Rowing crews return to harbor after more than a century away

By Dan McDonald
NEW BEDFORD – It was a sight not seen in the upper harbor in more than a century.
On Saturday morning, more than 40 participants ranging in age from 14 to 60 propelled their way south on the Acushnet River in an organized regatta, the inaugural New Bedford Community Rowing Acushnet Sprints.
Mayor Scott W. Lang said the regatta marked the first such organized event on the upper harbor in more 100 years. He entertained the idea of having multiple regattas annually.
“I think if you can do this for 10 boats, you could handle a hundred,” Lang said. “You have a race course here. There’s plenty of width, plenty of depth.”
He was not alone.
New Bedford Community Rowing Director Carolyn McGonagle said her group is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in an attempt to demarcate a “full 2,000-meter course.
“We’re hoping to invite colleges,” she said.
The EPA had to give the go-ahead to Saturday’s event; the harbor sediment is contaminated with PCBs from the city’s manufacturing past.
Lang said the water is safe for such recreational boating because the PCBs are in the sediment, not the water. Still, rules emailed to coaches beforehand cited the contaminants and suggested athletes bring a change of clothes in the event that they come in contact with any mud from the upper river.
Rowers launched from Popes Island, and rowed north to the start line. The finish, located near the Coggeshall Street bridge, was marked with two red buoys.
Ken Clark, 38, of Fairhaven a local rowing coach, said the whole idea behind New Bedford Community Rowing is to have “people on the water, that’s what we want.”
Clark rowed crew when he was at the University of Rhode Island, and said he was for years frustrated that there was no program based in the harbor.
“You either had to go to Narragansett Bay or the Cape, when there’s water everywhere around here,” he said.
While waiting for the first race, Brandon Milardo and Sam Goldman, two coaches from Boys Row Boston, stood atop a steel stage in the Market Basket parking lot near the finish line and talked about rowing strategy. They spoke of strokes per minute and used terms like “lower cadence,” and “power 10.”
A 2,000-meter race is usually broken down into 500-meter sections, said Milardo. Typically the beginning and end are the most frenetic, he said. “The objective is to try not to slow down too much in the middle.”
With this truncated, 900-meter course, Goldman said the winning strategy might be as simple as “go hard off the line and stay in front.”
And when it comes to novices, a lot of the time it’s more who stays straight, he said.
Nearby, John Pereira talked about the college crew teams that are scouting his son, Andrew, a 6-foot, 5-inch New Bedford High junior.
“He used to play basketball and baseball, but once he tried this, he was hooked,” Pereira said.
Pereira did not win Saturday’s race. McGonagle said he was nursing an injury and that he had only rowed using the “sculling” technique, where an individual rower uses two oars, once before. His training has mostly consisted of sweep rowing, where rowers only use one oar.
New Bedford Community Rowing formed last June. That group, along with Boys Row Boston and Girls Row Boston commonly referred to as G-Row were the three teams competing Saturday. There were 13 races in total. They were broken down by age, gender and boat size.
May 01, 2011 12:00 AM
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