The last time Williams crews faced the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in a non-championship regatta was in the spring of 1997. In 1998, oarsmen and oarswomen from the academy crews made the three-hour trip to Williams’ home course in Pittsfield, only to return home without having rowed a stroke. Onota Lake, known for its nasty temperament by the crews who call it home, was positively vengeful that cold morning. The conditions were so bad that the regatta’s referee refused to officiate any races. When the Williams Crew arrived at the Coast Guard boathouse on the Thames river on Saturday, a repeat of that fiasco seemed imminent. A wind was blowing hard against the wide waterway’s tidal current, churning up high, foamy swells and giving the afternoon’s sailboat racers a wild ride. However, these two teams, familiar with the battle against the elements that regularly accompanies the battle between boats, were ready to race.
Mercifully the waters calmed, but not before a search for a rowable stretch significantly delayed the races.
For the women’s second varsity eight, the delays meant spending around three hours on the water, for only one eight- minute race. After rowing to the appointed start area, the women discovered that the races were to be held another two miles up the river. Upon arriving at the new race course, they waited for their mysteriously absent opponents. “
“Apparently, they were hot-seating one of their novices,” reported Kate Geier ’00, referring to the practice where a rower who has just raced is quickly lent to another crew, due perhaps to a shortage of numbers. “We just waited around and the officials [at an informal regatta, usually the host team’s coaching staff] kept saying ‘maybe that’s them coming right now’ and it would turn out to be some other crew.”
When the race finally took place, the Williams women channeled their frustration into a performance that was, according to Geier, the highlight of their season. Taking a boat-length for every hour spent on the water, the women defeated Coast Guard by over 30 seconds.
A similarly decisive victory was attained by the Williams novice women. Ironically, the two-hour delay suffered by the JV women granted them excellent rowing conditions (the river was at a dead calm by the time Williams departed for home, shortly after darkness fell). The same quarter was not granted to the novices.
“We had several inches of water in the bottom of our boat by the end of the race and we were completely soaked,” commented Diane Reis ’03. “It was still a strong race, though.”
The novice eight, which has yet to be defeated by a New England crew, started ahead and stayed ahead, winning by 31 seconds. Additionally, Williams won a shortened novice women’s fours race in front of the Coast Guard boathouse at the end of the day.
Another race that proved to be more of a contest with the elements was the men’s JV race. The men, who suffered a well-rowed but disappointing defeat to Wesleyan last weekend, smartly defeated Coast Guard by a few lengths.
The remaining races were far more grueling, and were being played for high stakes. In addition to the delays, the waves, and the wind, the Williams novice men faced a strong opponent. The Coast Guard’s cadets took a half-length at the start, and Williams was unable to permanently close the gap, losing by two seconds. The marquee varsity events were held on calm water, between two sets of top-contending New England crews. Coast Guard’s home-course advantage nearly cost Williams’ women the win: having taken a two-seat lead at the beginning of the race, and holding this narrow margin for 1500m, in the remaining few hundred meters it was difficult for Williams to determine their exact location on the unmarked course. The Coast Guard coxswain, knowing her own course and the optimal moment for the final sprint, almost took Williams’ Carol Lynn Higgins ’02 by surprise. Williams countered, and scored a win by under a second. The varsity men performed excellently but were beaten by the strong Coast Guard crew by under five seconds.
Saturday’s races marked the end of the pre-championship season. All Williams crews will be racing at the New England Chamionships on May 6 in Worcester. Remarking on the results of the JV men’s race, Dan Clayburgh ’01 remarked “hopefully this will help us get a good seed next weekend. I think we can do really well.” His sentiments are echoed by the other 60-some Williams rowers, for whom a good position in the heats next Saturday is the first step toward gold.