A record 2,099 boats took to Saratoga Lake Saturday and Sunday during the Head of the Fish Regatta, but the ripples from the weekend-long tournament weren’t only felt on the water.
The 9,000 athletes powering the vessels, and all those who came to the event along with them, brought a wave of cash to the region, said Eric Catalano, executive director of the Saratoga Rowing Association. He estimated that this year’s regatta will generate $2.3 million locally.
The event, hosted by the Saratoga Rowing Association, is the largest of its kind in the world for the number of boats registered, said regatta Director Chris Chase. This year it drew participants from as far away as England.
Hotel reservations for the weekend of the regatta are made up to a year in advance.
“One team alone will come in and book 20, 30 hotel rooms at a shot,” Catalano noted.
Those who wait until the last minute to make a reservation often wind up with quite a commute to the event.
County hotels filled
“There were people last week freaking out about hotel rooms,” said Chase. “There are 50-something hotels in Saratoga County. They’re all filled.”
Longfellows Hotel, Restaurant and Conference Center near Lee’s Park, the regatta’s home base, was completely booked Saturday night, said front-desk agent Katie Gallagher.
“It was a great night,” she said. “The rowers go to bed early and get up early to get on the water.”
It was the same story at the Holiday Inn Express in Clifton Park, where an employee said they had a full house Saturday night, with many rowers on the list of patrons.
It was busy at Travelodge Inn and Suites in Latham too, which front-desk clerk Michele Sellie said had only 10 open rooms Saturday night, at what usually is a slow time of year.
Eateries impacted, too
Local restaurants were also full of hungry rowers Saturday night.
Catalano tried to stop in at Longfellows for a burger.
“I drove up there and I couldn’t even pull in the parking lot, and I assume every restaurant in the area was like that,” he said.
Things were also hopping at Chianti Il Ristorante, Forno Bistro and Boca Bistro in Saratoga Springs, according to Nancy Bambara, director of operations for DZ Restaurants.
“[Saturday] night at the restaurants we saw a ton of rowers and coaches and teams. All three of the businesses here in Saratoga were busy and our Pasta Pane location in Clifton Park got a lot of the overflow too, from teams that are renting hotels down there,” she said. “It’s great to have this in our community. We’re really fortunate.”
Gas station owners were probably pleased to have the regatta in town too.
“Everybody who came here, the vast majority don’t live here. They’re going to fill their car up with gas before they leave. Seventy-six buses are going to fill up,” Chase speculated.
Todd Garofano, president of the Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau, said the Head of the Fish Regatta has grown into one of the largest tournaments in Saratoga County.
“The Saratoga Rowing Association, their staff and volunteers do an amazing job in marketing this event to college and high school age rowers,” he said in an email.
The Convention and Tourism Bureau staffs a tent at the event to welcome visitors, answer questions about the area and promote area businesses.
“We want them to enjoy their time here this weekend and come back for future regattas or come back on vacation. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our region to visitors from Canada, throughout New York and New England and down through the Mid-Atlantic U.S.,” he said.
A rowing destination
One of the goals of the Saratoga Rowing Association is to turn Saratoga Springs into a rowing destination.
“As we host these major events and as our team does well and receives publicity, more and more people in the rowing world are looking at Saratoga as a top destination,” Catalano said.
Sunday morning, Lee’s Park was certainly a top destination. At times, traffic was backed up for nearly two miles from the park’s entrance on Route 9P to the entrance to the Northway.
Shivering spectators gathered on the Route 9P bridge and stood along the muddy shore of Saratoga Lake, shouting encouragement to the high school crew teams slicing through the choppy gray water in their long, skinny racing shells.
The 21⁄4-mile regatta starts at the regatta’s namesake — Fish Creek — at Stafford Bridge and runs to the Route 9P bridge.
Athletes compete for much-coveted plaques that have preserved fish heads mounted on them. The fish — mainly salmon — are painted and embellished with everything from sunglasses to cocktail umbrellas.