Ruth Marr, President of Rowing The World, first met Viv at a British Rowing Tour in Gloucestershire in 2014. Ruth was the only Canadian and gratefully filled a seat in a Weybridge Ladies Amateur Rowing Club (WLARC) boat. Over one of the shared dinners, Ruth and Viv discovered they shared a passion for rowing travel and showing others how rowers can enjoy the sport away from their local areas. This gave Ruth the idea of finding local rowing guides who could lead Rowing The World trips when she was not there. After helping lead with Ruth Marr for a couple of years, Viv, supported by Gilly Dean, is now the lead guide for Rowing The World’s Classic River Thames.
The Weybridge Ladies ARC, in Surrey at the southernmost point of the River Thames, is historic. Formed in 1926 by a pioneer of women’s rowing, Amy Gentry, it is now supported and sustained by its proud members.
Vivien Jackson was 37 when she started rowing. She had recently lost her mother. One day, while walking along the River Thames in her neighbourhood, she happened to pass the Weybridge Ladies clubhouse. A group of women just back from a row, some who knew Amy Gentry, welcomed her and offered to take her out in a boat as she had expressed an interest in always wanting to try rowing.
“It seemed more than chance that led me to find a group of inspiring women to take me under their wings and teach me to row,” says Viv, as she is known. “The River Thames was a healing environment. I found a wonderful group of feisty women who became lifelong friends.”
Considering she was born within half a mile of the Thames, rowing seems the perfect fit for Viv Jackson. Certainly the timing was perfect.
More than two decades later, Viv has proven to be an excellent rowing guide on the Thames.
“I enjoy coxing, and love learning the various terms used by guests from different countries, such as ‘easy oars’, ‘way enough’ or just ‘stop rowing!’”
Viv also loves learning about the rowing background of each guest and where they row regularly, which always gets her thinking about rowing in their home waters.
“I love the challenges of getting to know the rowers’ abilities and combining the crews to keep boats fairly close together, Viv says. “It is also important to keep changing the mix as it helps the group get to know each other.”
She has taken part in rowing tours and events in France, Germany and Finland and on home waters, including the Head of the Dart in Devon and the Great River Race in London, encouraging her club crews to participate. She’s done the Vogalonga in Venice, in both rowing boats and dragon boats.
“The Vogalonga provides the most wonderful opportunity to view Venice from the water—to row the Grand Canal is just the best experience ever.”
One of her favourite rows has been as a member of the crew rowing the Queen’s row barge, Gloriana, which celebrates the tradition of British boatbuilding and craftsmanship.
“I submitted my name to row Gloriana, but it was three years before the first ‘call to oars.’ I was beyond excited when I heard that I was successful and had a seat in the boat for the Tudor Pull.”
In this annual pageant, Gloriana travels 25 miles powered by 18 rowers in a ceremonial event to carry the Stela, a slice of ancient wooden water pipe, from Hampton Court to The Tower of London. Crowds line the banks of the river to applaud her passage, one of 10 to 20 events Gloriana is present at throughout the year. Her Majesty the Queen has been on the gilded barge the day she named her in 2012 and for a private event in 2013. If interested in being a rower for Gloriana, you may apply on the official Queen’s Rowbarge website.
Other than being a rowing guide, Viv is an involved member of the WLARC. She is a qualified British rowing coach and has held a number of key roles on the club committee over the years including vice-captain, and is currently regatta secretary.
“Because I am very involved in the preparation before and on the day of our own club’s regatta, I’m delighted when rowers say it remains a favourite in many club’s race calendars.”
While enjoying being an integral part of club activities, Viv, like many rowers, never forgets the mental and physical well-being that rowing provides.
“Being on the water as a rowing guide, outdoors, always aware of the weather and changing seasons is so great,” she says. And changing places is great, too. “If you love travelling and rowing both, you see a place from a different perspective, and travel with a group of people who share your passion for the sport when you travel AND row.”