By Curt Brown
NEW BEDFORD — The city’s first fall regatta brought hundreds of rowers and thousands of spectators to Popes Island Sunday to an event that officials hope will give New Bedford an annual economic uptick.
More than 150 boats representing scholastic and adult rowing teams from across New England brought life and energy to the area around the island.
Hundreds of spectators stood against the pedestrian guard rails on both sides of Route 6 watching the colorful, 60-foot long, 150-pound shells glide along the water below them in the middle of the course.
They stood on the sidewalk and took photos and cheered on their favorite teams as vehicular traffic passed nearby.
The parking lots on both sides of the roadway were filled with personal vehicles throughout the event, which started at 8 a.m. and continued to mid-afternoon.
“This has exceeded anything we ever imagined and we’ll build upon it,” Mayor Scott W. Lang said.
He said the regatta follows last year’s trial run by New Bedford Community Rowing, which sponsored Sunday’s regatta, along with the city and the New Bedford Harbor Development Commission.
He described the regatta as “an economic driver,” which provides New Bedford with people who buy goods and services from local merchants.
“We have people staying in hotels, eating and shopping here,” he said. “It just brings people in. They want to come back here.”
The mayor said the regatta also underscores the diverse nature of the city’s harbor.
“I think the harbor is able to handle import-export, ferry traffic, fishing boats, barges, cruise ships and now crew,” he said. “This builds ambassadors for the city in a positive way.”
Lang likened the regatta to the New Bedford Half Marathon in terms of a competitive recreational event that also has an economic impact, although he qualified the comparison.
“This is the half marathon at its earliest stage,” he said.
The 3.1-mile course, which circumnavigated Popes Island in the city’s harbor, attracted juniors, scholastic and masters teams, along with five colleges — UMass Amherst, Fordham University, Roger Williams University, Massachusetts Maritime Academy and Wentworth Institute of Technology.
Rowers said they found the course and conditions challenging with so many boats in the mixed-use harbor, but would like to return after some adjustments made to the venue.
“It kind of looked like there were boats everywhere,” said Hannah Musgrove, who rows with the Boston Community Rowing team, which practices on the Charles River.
Aaron Gilbert, a member of one of Wentworth’s teams, found the course “challenging” with lots of boat traffic, wave action and a winding course.
“It was hard to navigate, definitely. I don’t think I have screamed that much in a race before,” said Jackie Ellett, the coxswain for one of Wentworth’s team.
She said there were so many boats in the harbor and the conditions made it hard. “It was pretty nerve-racking,” she said.
Marko Vukovic, the head coach for several of the Boston Community Rowing teams, said every body of water is different and presents its own challenges.
“It’s a pretty nice venue as long as there isn’t a lot of wind,” he said of the city’s harbor.
He said they train on the Charles River, which presents its own challenges, since it is a relatively narrow and winding river.
Vukovic said they competed in a regatta in Connecticut on Saturday and stayed overnight in New Bedford.
Vincent Savino, a member of New Bedford Community Rowing, said many of the teams at Sunday’s regatta row on a secluded river and are unaccustomed to bay conditions.
New Bedford’s harbor, on the other hand, is a working waterfront, he said.
But Lang was the first to admit that improvements — a temporary dock to create more space, a better marking system of buoys and other enhancements — need to be made before the next regatta.
“We have learned an awful lot about how to do this,” he said.
October 10, 2011 12:00 AM
By Curt Brown