Saratoga County

Rowers, fans revel in fine fall weather for regatta

On land, there was a little bit of snow and a whole lot of mud, but on water, conditions were ideal
The Saratoga Rowing Association Head of the Fish Regatta at Saratoga Lake on Sunday, October 30, 2011.
The Saratoga Rowing Association Head of the Fish Regatta at Saratoga Lake on Sunday, October 30, 2011.

On land, there was a little bit of snow and a whole lot of mud, but on water, conditions were ideal Sunday for the Head of the Fish Regatta.

Spectators lined the Route 9P bridge to watch rowers glide across calm waters edged with spectacular fall foliage.

Now in its 25th season, the two-day regatta hosted by the Saratoga Rowing Association draws rowers and fans from across the United States and Canada. Rowers came from as far away as Anchorage, Alaska, to compete Saturday and Sunday.

The Head of the Fish is one of the nation’s largest regattas. Event organizer Chris Chase estimated that this year’s event drew a total of 12,000 rowers and spectators. “We probably fill every hotel from Albany to Lake George,” he said.

However, Saturday night’s snow storm kept participation lower than expected. There were 166 clubs registered for the event but eight, from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Long Island, had to cancel due to the bad weather.

“I’m more amazed at how many did make it than by how many didn’t,” said Chase.

The 70-member Long Island Rowing Team from Centerport dodged the storm by driving to Saratoga on Friday night. Team member Julianna Jaycox, 16, had never participated in the Head of the Fish Regatta before, but was looking forward to racing on Sunday. “It just felt like a good place to row,” she said. “We’ve heard such good things about this regatta and we just wanted to try it.”

The 21⁄4-mile regatta starts at the regatta’s namesake — Fish Creek — at Stafford Bridge and runs to the Route 9P bridge, where the creek exits Saratoga Lake. “It’s a shorter race course [than most regattas], which means you get a lot of value because you can get in multiple races,” Chase noted.

It’s the last race of the season for many crew teams. Larry Holmes of Brockville, Ontario, brought his team of 37 middle school and high school students to the Head of the Fish to wrap up their season. The team has participated in the event since 1996. “We don’t have a lot of opportunities where we are in Eastern Ontario to have them race, because there’s not a lot of regattas, because it’s university rowing season in the fall in Ontario,” he said. The snow and mud didn’t faze Holmes one bit. “This has got to be the nicest day of racing we’ve ever had here,” he said.

This year, approximately 4,500 athletes competed for a coveted Head of the Fish trophy — a plaque adorned with one or more real fish heads. “They’re just so unique. Some of them are works of art,” said Chase. Fish heads, contributed by fishermen from across the state are baked, cured, spray-painted, and mounted on wooden plaques. Then, they’re adorned with accessories like eyeglasses, sea shells, Mr. Potato Head parts and beards. A trophy is awarded to the winner of each event.

Saturday, the collegiate, veteran and masters classes raced. The day went off without a hitch, despite the impending snowstorm. “When you’re messing with the elements and you’re messing with 850 boats and 6,000 people here, staying on time is a premium and we were within six minutes,” Chase said. Flakes started to fly during the last race of the day but that only added ambiance. “It was beautiful. To row in the snow, come on, it was great. It was a really good time,” he said.

Temperatures were chilly Sunday when the junior class — middle school and high school students — were set to race, but the athletes didn’t seem to notice. They chattered excitedly as they carried their long, skinny racing shells to the water. Most wore Spandex outfits but one teenage rower stood out in a Batman costume.

Evan Colp, 17, of St. Catherine’s, Ontario, and his teammates also enhanced their rowing attire in honor of Halloween. “We bought a bunch of masks and stuff at Walmart,” he said. “We wear costumes while we race.” This was Colp’s second year participating in the regatta. His eight-man team won two races. “It’s kind of like an end-of-the-year thing for our club. We go to Saratoga. It’s pretty much just like a blast,” he said.

Head of the Fish Regatta racers ranged in age from 10 to 86. Some parents and children raced together on teams. “This is one of these lifelong sports,” said Chase. “You’ll see multi generations of rowing here.”

Tom Holmes of Cape Cod, Mass., braved the snow to support his daughter, Samantha, 16, who is part of the Cape Cod Rowing Club. She participated in three different races Sunday. Traveling to Saratoga during the storm was tricky, he admitted, but he was glad he made the trip. “It’s the last event of the year, so if you don’t do it, you kind of regret it and today’s a great day,” he said.

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