April 23rd – The Buentoilliçan Boat Race

The annual Buentoilliçan Boat Race is a popular festival, and accordingly a large proportion of the City’s population turns out to watch on the riverbanks. The race (there are actually two races today, but more on that later) was originally held as a competition between the universities of de Geers and Benetek, but for most of its history many other groups have also competed. The universities are technically still in charge of organising the event, but given that they have very little control over proceedings, it is more a matter of spontaneity than organisation.

The first Boat Race was held in 1348 as the result of a drunken wager between the de Geers Bulls and the Benetek Stallions, two elitist dining societies that were composed of only exceedingly rich and aristocratic Buentoillitants. Contestants had to race from their own university’s boathouse to the other’s, with whichever team got there first winning both bragging rights and a pot of money made up from bets placed by either side. The high profile of the contestants meant that the race was heard of across the City, and by its third iteration attracted quite a crowd. On the fifth year, another university, Yerbai Noon, put forwards their own team, but were blocked from entering by the more prestigious universities.

Less well-off members of de Geers and Benetek were also blocked from joining the teams, even when the contest became an official tradition of the universities themselves in 1354, and those who weren’t members of the Bulls or Stallions were supposedly allowed to put themselves forward. This was partly because all the team members were required to place enough money in the pot, but also because the team selection process was still run by the elitist dining societies. All of this changed in 1359, when a group of working class sailors forcibly competed in the race and stole the prize money when they won. In the following years many more groups chose to simply compete without asking permission, eventually leading to the situation we have today.

Today well over three hundred teams will cram into makeshift craft stationed at two points along the Moway, one at the New de Geers Boathouse, the other at the docks (these new positions were chosen after the river’s course was changed in 1432). Because of the flow of the river, the rules have changed so that the rowers (sailing and motorised craft are banned, one of the few enforced rules of the race) have to sail to one point and then back again, so that one direction isn’t always disadvantaged. Most teams will choose to start the race at the docks, so that when they lack energy in the second stage of the race they are helped along by the river. There are, however, usually a number of teams who choose to start at the other end, and this inevitably leads to clashes mid-way along the river.

Piratical tactics aren’t against the rules of the race, and tend to be quite common, although the race winners are usually those who manage to avoid these skirmishes. Although it is technically against the rules, teams are generally permitted to grapple onto and slow other craft, although they may not sink other vessels, or knock other rowers into the water, for obvious safety reasons (these tactics were also allowed until thirteen people died one year). As a result, teams usually enter at least two craft into the race, or create sympathetic bonds with other teams, whereby one craft is designed to actually race, whereas the other is designed to ensnare and obstruct others. Usually these craft start at opposite ends of the river.

As previously stated, there are actually two races today; the second race, held by the True Traditionalists, is called the Real Buentoilliçan Boat Race, and involves two teams running up and down the Lost Channel Communal Farm (where the Moway used to run before it was redirected), holding a boat aloft above their heads. While the original boathouses no longer stand, the route has been extensively planned using old maps, and is supposedly 99% accurate to the original route. As expected, this race is far less popular, and most years the True Traditionalists are forced to field both teams themselves.

Nowadays the prize money no longer exists, due to repeated thefts, but a small decorative rowboat made of silver is instead awarded to each year’s winners. This year the team put forward by the Church of Meditative Exercise is hotly tipped as the favourite, but this is Buentoille, after all, and anything could happen.

Other festivals happening today:

  • Fremore Jones’ Festival of Finding Happiness Alone
  • The Festival of Bleeding the Text