For many years various members of MRA and the WVU Women’s and Men’s crew have participated in HOTO. HOTO stands for “Head of the Ohio” and it will mark its 27th anniversary this year. HOTO is a race that takes place in Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. For many years the race started up river and finished at the point where the Allegheny and the Monongahela rivers meet and the Ohio river starts. Hence the name Head of the Ohio. In the last couple years, due to increasing build up near the stadiums, the race has reversed its course and now starts where it used to end and finishes up stream at the Washington Landing.
The course is 2.6 miles long and attracts people from all over the country. The variety of racing classes is one of the attractions of this event. There are Collegiate Athletic crews, College Clubs, High School competitions, Open Club classes, Mixed Gender crews, and Adaptive classes (handicapped individuals); people of all ages participate. Current MRA President David Rosen, has participated for the past several years and is looking towards competing once again. The WVU Women’s Crew and Men’s Crew will certainly be at the event and MRA keeps alive the dream of fielding an MRA Youth Crew. No matter what the event is one not to be lost.
John M. Duarte, 2013
I have yet to find a conclusive response to the question often asked as to: ”what is the top speed of a rowing shell?”
A few years ago I saw a video post of an 8 men crew pulling up a water skier for some distance.
The average speed of current world best Rowing Times recognized by FISA is 22.5 Km/Hour or about 14 MPH for the Men’s 8+; 5:19:35 over the 2000m course.
There were supposedly burst of over 24KM/Hour on that race. The men’s 8+ is the overall fastest Rowing craft.
Because environmental conditions affect the rowing speed, FISA Rowing governing body recognizes Best Times and not world records.
Below are the current recognized best Rowing Times as posted in Wikipedia.
|Open Men||5:36.6||1:24.1||New Zealand||2008||Rob Waddell|
|Lightweight Men||5:56.7||1:29.175||Denmark||2013||Henrik Stephansen|
|Open Women||6:28.4||1:37.1||France||2005||Sophie Balmary|
|Lightweight Women||6:54.7||1:43.7||United States||2010||Ursula Grobler|
- Lwt Men: 75 kg (170 lb) maximum weight
- Lwt Women: 61.5 kg (136 lb) maximum weight 
John M. Duarte
[Published Fall-Winter 2009]
Scene at the shore side finish area – David at the finish
My day started at 5am as I headed out of Morgantown with my boat loaded on my Yukon.
When I arrived in Pittsburgh, the scene was unbelievable.
There were boats and crews all over the place along the Allegheny river. My registration package was ready for me when I arrived. When I got there I was welcomed as their guest. They helped me get the boat offloaded and into the water, provided all the needed instructions and sent me on my way. My racing class, the adaptives, was unbelievably well organized. The whole affair was very well run, especially considering the size of the attendance. The adaptives were allowed to launch from the Washington Landing Three Rivers Rowing Association boathouse ( what a great facility in its own right). Everyone else launches and preps from the finish area. The boathouse is close to the starting point so I did not have an exhausting row before my race.
The adaptives launched 20 minutes before the posted race time, but when we arrived at the starting area there was a massive flotilla of shells awaiting their start. The pre-race meeting on the water was unbelievably friendly and cooperative. The seven adaptive rowers huddled all together to stay out of the others way as we froze in the cold breeze awaiting our start. . After 162 boats raced down the course, the adaptive rowers headed single file to the starting line.
The head of the Ohio race is a running start. When your group is announced, you head to the starting chute down a channel of buoys; you are announced: “bow number 166 Monongahela Rowing Association you are on the course”. You have to follow the boat in front of you by less than 30 seconds or you are disqualified and allowed to race for time only.
I followed 4 adaptive pairs and I was the first adaptive single. Once on the course the wind started to pick up. We were rowing into the wind.
The speed was at least 15 mph and as it intensified the waves and chop did as well. The first 100 strokes went easily and the course was wide.
As the course narrowed the waves picked up and real concentration was needed to keep the boat smoothly in the water. At about 300 strokes I neared the half way point -the Heinz factory. I am always anxious about going through the bridges but they were not an issue until I came to the
4 arched bridge. You have to go through the center arch or you loose points. I had been keeping the port buoy markers in my rear view mirror as I headed down the course. The 4 arched bridge put me headed for the support as I headed down the river. Fortunately I recognized it in the nick of time to avoid hitting it. I had anticipated a 500 stroke race but since I had not passed the half way point at 300 strokes I knew that the wind was significantly affecting my progress. I had hoped for a 600 stroke race and ended up catching a wicked crab about then because I lost my concentration as I got close to downtown. When you get to that point there are concrete walls on both sides of the river which affected the water flow. The markers for the end of the race are yellow buoys. I passed some yellow buoys at about 620 strokes, but I didn’t think they were the correct end of the race markers. At 700 strokes I went between two inflated yellow buoys and the horn sounded marking my completion of the 2.6 mile race.
