Author Archives: Andrew Leung

VCB Youth Crews at The Icebreaker 2022

An early morning view of the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Boston Rowing Center and the Fort Point Channel race course in downtown Boston.

Early on the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, dozens of youth rowers descended on the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Boston Rowing Center for HLM’s annual Icebreaker Youth Race. Billed as the Northeast Regional Youth Open-Water Rowing Championships, Icebreaker draws middle school and high school age rowers to Fort Point Channel in downtown Boston. Participants row coxed fours and sixes in four categories: middle school crews, first boats (the equivalent of varsity level), second boats (the equivalent of junior varsity level), and novice crews. The race features two events — the Crewmaster Sprints and a distance challenge (the Nautical Mile for first and second boats) — with winners announced for each event.

VCB sent two crews to Icebreaker this year, one each at the varsity and junior varsity levels. Here the crews are pictured with chaperone and mentor Stone Su.

After several years’ of races cancelled due to COVID, this was the first Icebreaker race held in three years. Fortunately, our crews were accompanied and coached by Stone Su, an alumnus of VCB’s youth programming. A dedicated rower and participant in VCB’s youth boatbuilding program, Stone was able to share his firsthand Icebreaker experience with our coxswains. The following is his race recap:

We got to the Barking Crab restaurant pretty early after a brisk and cold walk from the hotel. The organizers gave a quick speech about the return of the race after the pandemic, highlighting the fact that for the vast majority of rowers/coxswains, it was their first time at Icebreaker.

After that it was straight into the first heat of the three sprints, where the second crew (Chris Dong, David Siniscalco, Jonathan Valdez, Mason Yam and coxed by Michelle Huang) would race against Sound School. Both boats had some troubles with navigating the race course yet in the end, VCB trailed Sound School by about half a minute.

Following a short break and some frustration fueled pancakes and syrup, VCB rallied back and blew the competition out of the water, finishing almost two and a half minutes ahead of their competition and fastest among their division for that round. The third round was a nail biter. VCB lead only by a boat length or so for most of the course and after some magnificent turning maneuvers from both coxswains, it was a neck and neck battle down the home stretch. In a last ditch stretch of powers and synchronized shouts, VCB edged out another win by only a few seconds.

Concurrently, the first crew (Daniel Elliott, Hanson He, Abi Johnson, Preston Thomsen and coxed by Mary Harvey) had their races follow just a few minutes after the second crew’s. With a slightly different race course than the seconds, course navigation mishaps struck again for VCB and their competitors from Burlington High School. But after some corrections and a lot of hard rowing, VCB cruised comfortably to the finish. The second round was very similar, both crews putting up consistent times and VCB punching in another win. In the third sprint, VCB decided to turn the engines up a notch, slicing through the water and recording the fastest time of the day for the coxed fours.

Finally came the nautical mile. After a dominant day with the sprints, the VCB first crew crushed everyone in the final race. A single white boat with a coxswain wearing a white hat, VCB came out to a huge lead and managed to keep it as every other boat chased after their wakes.

VCB’s first boat crew pulling out to a commanding lead during the Nautical Mile.

With their strong performance at the races, VCB’s youth crews brought home Icebreaker hardware to put into the trophy case for the first time in over five years! VCB’s first boat crew won a first place plaque and the John E. Lawrence Nautical Mile Coxed Four trophy. VCB’s second boat crew earned a second place plaque. The plaques will remain at the Boathouse, but our crews will bring the Nautical Mile trophy back to Boston next year to defend their title!

2022 VCB Youth Race

Crews from all three participating organizations — Rocking the Boat (RTB), Urban Assembly Harbor School, and Village Community Boathouse (VCB) — take to the water.

After the remnants of Hurricane Nicole roared through the region, bringing gale warnings and high winds, the Village Community Boathouse’s Youth Race was pushed back a day to Sunday, November 13, 2022. An annual celebration of high school crews from New York City and the northeast, the VCB youth race is a free invitational designed to maximize the number of youth rowers that are able to test their skills at the end of the rowing season.

This year, three open water rowing organizations, all hailing from New York City, participated in the contest to crown the best high school crews in the Big Apple. Rocking the Boat sent one novice crew, Knot Today. Urban Assembly Harbor School sent two novice crews (Pier Pressure and Chloe & the Four Dwarves) and two seasoned crews (Oops All Bows and Bulkheads). Village Community Boathouse sent one novice crew (Sea-Men) and two seasoned crews (Wet Sox and Bay-Gulls the Second). Rowers eligible to participate in the novice category started rowing in or after September 2021.

