, Swathy, Swetha and Vandana started by winning Gold in South Zone Championship and National Sub-Junior Championship. On the boys side, Sriram, Rohit R and Romit R started making their marks. Sriram became the youngest rower to win the Macklin Trophy. Swathy and Sriram were eventually selected to represent India in 2003 and 2004 Asian Junior Rowing Championship.

Swathy would go on to represent India in Asian Junior Championship, Junior World Rowing Championship, Asia Rowing Championship in 2005 and represent India in 2006 Asian Games. And Rohit Ravindra would go on to represent India in Junior World Rowing Championship 2005.

2005 saw Tushar Bansal winning National Sub-Junior Sculls. Tushar would form a formidable combination with Rohit Ravindra on the Pair to win Madras-Colombo and Venable Bowls many times.

On the boys side, Sriram, Rohit R and Romit R started making their marks. Sriram became the youngest to win the Macklin Trophy. Swathy and Sriram were eventually selected to represent India in 2003 and 2004 Asian Junior Rowing Championship. Swathy would go on to represent India in Asian Junior Championship, Junior World Rowing Championship, Asia Rowing Championship in 2005 and represent India in 2006 Asian Games. And Rohit Ravindra would go on to represent India in Asian Junior Rowing Championship 2005.

2005 saw Tushar Bansal winning National Sub-Junior Sculls. Tushar would form a formidable combination with Rohit Ravindra on the Pair to win Madras-Colombo and Venable Bowls many times.

2006 saw the club electing the first ever women Captain, Shakuntala Chanda. That year also saw the next team in Sneha Venkat, Pooja Balu and Rahul Baliga. Rahul Baliga would go on to dominate most, if not all, of his races in ARAE till date. In the ARAE hosted in Karachi, the Club would bring back Hoogly Trophy after a gap of many years.

In the 68th ARAE hosted on home waters, MBC took Willingdon Fours, Venable Bowls, Ladies Single, Ladies Pair, Ladies Four and Veteran Fours. This would see the emergence of Fazila Husain and Shruti Kamath in full force. And also Anirudh Sanjeev, one of the most successful Coxswain and highly sought by both Men and Women’s team. Shruti Kamath, selected to the Indian Team, stroked the Coxless Fours to Gold in Asian Junior Rowing Championship in 2011. She would go on gather honours in USA rowing for her University.

2010 would see the next set of rowers to emerge. Aditi, Sankavi, Iha, Tarunikha and later Ashwathy and Dhitika. Tarunika would win National Sub-Junior Scull twice in a row in 2010 & 11, while Niranjan took Gold in 2011. And Aditi would participate in all categories in the same year i.e., National Sub-Junior (Bronze), National Sprint (Gold), Asian Junior and National Senior (Bronze). Aditi, Ashwathy (A national level swimming champion) and Tarunikha were selected to National Team in 2012 for Asian Junior Championship. Tarunikha again selected in 2013 represented India in Asian Junior winning Bronze and later represented India in 2014 Asian Games. This core team would retain the Adyar Trophy in ARAE for two years in 2012 (Philippines) and 2013 (Chennai).

In 2015 Rohit Mardapa was selected to the National Team to Cox the Senior Fours in Asian Rowing Championship. India team, under his Coxing, would go on to win the Silver. 2015 would see Siddarth Sunil and Ram Saravana Raja winning Silver National Open Sprint Championship after a very long gap. And 2016, MBC would return home successfully after winning Willingdon Trophy, Venable Bowls in Pune.

As we go into the 150th year of the Club and 75th ARAE Regatta, the next batch of rowers is slowly emerging from the shadows.

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