During the race I had concentrated on my competition following me making sure that I kept at least the same distance ahead of him as we were at the start. I passed no one nor did I get passed.
2.6 miles is a long race I was exhausted and dry at the end. My boat has no place to carry water so I just had to suffer. After the race we paddled slowly back to the starting line down the far side of the course. There is a special entrance creek to the Three Rivers Rowing Association boat house so at one point the Marshalls had us wait with them till the boats cleared and then we sprinted across the race course to avoid getting hit by oncoming fours.
Though the 2.6 miles was intense, once the race was over I really did not want to get off the water. During the row back to the boathouse it was fun to be passed by all the fresh crews warming up on their way to the starting line.
When I did get back to the boathouse the volunteers and my daughter Maddie were there to help me get my boat back on top of the car and packed up. After packing up I headed over to the main area to be part of the rest of the rowing community. I found the time sheet, found out I was the fastest in my group, and got my gold medal. Afterwards Maddie and I met up with Eric and Jim. It was a great day for a regatta: nice temperature, nice clouds, a little too rough on the water at times, and a great atmosphere.
For next year: we need more rowers and more boats, we need a team uniform and we could use team colors on our oars
Hopefully we will have enough people to put up a team tent so we all have a place to congregate.
It would also be a great way to have a personal relationship with the woman’s crew team if they joined us under the tent.
Boats with covers do better with transport than uncovered boats The men’s crew team needs to be there too; someday maybe a high school team.
The Head of the Ohio (HOTO) regatta is a fantastic race, it is close to us and well worth the effort. I am planning to go again next year. I hope others will as well.
[Published Fall-winter 2009]
I moved to Morgantown in July 2008 and spent a lot of time on my road bike through the end of the fall. On one of my trips up the bike path, heading to the Decker’s Creek trail, I noticed a flyer for Mon Rowing but made no effort to contact the club until early this year. I had rowed for TC Williams High School in Alexandria, VA my junior year, one summer with the Occoquan Boat Club while I was in college and two summers with Boulder Community Rowing about 5 years ago. I was really excited about the prospect of rowing again.
Following an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, I was contacted by John Duarte who informed me there would be a membership meeting in early March. I attended the meeting, met some of the members, and began rowing the Alden Horizon within the next few days with the help of Eric Hopkins. After a few trips out in the Alden I managed to sprain a leg trying to gorilla that big plastic boat around. Three weeks later I was back at it, rowing the double “SeaShell” and then the new Edon with its pontoons installed. In early June I scheduled a lesson with Meg Ayers (volunteer coach for WVU Women’s Crew) who suggested I take the Peinert out; I was reluctant because I had never rowed a scull prior to the Alden and Edon, but agreed to give it a try.
I never went back to the beginner boats and began to accumulate much water time in the Peinert #23. In fact, I have logged more miles on the river this summer than I have on the bike this year. As I write this I have been out for about 100 sessions. Most of these trips have been solo, however Andrew White has accompanied me on a handful of runs and more recently Jenna LaPointe (WVU Men’s club coach) has joined me in the old Vespoli.
But I digress; this article is supposed to be about the 2009 Head of the Ohio. In preparation for the race, Dr. David Rosen offered to let me try out his ECHO Ace on CheatLake. In the event that I couldn’t find insurance for one of the club boats I wanted a backup plan. As the Ace is a modern high tech design it definitely rowed faster than the Peinert but I didn’t quite attain proficiency keeping it on keel in the few trials I made. Right around this time, just for laughs, I “built a boat” on the Vespoli website. The next day I received a call from John Sekulich (“JP”) from Vespoli. We talked for a while before he asked me if I would be going to HOTO. He said he would be there with boats to look at; I asked if it was possible for me to race one. That possibility turned to reality.
I made the run up to Pittsburgh on Friday afternoon with hopes of getting a chance to try the Matrix 27 before race day. My timing was off; JP had left the Three Rivers Rowing Association facility for the parking lot between PNC and Heinz field where all the boat trailers would assemble in the following hours. After taking a look around the TRRA boathouse I made my way down to the finish line and parking lot. I had already made arrangements to meet JP in the morning so I grabbed a bite to eat, my registration packet and wandered around the waterfront. While eating I met some folks from TRRA and told them about my hopes of rowing that evening. Fortunately they had boats that needed to be rowed down to the start line; the rules of the race dictated that all boats must originate from the finish line docking area the following morning. So I took a launch ride up to the TRAA boathouse and helped row an 8 down to the start.
