As fall foliage colors the Northeast landscapes, boathouses concurrently fill with novice rowers eager to test their mettle. With them, returning athletes working for race-readiness that a summer by the beach failed to cultivate. Coaches, let's get those rowers on the water!
Thankfully for all, fall races appear with the autumnal equinox, and the 30th Annual Charlie Butt Scullers Head of the Potomac was just four days after the change of season. A stunning Harvest Moon appeared during the week, accompanied by unseasonably warm weather, and off to the head races it was for row2k.
Saturday's weather in the DC area was what some would consider brutal rowing conditions: mid-90s and humid. The 2.8-mile Scullers Head of the Potomac on Sunday had the good fortune of several clicks lower on the thermometer, with light rain falling on the river. The resulting calm water was favorable for crews transitioning into longer pieces.
The SHOP holds onto the roots of head racing, with "training-through" the apparent standard. It was also stripped of the central rowing-shopping-mall scene of some regattas. The course is not extremely technical, but with some coxswain and bow choices that can affect the outcome, for sure. The second span of the Key Bridge was the best line, and with that, a first-mile set-up that included sticking close to a pair of green buoys at the "Hens and Chickens" and the "Three Sisters" cluster of mini-islands. Many of the younger coxies in the youth category remained on a shore line, which cost them plenty. In the girls youth eights race, a mid-pack flotilla followed one errant cox like sheep, and the entire group must have lost at least 10 seconds there. Although there was not a novice category here, maybe a few slipped in the starting chute.
There are two launch sites: one for the hosts Potomac Boat Club, a huge (in numbers, not boathouse size) club on Water Street in Georgetown, not far from the proposed GU boathouse site that has met with design, zoning and funding challenges. Although the PBC boathouse is not an official launch location, there were so many entries from the hosts, it was busy all day with boats of all sizes, from the winning Open Single sculler Maria Bokulich to the speedy Masters Men's Eight who won with a raw time almost 45 seconds faster than the next craft.
The main launch site was the bustling Thompson Boat Center, a boathouse hosting several programs, including Georgetown University and youth/high school programs galore. In fact, since there is no official racing and training in the fall high school rowing season in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, many of these emancipated athletes become TBC club rowers. The coach for TBC, clearly still working on line-ups and with a deep talent pool, randomly switched from entering TBC boats as A-B-C, to entries like "Cox Six", "Place Holder", and an unfortunate scratched entry in the Youth Women's Eight: "Cox Thisisannoying", an ill-fated crew at best.
The races commenced on Sunday with an out-of-town youth 1x entry from West Side Rowing Club in Buffalo, William Downing, taking the top berth by ten seconds to Vadim Medish of St Alban's. Turns out the young Downing's father was a Georgetown rower in the eighties, and made a family vacation of the trip to DC.
The Club Eight was won by one of many entries from the talented boys from Chaminade High School in Mineola, NY, with one of the fastest times on the course Sunday, at 14.01 (the fastest was 14 flat by Georgetown rowing unopposed in the Open Eights). University Barge, Potomac, George Washington and Georgetown rounded out the top-five in the club category.
Both the women's Master Single men's Senior Master Single had decisive victors in PBC members Olwen Huxley and Richard Lewis, both winning by approximately a minute. Lewis will race in the same category at Head of the Charles next month. He has attended HOC for 24 years, and was a Syracuse rower in the eighties. Another run-away 1x victory occurred when 61 year-old Bob Spousta (a local coach who was in sculling events all day) won the Men's Veteran single by nearly 2 minutes raw time.
In the Open Women's Eight, Duke boats took the top-two places, followed by Georgetown, George Washington, and two more Georgetown crews. Duke also won the Open Four and the Open Quad.
The Master's Men's Double was won on a handicap, with Saugatuck rowers Mark Alloway and Saman Majd at the average age of 54 winning over the Potomac crew of Nick Holland and Todd Nix at 45. All of these names were members of platoons who claimed the top-2 points totals for their respective teams at Masters Nationals.
The Youth Eights were by far the biggest categories, with 24 boats per gender. On the boys side, two boats from Chaminade (again) grabbedg first by more than 20 seconds, then third just 4 seconds behind second-place Bethesda Chevy Chase crew, respectively. Two Thompson BC entries completed the top-five here, with 30 seconds separating the crews.
The girls side of the Youth Eights category was owned by the launch site residents at Thompson, who earned the first, second, fourth, eighth, eleventh, twelfth, fourteenth, nineteenth and twenty-first spots. Whew, no wonder the coach had a hard time with line-ups. Imagine getting these crews ready to row in the afternoon? Just one second separated the first two TBC crews, with an entry from Annapolis Junior Rowing in third, and Old Dominion Boat Club taking fifth.
Racing went off all day very close to the schedule, with a relaxed host posse gave all appearances of enjoying themselves with radios/launches/clipboards as well as oars in hand. For many crews at the race it was the start of the season...looks like there is a swift head race season ahead for the mid-Atlantic region.
Thank you for starting the season out right, Potomac, row2k will see many of you over the next couple months, cheers!