Rock Rowing Club's most senior member

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Rock Rowing Club’s most senior member
In this Olympic year, when we are all being encouraged and motivated to do more
exercise and sport, Sandy Towers shines out as an example to us all of how an active
lifestyle need not be just for the young. Now in his 87th year, Sandy is the oldest
rowing member of the club by twenty years. Not only does he row every Wednesday
evening in the summer and every first, third and fifth Sunday all year round (the
second and fourth Sundays are reserved for church), he also does race training and
competes at regattas. At the tender age of 81, Sandy made the podium at the annual
World Gig Championships on the Isles of Scilly when his crew won their group.
Quite deservedly and very movingly, a special tribute was paid to this remarkable
rower by the championship organisers. At this summer’s event in Port Isaac, with
huge swell and surf coming onto the beach, he neither asked for nor needed any help
to get in and out of the boat in waist-deep water, in conditions that were challenging
for the whole club.
He expects no special treatment whatsoever and because of this, it is often only
afterwards that others in the club stop and take stock of the extraordinary things he
achieves. He has rowed out to Lundy Island and back from Clovelly three times
between 2008 and 2010 (a mere 14 miles each way across open sea). He has bounced
back from pneumonia this spring and a fall last winter, which left him with bruising
on the brain, forcing him into inactivity, and with strict instructions not to do anything
that would raise his blood pressure. Not an easy ask for a man who has such energy
and thirst for life! Now completely back to his ‘old’ self, he cycles to training and
then has a long pull up the hill after rowing to get home. He can be seen barefoot in
sandals all year. As soon as he gets home after rowing, the sandals get a dunking in
the nearest water butt and are then hung up on the line. This routine is indicative of
Sandy’s tidy and efficient nature and is a clue to his professional background
Captain Towers is a navy man through and through and frequently regales others in
the club with wonderful seafaring tales. He is a fount of knowledge about all things
nautical and set many an inquisitive mind to rest when he explained that the reason
for counting ‘2, 6, heave’ when lifting the boat comes from the respective numbers
assigned to gun crew members who worked the tackle to run the gun out ready to fire.
He joined the Navy in 1944 and served until 1979. As a cadet, he first rowed and
raced in cutters – big, heavy 12-oared boats – on the River Dee and then moved on
to whalers in 1948. As a member of the flagship of the battleship training squadron,
Sandy rowed in the wardroom crew, which held their own against the seamen and
became the crew to beat. It might not be commonly known, but there were gigs in
the Navy and Sandy first rowed and sailed in them in 1945 whilst at the Royal Naval
Engineering College, Plymouth.
His introduction to Cornwall came about on his honeymoon in 1961 to Padstow.
Arriving back from sea only the night before the wedding, Sandy had relied on his
wife-to-be to plan everything. Betty had no knowledge of Cornwall but had spotted
an advert in The Lady magazine for Padstow and that is how they came to spend four
days staying right on the harbourside. This was to be the start of a long connection
with the Duchy. Being stationed in Torpoint as a training commander for two years in
the sixties gave them a chance to scout around and then, after retiring, they moved to
Cornwall in 1983.
Sandy’s first contact with Rock Rowing Club came when Danny and Jane Diplock
were setting about founding the club and writing to locals, asking them to help fund
the fledgling venture. As it was for locals, youngsters and had a connection with the
sea and rowing, Sandy and Betty happily contributed but took no further part until
after Betty’s death in 2002. Sandy’s interest in taking to the water was rekindled
with a sailing trip on a Tall Ship with the Jubilee Sailing Trust. In his inimitable self-
deprecating manner, Sandy said the Trust was dedicated to helping the disabled and
that he qualified by being over 70.
When those who had helped fund the launch of the club were asked to come and try
rowing for themselves, Sandy decided to pick up an oar again after a 35-year hiatus.
Six other older folk all had to dash off for a dinner party, so Sandy gallantly allowed
them to row first, leaving him to have a go with five strapping young men who were
existing members of the club. There was no preamble and Sandy was shown no
quarter. “Forward ready to row,” announced Jane, the coxswain, and they were off.
With his characteristically rich turn of phrase, Sandy recalls how he felt after dashing
out to the middle ground buoy and back: “I sat on a bit of Cornwall to wait for the
old pump to slow down a bit and thought to myself, ‘I still like this; I think I’ll have
another go.’”
It is to the enrichment of the club and the whole sport of gig rowing that Sandy made
that decision.
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  1. Angie Douglas

    I first met Sandy in 2010 when I started my rowing over at Rock. He is a true inspiration and has a wonderful calm and methodical approach in his coaching. I can recall the time when I went out for one of the training rows in preparation for the Lundy event… the swell was huge that evening and my jaw dropped when I could no longer see the land. But my first thought was ‘everything will be OK ‘cos Sandy is in the boat’ – how reassuring he was.

    Keep rowing Sandy – hope to see you soon!

  2. sarah Harris

    This man is an absolute inspiration. I have loved reading this article. I wish him many more happy years, both on and off the water, and very much hope to meet him at a regatta sometime. The world is a better place for having him in it.

  3. Liz Towers

    Lovely to read these tributes, Sandy, and all richly deserved, I’m sure. Well done and may you keep fit and happy. You seem to have the same effect on inexperienced crew as Shackleton did on his lot when they had to take to the boats after Endeavour sank in the Antarctic ice. I’m glad there are no killer whales to menace you off Padstow!
    So glad you are fit again – what a summer!
    Love Liz

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