I was up by 5 am the following morning, out of the hotel and on the road by 5:30. I arrived early enough to park right next to Heinz, within 100 feet of the Vespoli trailer. I met up with JP and watched him set up the Matrix before I went down to watch the WVU women come down the course, for 3rd and 6th places in the 14 boat women’s open 8+ race. Shortly after, I hustled to get my clothes on and get the boat down to the water.
My first few strokes were nothing short of embarrassing but I was quickly across the river and out of site of immediate scrutiny. Moments later I heard a very tiny voice say “I think you should weigh enough”; a high school 4+ was right off my bow! I dug the blades in for a sketchy stop and an almost swim. After recovering physically and emotionally I made my way up to the start area for a longish wait for the singles races to begin.
Less than a couple minutes before the men’s singles were called to the starting area I noticed the brace and oarlock hardware for the starboard rigger were levitating. I was bummed! The nut that secures everything was still there but a few washers had gone missing. I hand-tightened all and asked a couple boats near me if any had tools. No-one had tools but moments after raising my hand a launch was by my side handing me a wrench. I got all tight and made my way just in time to start in order. Another minute and I would have had to start at the end of all the singles and out of my age-class. Not how I wanted to do my first race in over 28 years.
The start worked out, I had two boats pass, but then I went off course. I thought missing a buoy was a 30 second penalty, so I spent at least that long pivoting the boat back inside the buoy with only a few hundred meters left to race. At the finish I heard cheers for “Fishback!” I recognized Meg’s voice joined by many others, who I assume were WVU women, though I guess it could have been other well meaning spectators too.
After docking, getting the boat back up to the trailer, and thanking JP profusely, I went back down to the water to watch some more races. Eric had called while I was on the water and we met up a few minutes later. After running into David Rosen and his daughter and chatting (and admiring David’s gold medal) Eric and I walked up the racecourse to watch the boats come down from additional vantage points.
The weather and water were a little ugly that day and got worse as the afternoon wore on. We ended up on a lookout area near the start when the last race went down the course. It was the last race of the day because of the misfortune we were about to witness. First, one men’s 8+ came down looking like it was just being rowed poorly and then we noticed it was taking on water in the bow, and moments later it was fully submerged. While launches arrived to pluck the passengers from the swamped boat another 8+ came down the course. A coach from this boat was also on the lookout and was dismayed to see the Bowman had lost his seat and couldn’t manage to get it back. Soon this boat was completely swamped too. In total three boats went down before the rest of the events were cancelled; all were contesting the same race.
I had a fantastic time at the HOTO and can’t wait to get out there and race again. It’s been great to get back on the water and like living alone for the first time I am really enjoying the freedom of sculling. If our club can muster enough folks for a crew I would like to re-experience that too. I am so grateful that MRA is here in Morgantown and that I was able to connect with them. I would like to acknowledge Meg Ayers for the lessons she gave me and WVU women’s crew for sharing their boathouse with us. Also, thanks to Jimmy King for taking the Peinert up to HOTO for me, in the event I couldn’t row the Matrix I wanted a backup. This weekend I am driving 500 miles to Dexter, NY to look at a “previously owned” Vespoli Matrix 27 – I am that into this sport. Anybody interested in a nice road bike??
[This article was initially published during the winter 2009-2010]
In 1975 Willem Van Eck was successful in obtaining support from the Morgantown community for the nascent Monongahela Rowing Club and in particular for the WVU Student Crew. General Woodworking located in Westover, just across the river from Stansbury Hall, was one of those business that was essential by providing a place at the edge of their lumberyard where the crew could establish a temporary storage location and then the docks.
The docks required a lengthy process of approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, that lasted more than one year, including 2 public hearings. For a long time afterwards the rowing equipment was stored in old tractor trailers. At one point an old barn that served as storage burned down and MRA lost a considerable amount of equipment. But that early bunch persevered. Appeals were made to local government for support, but it would be years before ground would be broken.
In 1990 then President Kim Stearms, a Morgantown Physician, found herself heading a fund-raising campaign for the construction of a new boathouse. The boathouse in Westover finally started taking shape in 1991 and was mostly constructed by the end of 1992. Eventually changes in the Business Landscape of Morgantown led General Woodworking to close, the property sold and MRA losing its home because it had never secured ownership to the ground in which the boathouse was located. The boathouse is now only a memory left in the minds of some of us and in the following images that detail the concept through construction of what amounted to a monumental community effort at the time.
John M. Duarte, 2013