BELFAST — Come Boating!, Belfast's community rowing organization, sent all three of its Cornish Pilot gigs down to the first race of the season, Hull Lifesaving Museum's 36th Annual Snow Row, March 21. The men's team, rowing the Belle Fast, won the Pilot Gig pro category with a time of 30:26, and came in third overall. A mixed team, rowing the Malcolm G, came in second in the Pilot Gig class, and 10th overall with a time of 32:56. The women's team, rowing the Selkie, came in first in the Pilot Gig amateur category and fourteenth overall, with a time of 34:25.
The event, named after Edward Rowe Snow, had been postponed for two weeks because of the snow and ice that had accumulated in Hingham Bay. Most of the ice disappeared by the time of the race, but the snow continued to fall throughout the day, making visibility a challenge for the coxswains who still had to maneuver through the remaining chunks of ice.
"Great conditions," said Ethan Shaw, of the Belle Fast. "The snow just added to the fun."
The event had fewer boats than in past years, but it was the smaller boats that stayed away while more than 60 boats, including 18 six-oared pilot gigs, numerous coxed fours, whale boats, and sliding sweep coxed fours, crowded the main beach awaiting the start.
The Snow Row is known for its "Le Mans style" start, in which the boats sit with the bow pulled onto the beach, and the racers poised at the high water mark, waiting for the start signal to run down and jump into their boats. As a drone buzzed overhead, the start cannon fired and the first wave of smaller boats pulled away from the beach. After two minutes, another blast sent of the coxed fours and whale boats on their way. With the smaller boats gone, the 32 foot long Pilot Gigs with their 12 foot long oars had a little more breathing space to perform the difficult task of backing the boat off the beach and spinning it around to start the race.
"The most exciting part was waiting for that cannon to blow signaling the start," said Tanya Lubansky of the Malcom G. "But when it did, we were so focused that we did't even notice the chaos around us."
All of the Belfast boats had a great start, and they were the first three to complete the turn and get underway. The first leg of the 3.75 mile race is a straight run to Sheep island, the direction of which the coxes had to guess as the snow had picked up. They followed the smaller boats and their instincts as the gigs cut through the calm seas, dodging the occasional ice chunks until about halfway, when the island emerged through the haze of snow.
"The race course was lined with large bergs to maneuver around and jockey for position with other boats," said Roy Rogers, cox of the Selkie. "It was first time for me it snowed at the snow row."
The gigs started to overtake the smaller boats, adding yet another hazard for the coxswains to avoid, when the they came to the first turn around Sheep Island, not getting too close to the deceptively shallow sand bar that extends from its eastern end. After rounding the island, the next leg offered a quick decision for the best route through a more densely packed section of ice, to make it to the next marker.
The last leg of the race is a mile long sprint to the finish line back at Hull Beach, and the Malcolm G. overtook a few small boats and was the first to cross the finish line, with the other Come Boating! gigs close behind.
"The women's team did amazingly well, especially considering that we had never rowed together as a team prior to the race," said Monica Piccinini, of the Selkie. "We had great fun and no one got hurt!"
It was a great way for the Belfast teams to start the year, and a great end to what has been a long, challenging winter of training.
Next up for the Belfast teams will be the Essex River Race in May.
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