By Pat Call
For The Beachcomber
The Angel of the Gorge holds a microphone in one hand and the fate of more than a million dollars worth of rowing equipment in his voice. The 4.5 km Head of the Gorge regatta, held last Saturday, may be the only regatta in North America that features a whitewater “rapid,” a tidal race through a gorge not more than 10 feet wider than a racing shell plus its oars. The angel directs the rowers in each shell through the sequence of strokes necessary to align with the current and successfully avoid the rocks on either side.
Well almost. Out of nearly 200 craft, only two capsized with no participants or equipment sustaining injury. Because of the serpentine course, the narrow rapids and the ever-changing tidal conditions rowers have come to view this regatta as an “event” more than a serious race. Teams come dressed in their Halloween finest — the Vashon junior women’s eight this year, for instance, featured coxswain Ally Clevenger decked out as the devil in her scarlet finest commandeering her eight “angels” all in white.
In the race, master women Mary Rothermel (stroke) and Kim Goforth (bow) won their double category. The junior women’s eight (Halimah Griffin — stroke, Taegan Lynch, Bryn Gilbert, Te’a Schafer, Riley Lynch, Virginia Miller, Caprial Turner, Mei Vandervelde with coxswain Clevenger) won their division unopposed but posted the third fastest time out of all nine women’s boats. The junior women’s quad (Kalie Heffernan — stroke, Mia Croonquist, TeraJane Ripley and Kirsten Girard — bow) and junior men’s quad (Tate Gill — stroke, Jacob Plihal, Fletcher Call and Baxter Call — bow) each took second in the open event racing mostly against college crews. The master women’s quad (Su DeWalt — stroke, Marilyn Kleyn, Debby Jackson and Goforth — bow) placed second in a highly competitive division with 14 other boats. The master men’s quad (Colby Atwood – stroke, Scott Engelhard, John Jannetty and Steve Haworth — bow) also took second in their division in spite of taking a detour into a cove above the narrows that caused several spectators to scurry for safety from the incoming boat (no harm done).
On Sunday the rowers left their costumes behind for a much more serious venue at Elk and Beaver Lakes, a Canadian national training facility and site for the 8-km Head of the Elk regatta. Brisk windy conditions greeted the rowers, but race officials guaranteed that the wind would die down as the sun rose in the sky, and indeed they know their course. The aquatic “mowing” machine had been in dry dock for this summer, so rowers were warned that low lake levels combined with lots of extra weeds would make the course more challenging than in years past. Indeed, some rowers were observed later in the day sobbing over their inability to move their boats forward having entwined their rudders and oars in long green tentacles of seaweed.
This challenging race included 152 boat entries, and Vashon’s crew again had some very strong results (lineups the same as for Saturday except where noted). The junior women’s quad won its open category and was the fastest women’s quad for the day. The junior women’s eight also won its category unopposed and had the fastest women’s eight out of six total entries. The master women’s quad (Rothermel — stroke, Kleyn, Jackson and DeWalt — bow) placed first. The junior men’s quad placed second in the open category and had the third fastest quad time out of 30 total men’s quad entries. The junior women’s double (Emily Milbrath — stroke, KaiLi Scheer — bow) placed third out of 12 entries in the open category. The mixed masters double (Bruce Morser — stroke, Kim Goforth — bow) also placed third.
Coach Richard Parr was pleased with the overall team effort and results.
“The junior women’s eight made huge progress this weekend improving on a fine Gorge row with an absolutely outstanding row on Sunday. It isn’t often that Vashon wins an eight race, and to beat all open college varsity boats in this race is quite an achievement — not to mention that Vashon’s boat included three novices, one an eighth grader and another a freshman.”
Vashon’s crews will complete the fall season next weekend with 1,000 -meter sprint races at Greenlake’s Frostbite regatta on Saturday and the prestigious Head of the Lake 3-mile race on Sunday through the University of Washington’s Montlake cut ending at the Conibear Shellhouse on Lake Washington. If the weather is cooperative, the race on Sunday will afford great views of the rowers, and fans are encouraged to attend.
— Pat Call is a recreational rower and father of two junior rowers.