There have been many different tales from the Head of the Lake since it first began in 1912 - but few have been conducted in circumstances as unusual as those surrounding this 2021 event.
Still but muggy conditions allowed the prestige races to run as planned - just a week after the city had been in strict lockdown - but the spectator ban created a situation that was close to farcical.
Rarely have the shores of Lake Wendouree been so alive with people "just walking their dog", strolling or cycling on the sidelines. And those long looks out to the two-kilometre rowing course bisecting the water? Pure coincidence of course.
One couple, perched in collapsible chairs by the water, had come up to Melbourne for the occasion. Reluctant to be named because onlookers were not allowed, the man, who was wearing an old Ballarat Clarendon College school cap, said he came from a long tradition of rowing.
"I have been coming since 1963," he said. "This is a very special day for us. It's absolutely ridiculous [the spectator ban]."
I have been coming since 1963. This is a very special day for us. It's absolutely ridiculous [the spectator ban]. The Head of the Lake used to stop Ballarat.Spectator, Head of the Lake
"The Head of the Lake used to stop Ballarat. Even if you weren't interested in rowing, you would come along to watch."
Further up towards the finish, another spectator was swapping long lens cameras on a bench by the side of the path.
"Just birdwatching," she explained with a knowing grin before heading back to the metal railings on the lakeside to capture the senior boys mid-battle.
With the first event under way, ever larger clusters of people had gathered by the water's edge, tuning into every stroke. Many of them had smartphones glued to their ears, the online livefeed telling them what their eyes could not as the Ballarat Grammar crew began to edge away.
As the rowers passed the finish line, another family on an early morning stroll moved round the lake towards the judging box, which was gated off from the public. "All that hard work paid off - fantastic," said one - presumably not a reference to their own achievements walking the Steve Moneghetti track.
Up near the Loreto campus, any pretence at not watching the event had been abandoned in colourful style.
With no spectators allowed around the course - an occasional Covid-safe marshal faced the fruitless task of policing a busy public path - students had found a convenient workaround. They took a vantage point behind the school fence, which was itself draped with large banners of support, conveniently positioned towards the finish line.
The school spit crews were another casualty of these pandemic times, but there was still plenty of atmosphere in that quarter as the girls' Head of the Lake began - the volume of which ebbed as the Loreto crew faded from contention.
A teacher, also on a coincidental dog-walk, looked a little wary, and said students had been told not to be vocal. "Who can blame them though?" they remarked.
The mayor Cr Daniel Moloney, a coach of two of the Ballarat High School junior crews running later in the day, said:
"It's a shame it's treated like just another school athletics event rather than a community event with over 100 years of tradition behind it.
"It's disappointing for all the effort the crews have put in over several months."
He suggested the school principals should consider working more closely with the City of Ballarat in the future given the event's long tradition.
Officially, the event did still have an approved Covid-safe plan to allow spectators but organisers made a post-lockdown call to run without any crowds - officially in any case.
The date had also been pushed back from Friday due to the strong winds forecast, with the event finally able to take place two days later after some doubt over whether it would even run.
"At least it happened," said Cr Moloney. "But it's a pity."
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