Masters battle lake swells to take fifth

  • Saturday, April 26, 2008 5:06am
  • Sports

The weather was the story in the Head of the Lake Regatta on Lake Washington Sunday, Nov. 11.

That’s the tale Jeff Hoyt told after his group of eight Vashon Rowing Club rowers made it to the end of the course finishing fifth out of six boats that actually raced in the face of high wind and water.

The number registered for the race was 18 boats, from as far away as Japan, said Hoyt, meaning 12 did not start.

The official press release downplayed the problem this way, saying, “Following a 45-minute delay while the regatta officials shortened the planned three-mile course to an estimated 2,100 meters to avoid rough-water conditions, the Cougar (Washington State University) women rowed to a 7:02.72 win, defeating the University of Victoria by 1 minute, 30 seconds. Gonzaga was third in 7:16.40.” The race referred to was the women’s open.

Vashon sent 36 rowers in six races to a regatta that boasted 35 separate races.

The press release makes the weather seem like a blip on the radar.

Hoyt’s version is quite different.

He said that the usual way of running the races is in “flights” of boats that actually compete against and in view of each other, but that didn’t happen.

Ordinarily, the boats in a flight show up at the starting line at the same time, looking for boat numbers that are close to their own. Instead, said Hoyt, the boats were called out of order, so the outcomes of the races were decided by times only. Each boat was timed at the start and at the end to get the elapsed times.

Just getting from the shore to the starting line was an immense chore, with wind gusts from 20 to 30 mph and the temperature 39 to 40 degrees, and the danger of taking in water was very high.

In fact, one boat Hoyt saw was so beaten up that it broke into a “V,” and the rowers had to be rescued by a motorized craft.

Near shore was less wind-blown, but when the Vashon rowers got out into the lake, there were big curlers coming up over the gunwales, and they worried about getting swamped.

Hoyt said that the actual race lasted seven minutes, but they were out on the water for three hours, reflecting, “This isn’t what I came out for,” and “Remind me again why we do this.”

“This” included a moment when Dave Weller, sitting in front of Hoyt in the boat, got smacked by a wave that absolutely missed Hoyt, and then got hit again, followed by Hoyt himself getting hit.

“We were quieter and less humorous when we got out of the lee (the calm area),” said Hoyt.

But no one thought about quitting. Nobody brought it up, according to Hoyt.

Hoyt admitted that he was also concerned about his son Eli, who was racing in a double with Thane Gill, in a boat Hoyt called much too small to be out in the day’s weather. But Eli and Thane made it through and “pretty much shrugged it off afterwards,” said Hoyt.

Hoyt described a series of e-mail messages the morning after in which some of the men said, “I’m really glad we did that.It was us against the weather. We have a great story to tell.”

But Hoyt felt that it was not a quality row to end the season with.

The race was, he said, “Wild, weird, exhilarating, but in the end, I think we’re kinda pleased with ourselves for having experienced it.”

Crew member Daniel Macca compared the whole experience to a dream (Hoyt called it “surreal”).

Macca said in an e-mail message, “It was an unusual day today, but somehow strangely beautiful. Experiences like today always leave me feeling like I lived a little more than usual. Bruce said something like, ‘If you want great stories you have to go out and make them,’ while we were crossing the lake (to get to the starting line). The first crew to brave the crossing, I might add.

“How exciting and how lovely was it to find a little patch of calm amidst the chaos while watching the last of the leaves be blown from the trees? Just as we made our way through the cut on the row up, two huge shafts of sunlight pierced the clouds in the distance and illuminated the lake in front of us. It was magical to see. Yes, we could have all stayed home, drank coffee and read the paper, but where is the adventure in that, I ask?

“Call me crazy, but there is something special about working together and using brain and brawn to manage difficult situations. Even those poor souls who ended up with two halves of a boat instead of one whole boat will have an amazing tale to tell as time goes by.

“Maybe I’m seriously delirious from lack of sleep having been up since four, but I had a great time. I’ll go back next year … but I will probably have a pfd (personal flotation device) and a change of clothes!”

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