Thoughts on the Battle Between the Bridges

Hart Perry

For nine years now there has been a fun rowing regatta in Downtown Mystic on the day before the so called Coastweeks Regatta, which is tomorrow, Sunday 16 September, at Mystic Seaport. The Saturday regatta that I am referring to is the Battle Between the Bridges, which HTBS has written about before. The BBB, as it is commonly known, was created by Hart Perry in 2002 as an American ‘Henley Sprint’ on a 500-metre course with room for two scullers match racing between the Railroad Bridge and the Drawbridge in Downtown Mystic. BBB would, thanks to Hart’s contacts, attract America’s top female and male scullers. They would come from all around, and some of them would come directly from the World Championships or even the Olympic Games to compete on the river in the tiny little village of Mystic.

As it was founded in 2002, today it was supposed to have been the 10th annual regatta. It was not to be. When Hart suddenly died on 3 February 2011, some of the institutions that he directed, or was an important part of, faltered, as his colleagues did not really know how to proceed or what to do. BBB was one of those events of which Hart was truly at the helm. BBB was organised last year, but not without difficulty.

Before I knew that the regatta was called off, I thought that, for the 10th anniversary races, I wanted to honour Hart in a special way. Many fine things have already been said about Hart on the web and in print in newspapers and magazines, but no poem has ever been written in his honour, if I understand it right. Of course, I am not really a poet, not even a versifier, but, alas, I decided to have a go. It took me quite some time to get it the way I wanted. Struck by hubris, I thought that my verse could even get published in the regatta programme. Well, with a no-show and no programme, I decided to throw it on HTBS instead. So, here it is, a poem about a regatta that was cancelled and about a great man, who is still very much missed by many of us.

Thoughts on the 10th Battle Between the Bridges in 2012
In fond memory of William Hartwell “Hart” Perry, Jr., 1923 – 2011

So, it’s time again
To walk down to the Mystic River,
On a beautiful September day, when
The sky has clouds with edges of silver,
And the leaves sway calmly in the trees.
Men and women in their boats will row;
While the beams of the sun will glow
Over the riverbanks – only to be cooled off by a quiet breeze.

A river scene:
Rowers racing from bridge to bridge
Is an annual view, we for years have seen.
Thanks to one man’s dream, an image
Of gathered scullers with bodies strong;
Two scullers rowing side by side, abreast –
Pulling, getting those oar handles to the chest
On a course five hundred metres long.

The sculler’s muscles flex
When she races on the water betwixt
The bridges.  No rower neglects
To keep her eyes steadily fixed
On an invisible point behind the stern.
Effortlessly the scullers go on their slides –
The victor’s shell under the drawbridge’s darkness glides,
Leaving the fighting opponent astern.

These athletes display
A finesse to scull in colourful shells,
Appearing as an Impressionist painting by Monet.
The solemn knell of a church’s bells
In the distance,
Remind us of one man: Hartwell Perry, our Hart,
Who turned his life in rowing into a fine art –
Today we honor him in his absence.

There was only one such man,
It was said when he died:
A coach, an umpire, a Henley Steward – a gentleman;
Calling him a friend, we still do with pride.
Again and again we asked for his advice,
It might have been about a boat, a crew, or Henley fashion;
His might came from within, a warm passion,
Which he is using now, I bet, coaching crews in Rowers’ Paradise.

Göran R Buckhorn

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