The 25th Coastweeks Regatta

Coastweeks Regatta offers mixed doubles.
Coastweeks Regatta offers mixed doubles.

20 September 2016

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

There is never a dull moment for a rowing correspondent: last week I covered the 2016 World Rowing Master Regatta on Lake Bagsvaerd, Copenhagen, and this past weekend it was the 2016 Coastweeks Regatta on the Mystic River, Mystic, Connecticut. Two events different in size but each regatta equally fun to visit.

On Sunday, 18 September, the autumn head racing season in New England started with the annual Coastweeks Regatta at Mystic Seaport in Mystic. Like last year, this regatta for local and regional rowers was scaled down to only offer races in single sculls and double sculls/pairs for masters, open and junior categories. The rowers raced on a 2,000-metre course along the Mystic River, beginning up-river just north of the Interstate 95 overpass and finishing at the museum’s north end.

You will find the regatta results here.

On the way to the start.

This was the 25th Coastweeks Regatta and in honour of this milestone year, the regatta’s founder Ed Monahan acted as Regatta Chairman with honoured guest Gillian Perry Millsom, rowing legend Hart Perry’s widow.

However, with only close to 20 rowing clubs present, it was a tiny regatta, as fours and quads were not invited due to lack of space to store larger shells in the boat area. The north end of the museum is being re-built right now as the institution is to open its new Thompson Exhibition Building (a 14,000-square-foot building, which will house not only a large exhibit space but also a new visitor centre, lecture room, retail shop and more), on Saturday, 24 September. Due to the new landscaping around the Thompson Building, no larger boats could be placed on the new grass. For the 2017 Coastweeks Regatta, the regatta organisers hope to be able to invite fours and quads again.

At the north end of Mystic Seaport, on 24 September, the museum will open its new Thompson Exhibition Building. The construction of the Thompson Building put a stop to larger boats participating at this year’s Coastweeks Regatta.

The weather was perfect for rowing: some clouds, but no rain or wind and comfortable temperatures.

The good thing with a head race, from an organisational stand point, is that several categories can be included in the same heat, or flight as the Coastweeks Regatta organisers like to call it. There is a 10-second interval between the boats and the different categories have a handicap system.

In one of the heats were both double sculls and pairs racing. The crew from U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, in a pair, came a little out of course and seemed to aim for the launch I was sitting in. However, they noticed they were out of their lane and started to correct their course.
The bow man in the U.S Merchant Marine Academy crew takes a look ahead.
The crew should actually be on the other side of the red buoy. They almost hit the buoy, and when they try to correct their course, one of them caught a crab, and …….
….. bow man was in the water. Stroke desperately tried to hang on to something, but…..
…. of course, he ended up in the water, too. Yes, the motor launch driver and I naturally helped them up in their boat again, but as the rowing hack I am, I took these pictures first.
One of the museum’s riggers, Sarah Clement, was my launch driver during the Coastweeks Regatta. She and I helped the young men from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy to get up in their boat again.

I was standing next to the medal table, where ‘regatta general honoree’ Ed Monahan, who has been involved in Coastweeks Regatta from the start in 1992, was handing out medals to the winners. When Barbara Lewis, of Groton Community BC, who won in the adaptive women’s double, approached the medal table, I asked her if I may take a victory picture of her. ‘Before I got so excited when someone wanted to take a photograph of me when I had won, but now I don’t really care, as I have won so many races,’ Lewis said and let out a big laugh.

Barbara Lewis picking up her medal from Ed Monahan. On Lewis’s left is her coach.

Coastweeks Regatta reminded me of the World Rowing Master Regatta at Lake Bagsvaerd in that everyone you met and talked to seemed to be so happy. As a joke I asked Tom Sanford, of Mystic River Rowing, why he did not race at Bagsvaerd. ‘Oh, no that is too serious for me,’ he answered. ‘I only like to play around, rowing on the Mystic River is enough for me’.

One person who used to be a lot around this river is Gillian Perry Millsom. ‘It’s nice to be back, especially here at Coastweeks, a regatta that Hart loved,’ she said, thinking of her late husband, who had his fingers in many ‘rowing pies’ locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. ‘Hart would be so proud of Coastweeks, celebrating the 25th regatta,’ Perry Millsom said with a smile. However, she is still very much involved in the sport, as Executive Secretary of the National Rowing Foundation (NRF) and being the Henley Royal Regatta’s co-ordinator of the American entries, to mention a few of her rowing ‘jobs’.

NRF Executive Secretary, Gillian Perry Millsom.

Roaming around the boat area, wearing my new neon-yellow HTBS vest from the Copenhagen regatta, I was stopped by a gentleman who asked what ‘Hear The Boat Sing’ was. After I had answered his question, I asked him what he thinks of Coastweeks. ‘This is a fun regatta’, he said. The gentleman, Edward Geyh, had been sculling in a mixed double with Andrea Arena for the Rhode Island club Narragansett BC, which is one of, if not the oldest rowing club in the USA, founded in 1838.

At the grand final of the regatta, Ed Monahan reminisced over the regatta’s many years. Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport, thanked the rowers for coming to the museum and hoped to see them again next year, adding ‘Mystic River is a precious place’.

Last man out at the microphone was Rob Simmons, first selectman of Stonington, who has been close to rowing ever since he married his wife, Heidi Paffard, in 1974; she is a rower!

It was with great enthusiasm Simmons told the gathered rowers about plans to purchase a 1.5-acre piece of land just north of the museum. The land, called Mystic River Boathouse Park, should be made into a public park, but also house a boathouse for the local Stonington High School rowing team. Simmons, who was first approached by the high school’s rowing coach, Mike O’Neill, Friends of Stonington Crew and the Trust for Public Land, have negotiated a deal with the property owner Frederic Baumgarten. The park should be open for the community members for picnics, or to launch their boats, canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, etc., and also welcome rowing teams from other places to row and train on the Mystic River. The decision to buy the property, at a cost of $2.2m, according to an article in the local newspaper, will go to a town meeting today in Stonington.

‘This is a special place,’ Simmons said. ‘For those of you living in Stonington, vote for the water park, and for those of you who are not living in Stonington, spread the word, spread the word’.

Coastweeks Regatta organisers and supporters, from left to right: Pete Tebeau, Tom Sanford, Ed Monahan, Steve White, Gillian Perry Millsom, Shannon McKenzie, Mike O'Neil, Dana Hewson and Rob Simmons.
Coastweeks Regatta organisers and supporters, from left to right: Pete Tebeau, Coastweeks chairman; Tom Sanford, rower and organiser; Ed Monahan, honoured chairman for this regatta; Steve White, president of Mystic Seaport; Gillian Perry Millsom, honoured regatta guest; Shannon McKenzie, organiser and director of Watercraft activities at Mystic Seaport; Mike O’Neill, organiser and rowing coach at Stonington High School; Dana Hewson, organiser and vice president of Watercraft at Mystic Seaport; and Rob Simmons, first selectman of Stonington.
A lady from Riverfront Recapture, Inc., had the regatta’s coolest socks.
Some parents’ good helpers.

Photography © Göran R Buckhorn

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