It all started when…
a rowing race was run between Teignmouth and Shaldon in 1773, as mention in a letter to Fanny Burney. It is of course possible that this was the start of a more extensive series of races and therefore a regatta but we mark the first Shaldon Regatta as having been in 1817. This makes it one of the oldest regattas in existence!
The regatta was first reported in the Exeter Flying Post in 1848 and mentions a course of twice around the harbour keeping below the bridge so that spectators were able to see the whole of the race.
Various races were staged including one for four oars that women rowed in full decoration including colourful gowns and caps.
This was followed by the gig & punt race where the smaller one man punt was raced by a larger gig around the harbour. This race is still run in the regatta today and is a re-enactment of the scene were the pilots who brought the boats across the bar into the port were paid for each navigation. This caused a race to be had to be first to a ship requiring pilotage between the small Shaldon punt and the Teignmouth gig.
it is recorded that the Reverend Hutton objected to women taking part in the regatta. Fortunately his objections were ignored! It is also reported that there was an increase in beach sports and a duck race, another event that is still popular in today's calendar.
By 1878 the event was still a one day meeting being reported as "This pretty little aquatic meeting...." By 1883 it is known that a fair was set up along the Strand and Marine Parade.
the fun lasted over two days as more events were introduced with prize money being quite substantial. £3, £2, and £1 were up for grabs for the top events. The sailing events had as their prizes such delights as an oak water jug, a butter dish and a butter dish along with an electro-plated jam dish!
Both wars saw the postponement of the regatta.
Some interesting events started to creep in to the programme including the greasy pole which the men had to try and clamber up to win a joint of meat from the top and the diving off the quay to collect plates.
It was after the Second World War that swimming was introduced with the races being held between the Quay and the Manor House. The races were handicapped with the tallest participant being made to stand further out in the depths. The then Chairman of the Regatta, Mr Morgan-Giles noted these as a 'waterside gymkahna' but were later re-named as the Happy-Go-Lucky Water Sports, a name that is still in use today.
The regatta had stretched to three days by 1954 with the re-introduction of the gig and punt race raising much hilarity as the five Shaldon men rowed their boat dressed as women.
the regatta was growing to something like it is now with the introduction of the marathon row from Dawlish. This inaugural three mile row was won by Roger Stoyle and Bernard Howard from a field of twenty-two.
The increase in popularity of the races meant that many youngsters who didn't have a dinghy weren't able to row so the Chairman, Mr Charles Hulbert, started a project to build a standard boat from a mould taken from an original Jack Matthews built craft. The original six are still used today but now there are hundreds of these boats in existence and races in the regatta are restricted to this type with wooden oars.
Today the regatta has grown to nine days and ends on the August bank holiday Monday.
It's a wonderful time with many of the participants coming to stay in the village for the fortnight and renewing annual acquaintances.
The emphasise is on involving children on the water in a competitive but controlled situation and for anyone to be able to take part.
Spectators are well catered for as well with the introduction of beach sports including Beach Kricket (to Shaldon rules!), volleyball, rounders, football and netball.
River activities have also increased with the introduction of the four man Seine boats, taken from an original Syd Hook mould.
Sailing is also very popular. The regatta have six Otter sailing boats for use in races that any aspiring sailor is welcome to use even if they've never set foot in a boat before.