Nyack, New York- Four hundred years to the day of the start of Henry Hudson’s historic, 1609 voyage up the Muhheakantuck, now Hudson river, 68 intrepid rowers launched from Englewood Beach, New Jersey and raced north to Nyack over a course of 25 kilometers (or approximately 15 miles).
Competing in the first ever ‘€œHudson River Challenge,’€ sponsored by Nyack’s River Rowing Association, the oarsmen and women used a variety of craft’€” from singles to eight-person shells. In anticipation of potentially rough water, they improvised various techniques for keeping the boats from capsizing. One club taped their riggers with black plastic garbage bags, while another installed an electronic bilge pump (capable of disgorging 500 gallons per hour). In the end, no boat got swamped and all boats crossed the finish, though there were reports of submerged bows, monster ferry wakes, and at least one major ‘€œbutt malfunction.’€
Against the backdrop of the George Washington Bridge, the crews made for the Tappan Zee Bridge in a light, misting rain and against a strong southerly current. Two hours later, the first double from Narragansett Boat Club (Whitney/Gorriaran) crossed the bright yellow wave-tossed finish markers. They were followed closely by the River Rowing Association’s own Men’s Quad (Chyla, Klose, Devoe, and Wieners), in just under two hours (1 hour and fifty-eight minutes).
The first half of the race saw the southbound current reach as a fast as 32 km/hr; with the second half alternating between lumpy water, at least one massive wake (high speed ferry with a 50 foot rooster), and choppy whitecaps from Piermont through the Tappan Zee Bridge. The finish saw various winners in this modified open water race, where ingenuity, perseverance and hard work prevailed. Piermont RC won the Women’s Quad (2:31), followed by Vesper BC (mixed 2:34) and Clarkstown (2:45); with the winning Mixed Quad (Cooper BC) completing the race in 2:24. A mixed Octuple from Norwalk completed the course in 2:07; and a sweep eight completed the ever changing, challenging course in 2:51.
‘€œThat was fun despite the rain/mist!’€ said Ross Barna, one of the safety launches stationed under the majestic Palisades.
‘€œThat was more in the category of funny, than fun,’€ laughed Tom Chyla, the stroke of the RRA Quad. ‘€œRowers have a perverse idea of fun,’€ conceded Chyla’s 2-seat, Brad Wieners. ‘€œFor rowers, this was serious fun.’€
Participants had good things to say about the collaborative spirit of the event, and the support they received on shore.
‘€œOn Sunday, I helped Piermont row one of their boats back down the River,’€ said Veronica Lance, a local rower who supports and rows with both the River Rowing Association and the Piermont Rowing Club. ‘€œ At coffee (there’s always coffee!) I received, and accepted on behalf of River Rowing, many ‘€˜Thank Yous’ for organizing the race. They had a great time. They loved the medals. Appropriately ‘€˜non-traditional’ might be the sentiment.’€
In appreciation for the hard work and the Quadracentennial, all rowers received a hand made award hewn from sawed Hudson River driftwood, with the RRA swoosh branded by an iron brand.
‘€œI think it was absolutely marvelous to have the kids there at the dock to grab our oars and carry our boat! I don’t know if I could have gotten the boat out of the water! I’m thinking it would be nice to always have that service!!,’€ said an enthusiastic Jane Atwell, who competed in the RRA women’s eight. ‘€œIt was a marvelous race, I had a lot of fun, and the same sentiment seemed to be present in the other clubs that were there. Couldn’t have been better! Nice job everyone!’€
The chief referee was impressed by the boat speed crews managed against the tide. ‘€œOne thing I was amazed at: the short time it took…..on Google Earth, I tracked a path from the Englewood beach, to the Nyack dock…….23.72 KM, or 14.74 miles…..I was frankly stunned to hear that the fastest boats did the distance in 2 hours, and the slowest and most inexperienced boats only 45 min or so, slower……I think that knowing this might persuade some crews who are thinking about doing it, but are worried about the exertion over the distance, to understand that its NOT a sprint, and that regardless of how slow you might be, you won’t be out there that long……..
In the end, all of the participants from Piermont RC, Narragansett BC, Vesper BC, Clarkstown (NY), Norwalk BC, Cooper BC, Greenwich RC, Nereid BC and River Rowing Association were pleased to commemorate the weekend and their personal victory over the first leg of the Northwest Passage. The post race party featured great food, drink, massage, camaraderie and an exuberant group of healthy competitors.
In spite of the weather the event delivered an honest challenge to mind, body and soul, and good fun. The event ran without a hitch. Thanks to all of our participants, volunteers, and sponsors! We look forward to seeing you again next year. Photos of the event can be viewed at www.riverrowing.org.
– Peter Klose, Director, River Rowing Association, Inc.