Members of the Vashon Island Rowing Club compete in the Weekend of Regatta on the Gorge Narrows in British Columbia (Courtesy Photo).

Members of the Vashon Island Rowing Club compete in the Weekend of Regatta on the Gorge Narrows in British Columbia (Courtesy Photo).

Head of the Charles: VIRC rower finishes 10th in nation

Rowing season continues this weekend at Portland Fall Classic on the Willamette River.

  • Wednesday, October 23, 2019 1:55pm
  • Sports

Over 3,100 miles separated Vashon Island Rowing Club crews last weekend, with athletes competing successfully at both Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta and the Head of the Gorge in Victoria, British Columbia.

VIRC Masters rower Gail Brownell continued her 2019 “excellent adventure” of first-time regatta experiences by finishing 10th in the nation among 34 entrants in the Women’s Veteran Singles competition at her first Head of the Charles. Rowing in excellent conditions just a few days after New England was hit with a “bomb cyclone” of punishing wind and rain, Brownell said she “met my goal of getting down the course without hitting anything.”

The Head of the Charles course is challenging enough with its tricky turns and multiple bridges, but Brownell’s race was made more difficult when one of her oars apparently disappeared during the night. The discovery was made just 45 minutes prior to launch. Brownell called VIRC Coach Ben Steele, who directed her to the where the oars were stored for VIRC’s junior quad boys. After readjusting the oars to Brownell’s specifications, she managed to barely hit the water in time.

According to the police report, a total of twenty oars went missing from the rowing venue and VIRC’s missing oar was later found floating, undamaged, in the river.

On Sunday, Vashon’s Youth Coxed Quad raced with heart and grit to finish 38th in a tough field that included many of the nation’s elite, powerhouse youth rowing programs. VIRC’s lineup of Bowie Hichens, Lex Rosen, Baker Van Buren, Oz Hichens and Erin Chavez (cox) completed the legendary Head of the Charles course in 17:48.

Also, last weekend, Vashon’s Masters Women’s Eight turned in yet another dominant performance with a gold medal finish at the Head of the Gorge regatta in Victoria, B.C. After subbing in two new rowers when a pair of teammates fell ill, Vashon rowed in a borrowed shell built for rowers nearly twice their size. Despite the obvious challenges, VIRC’s women deftly navigated the inter-tidal waterway which includes a narrow, swift-water passage beneath a bridge barely wide enough for a rowing shell. Vashon’s lineup of Zabette Macomber, Kit Gruver, Sarah Deal, Sarah Eden, Tara Morgan, Martha Ormseth, Lea Heffernan, Celia Congdon and Lisa Huggenvik bested familiar arch-nemeses Corvallis, Vancouver, Pocock and Gorge Narrows Rowing Club.

“We strapped in for a bumpy ride with another hundred or so boats in a small harbor,” Morgan said. “Down the course, we were steered expertly by Lisa [Huggenvik], passing a boat of competitors in full costume as the Queen of Hearts and her set of cards!”

VIRC Masters Coach Sarah Deal said, “Our hull, the ‘Great Eight,’ may have been designed for folks over 200 pounds and comically large for our Masters women, but they brought enough heart and fitness to fill those huge shoes.”

This weekend, VIRC’s head racing season continues with a trip south for the Portland Fall Classic on the Willamette River.

— Jeff Hoyt is a rower for the Vashon Island Rowing Club.

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