row2k Features
Head of the Ponds Regatta - A Commentary
September 23, 2020
Daniel Schley

Men's and Women's 1x winners Gregg Stone (Cambridge Boat Club) and Weatherly Dorris (Union Boat Club) holding their 1st place trophies: a 10 oz container of Ponds Cold Cream

As rowers and dedicated competitors, we have all suffered the indignity of Covid. Some might say we've only lost a year, but to our senior high school and collegiate athletes it was their last year. To our older Olympians, it may have been their last shot or their only shot. And to those of us in the prime of our lives - 60+! - it is one less year of the few we honestly have remaining as active and competitive athletes.

Many of us have continued training in the hope that Covid would release its pit-bull grip. But one-by-one the weeks and months passed and so too our beloved list of competitive events. We groaned when the Olympics were cancelled. We sighed when Masters Nationals was deferred, then cancelled. We kept our chins up hoping that the Head of the Charles, the Head of the Schuylkill, Green Mountain, the Potomac, the Hooch... anything? Then nothing.

In the face of nothing, it fell upon us, a small group of intrepid competitors, to do something. And so we did. In August, we decided to form our own head race, the first of its kind, in an unusual location over a non-standard distance while giving full consideration to the need for social distancing and responsible interaction.

Andrea and Dan Schley
Andrea and Dan Schley

A mere six weeks later on a perfect fall day, we walked across the beach with our singles and doubles to compete in the first annual the Head of the Ponds Regatta - a 7500 meter head race on Mashpee-Wakeby Pond on Cape Cod. We realized the need to keep the regatta relatively small out of the gate, and so each of the regatta organizers led by regatta chair, Heri Sontgerath, Alan Robinson, Steve McElheny, Dan Schley and Jim Dietz simply reached out to their rowing friends with a simple question: "We're organizing a head race. Want to compete?" Within about two days, the roster was full.

Regatta director Jim Dietz takes his run over the course
Regatta director Jim Dietz takes his run over the course

Mashpee-Wakeby Pond is a unique and magnificent body of water that has the distinction of being one of the largest fresh water ponds (really, lakes) on Cape Cod that no one knows about. As the name would indicate, it is really two large bodies of water connected by a sizeable passage. The racecourse was designed to fit the body of water and not the other way around. As course director and three-time Olympian, Jim Dietz, said, "The ponds were crying out for this course over this distance. The ponds told us what to do."

The author explaining the course route
The author explaining the course route

The final course design looked more like an obstacle course running nearly 2200 meters up Mashpee Pond and through the passage to Wakeby Pond. Then a series of port and starboard turns to circumnavigate the three major islands of Wakeby Pond with each major turn nearing 180 degrees, followed by a 3000 meter run back through the passage and down to the finish. Exhausting, complex and requiring a great deal of navigation bordering intuition. Not for the faint of heart.

When the first boat crossed the starting line – a mixed double that included the well-known Al Flanders and his wife, the thirty boats awaiting their turns about in bow number order let out a resounding cheer. Covid be damned.

Antje and Al Flanders, among the first rowers to cross a starting line this fall
Antje and Al Flanders, among the first rowers to cross a starting line this fall

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