According to Joseph Serracino (2010), documents show that the regatta regatta as we now know it was introduced in 1822, to celebrate the feast of Our Lady of Victories, when cash prizes and linen flags (palju) were awarded . At the turn of the twentieth century boat races were very common on feast days, particularly in towns surrounding Grand Harbour. The historian Pietru Pawl Castagna (1865, 1890), in his voluminous encyclopaedic treatise on Malta and „Malteseness‟ (Malta bil Gzejer Tahha u li Ghadda Min Ghaliha) refers to the Victory regatta as having four different events: the four-oared fishing boats, the two-oared, four-oared passenger boats, and the four-oared caiques. Besides the „palju‟, cash prizes were given to the first three winners in each category. These four races were keenly contested for the winning „palju‟.
The traditional Maltese rowing style predates the reestablishment of the Olympic Games as we now know them. It may be considered as a hybrid between the rowing styles practiced in the UK, particularly in the South West of England, and Italy, which, over the years, became practically unique to Malta.
The format and regulations related to the National Regatta rowing races is heavily guarded through appropriate regulations and legislation. For example, in August 1975, the Malta Government Gazette published a set of rules for the races to be held in September. Most of these regulations, including a set of specifications for the boats, are still in use nowadays although some minor technical regulations (e.g. those related to permitted distances for overtaking) were updated over the years.
At present in the National Regatta races, held annually on the 31st March (Freedom Day) and the 8th September (Festa tal-Vittorja), rowers compete in two categories; Category A and B where, at least on paper, Category A is intended to be for the professional rowers whilst Category B is intended for the less experienced participants. In practice, since races are only held twice a year, there is a great level of competition in both of these categories.
The traditional Maltese rowing style and form is currently the subject of a study by the University of Malta through a project running under the auspices of the Faculty of Heath Sciences. For further information about this project one may contact Tonio P. Agius, John Xerri de Caro or Joseph N Grima.
References: J. Serracino, Times of Malta, 2010.