From 8:00 am until close of business on Saturday, October 28 rain drenched crews at the Head of the Fish in Saratoga Springs, NY. Despite occasional breaks in the showers, rain was an impressive force in the day's goings-on. The same weather front cancelled the Head of the Schuylkill in Philadelphia scheduled for the same day. In response to the reports of heavy winds and driving rain coming to the course over the weekend, regatta directors shorted the course (but did not cancel Saturday) to the sheltered part on Fish Creek only-not extending beyond the 9P bridge, thus eliminating where it tends to get ugly; beyond 9P toward Saratoga Lake. However, 45-50 MPH gale force winds were expected to show up later in the day and Masters events scheduled for the first time on a Sunday were all cancelled by Saturday evening.
On Saturday, even with the grisly elemental assault due to show up for dinner, the water was flat. If athletes didn't mind the water drops rolling off their cold red snouts, it was fairly enjoyable rowing for two miles of relatively straight course. The singles could provide the most dramatic reports-just as the fleet of small boats headed out to the start line at Stafford's Bridge from the state boat launch near the finish, the sky delivered a downpour that filled boats with a few quarts of the stuff. Another similar liquid deposit happened during the Open Women's 8.
The nasty weather also prevented a happy tradition at the Head of the Fish for crews to wear costumes and/or festive hats during the race-only a few partook this year (see photos) Years ago the Canadian Women's National Team Eight came down the course dressed as Mounties; rainbow attire, colorful socks and jester hats make regular appearances as well.
Racing went off on schedule, even ahead of schedule at times, with an estimated 200 fewer boats due to the expected change in weather. Last year about 1100 boats went down the course in one day, an estimated 1200 were due to fill the narrow Fish this weekend, thus the additional day. The final tally of about 740 boats meant that there were gaps in races going off-and you could hear the marshals in the staging area shouting across the creek when the starting line asked for boats to come forward: "I got no one to start!"
There were several scholastic events, including 1V-4V High School 8s in Women's, 1V-3V categories for men. Race Director Chris Chase of SRA said that "the reality is these boats were all coming anyway, we just figured some of the bigger programs would be able to take all their crews and have them race for awards with more categories." In recent years they also re-instituted the pairs, and more junior sculling events. Truthfully, Scholastic rowing is the bailiwick of SRA, they knew that junior categories would be well-subscribed.
There were some expressed regrets over the cancellation of the entire Masters ticket on Sunday, but the weather did not cooperate with the concept of having the ever-growing Master's population has their own day to play. Chase says "It really was a logical choice to move the masters to Sunday-colleges and scholastic crews have restrictions about when they can race, and how far they can go...masters really are most flexible and self-sufficient. It was a way to nurture the growth of Masters rowing." Chase also mentions that trailer space (maxed out a Lee's park with 86 trailers, the mud did not help that situation) and launching/dock logistics were taken in to consideration.
So, disputes about the weather (which, let's face it... we have no control over) aside, racing was sloppy fun at Fish Creek on Saturday. They day started with the Freshman Novices, and as they crew moved to full-pressure after rowing 6's for a greater part of the season, crabs abound. Can you imagine the trailer-talk? "How many crabs did your boat catch?" "Oh, six!" "But the first one was in the first five strokes of the race!" "Ours dragged us into the weeds!" Wow, powerful stuff for 12-year olds. The gossip could go on for a week. Other Junior Frosh events were mixed in, and there were quite a few crews looking sharp out there. The coaching staff from St. Catherine's in Ontario gets the row2k nod for having the most technically prepared crews out there. Impressive given their short rowing season. Competitive High School teams from Community Rowing in Boston, some of whom are coached by former Saratoga Springs resident Matt Lehrer, also had some quality rows. Hosts SRA always has their entire 230-strong contingent out there in as many races as possible, many of whom were racing in sculling events this year for the first time, a trend Chase wants to continue. Jim Tucci, coach of Skidmore College (another Fish Creek resident) is using a sculling approach to get their historically strong D3 program ready for the spring, and four of next year's varsity 8 went out as Novice singles, Cameron Dunn crossing ahead of her pack.
The small boats were next; an army of 85+ hit the course in the worst conditions of the day. Some went out to warm-up too early, including 2004 Olympian Sloan DuRoss, who was not warming up after a while but likely getting cold and stiff for about 45 minutes near the "broken bridge" which is the end of rowable water on the creek. Up-and-coming elite Canadian rower Ryan Slate went one second faster down the course, looking every bit the winner of this event at 12:25. DuRoss came back in the mixed double with a win with girlfriend Andi Morin from the Canadian National team. Lightweight events were not big here-seems that many LW crews were planning on being in Philadephia for the Schuylkill. Open 8's had Hobart winning the men, UMass Amherst taking the women's category, Williams and Colgate brought home second and third for the women, Wesleyan and Williams same for the men.
The Juniors went back in action for the end of the day, giving the dockmaster some breathing room for recovery and launching of eights, and above-mentioned crews were consistent in these categories. Greenwich also brought some good crews in the Junior events, as did smaller programs like the Gunnery School in Connecticut. Some of the younger scullers had problems with the course near the Saratoga Boat Works where the wind and unfamiliarity with the more advantageous line (considerably more to port), caused clashes with moored boats and flipping.
Here's the final kicker on race day fun. Seems Jim Flanders, a USRA official had a big plan for Sunday after the finish over the Women's Master Single. He was going to ask girlfriend Kathryn Sisk to marry her. Both local residents, Sisk is an English teacher at Saratoga Springs High School, Flanders also an English teacher who inspires inmates at an Albany jail with a little Shakespeare. With masters events cancelled, Flanders had to drop back and punt and crafted a ruse to get her to the 9P bridge the next morning. Result? The happy couple is now engaged and had a reception at the Skidmore Community Rowing/ Skidmore College boathouse near the starting line the next morning. Champagne flowed and both are thinking of a summer wedding - teachers are off that time, seems logical!