Mystic Seaport Small Craft Weekend

Head of the Weir
October 27, 2007

Heavy rain on Friday night failed to dampen the determination of forty boat crews who arrived to participate in the 20th Hear of the Weir row. The race begins at the highest navigable point in the Weir River and runs to the Windmill Point Boathouse at Hull Gut a distance of approximately 5.5 miles.

Members of the John Gardner Chapter have a long history of participating in this event. Sean Bercaw and I had rowed the Susan Holland last year to a first place finish among the Livery Double boats over a storm shortened course. We were anxious for the opportunity to see how Last Chance would perform against a similar group of boats.

The four boats in our class were all hand built by rowers. Not a single commercially manufactured boat in the group. Jon Aborn, who usually rows his Monument River Wherry, arrived with a Whitehall style double built by and on loan from the Roderick brothers who were rowing their new double ender. The father and son team of the Robinson’s were competing again this year in La Baron Rouge. The fixed seat rowing community is small, competitive and friendly.

Bill Armitage & Sean Bercaw at start of Head of the Weir Race, 2007
Sean and Bill in Last Chance lined up for the start of the Head of the Weir

A line of rain pelted the field just minutes before the start. Boats were called to the line and went off in thirty second intervals, typical for a “head race”. Sean and I were the third fixed seat double to head out. The Roderick brothers would follow us. The goal is to row hard enough to shorten the gap to the leaders and out pace those in pursuit. Called to the line, we took off rowing hard in hot pursuit of Aborn and Fournier in the Whitehall. The start horn sounded shortly after as the Rodericks began their quest to catch us. The river winds though a salt swamp and it was only possible to catch a brief glimpse of our opponents. Looking aft, I could see the Rodericks miss the second turn. We later learned that they had broken an oar but were able to finish the race despite the handicap.

Rowing the forward seat, it is my responsibility to navigate the course. Sean, in the Stroke Seat, sets the pace. We chewed away at the gap to the Whitehall and overtook them while still in the river. We ran a fairly good track with two exceptions. We ran a little close to the reeds at one of the corners causing the skeg to drag in the sandy bottom. Shortly after that we almost ran into rocks which protruded from the shoreline. Thanks to a call of warning from the Robinson’s we avoided possible grounding. My GPS registered speed between 6 and 7.3 MPH.

Upon exiting the river and entering the open water of Hull Bay we were exposed to a quartering wind and a chop of about a foot. Continuing to pull hard at the oars we overtook the Red Baron and became the lead boat. Looking aft, we could see a pilot gig closing on us. We were overtaken by the four rowers in the Interceptor while less then a quarter of mile from the finish. We were the second boat to cross the finish line in a time of 50 minutes and 16 seconds. First in our class by more then four minutes. Our average speed exceeded 6 MPH.

Hot soup and brownies were provided by the Hull Lifesaving Musuem crew in their boathouse. The Head of the Weir marks the end of the 2007 rowing season for me. It has been a great year rowing a new boat, Last Chance. The 2008 season kicks off with The Snow Row at Windmill Point on March 1. I plan to be there! -- Bill Armitage

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