The VCB Youth Race follows its traditional three part format designed to test the abilities of each crew and coxswain. The first part of the race is the timed basin laps, comprised of three timed laps around the embayment south of Pier 40. The slowest time is dropped and the two remaining times averaged. The seasoned crews were separated by the narrowest of margins, finishing in order: Harbor School’s Bulkheads (3:26.5), VCB’s Wet Sox (3:27), Harbor School’s Oops All Bows (3:43.5), and VCB’s Bay-Gulls the Second (3:46.5). Equally exciting were the novice time trials, with two crews registering identical times: VCB’s Sea-Men (3:52.5), Harbor School’s Pier Pressure (4:14.5), Harbor School’s Chloe & The Four Dwarves (4:14.5), and RTB’s Knot Today (4:27).

VCB’s Bay-Gulls the Second and Harbor School’s Bulkheads jockey for position during the seasoned crews’ Nautical Mile.

The second event of VCB’s Youth Race is the Nautical Mile River Race. Designed to test each crew’s endurance and pacing over a longer distance, performance in this portion is helped by each coxswain’s understanding of how the Hudson River’s currents affect the boat. (Currents are generally stronger further out into the channel and each pier creates its own mini eddy of current.) Crews rowed south to VCB’s chase boat, positioned as a race marker off the tip of Pier 26, made a port turn, then returned to the start line in the middle of the basin south of the Boathouse. The seasoned crews again saw little separation between two crews: Bulkheads (11:42), Wet Sox (12:14), Oops All Bows (12:15), and Bay-Gulls the Second (13:36). The novice crews finished in order: Pier Pressure (12:46), Sea-Men (13:08), Chloe & the Four Dwarves (16:34), and Knot Today (18:29).

RTB’s Knot Today, VCB’s Sea-Men, and Harbor School’s Chloe & the Four Dwarves line up to await the starter’s signal in the novice Head to Head sprint.

The third and final event of the VCB Youth Race is the head to head sprints. Seasoned and novice crews each take a turn on the water, lined up alongside the entirety of their competition for a frenzied sprint along the length of Pier 40. Stopwatches are tossed aside as the judges take their positions at the finish line, eyes peeled to see who breaks the plane first. After last year’s photo finish, slow motion video capture was on hand in case we needed to review the finish frame by frame again. After about a minute and a half of dozens of oars splashing furiously, the weary crews end their days triumphantly. Seasoned: Wet Sox, Bulkheads, Oops All Bows, and Bay-Gulls the Second. Novice: Sea-Men, Pier Pressure, Knot Today, and Chloe & the Four Dwarves.

Individual event winners are known to all, but points are awarded in reverse finish order and tabulated to determine overall winners for the day. Harbor School’s Bulkheads won the seasoned category with a total of 11 points. Close on their keels were VCB’s Wet Sox (10 points), Harbor School’s Oops All Bows (6 points), and VCB’s Bay-Gulls the Second (3 points). VCB’s Sea-Men finished first in the novice category with 11 points. They were followed by Harbor School’s Pier Pressure (9.5 points), Harbor School’s Chloe & the Four Dwarves (5.5 points), and RTB’s Knot Today (4 points).

A Huge Thank You to all participants, coaches, and volunteers! Special thanks to Michael for entertaining spectators and keeping crews informed, Marcel for serving as dockmaster, Frank and Sally for feeding the hungry masses, and all of our timekeepers and judges without whom this would just have been four gigs jockeying for position and getting in each other’s ways. We’ll see everyone back down at Pier 40 next November for another iteration of our Youth Race!

Head of the Weir 2022

On a brisk autumn weekend, a racing contingent from the Village Community Boathouse made its annual fall journey to Hull, Massachusetts to participate in the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Head of the Weir River Race. The race course is a spectacular five and a half mile stretch that takes participants from the head of the Weir River, under a bridge lined by cheering spectators, through Hingham Bay, and finally to the finish line marked by the pier at HLM’s Pemberton Point boathouse.

A last minute change to the race course, made amid concerns of erosion caused by crews walking on the boggy marsh, shortened the race by a quarter mile. All participating craft queued up to await the horn that signaled the start of each boat’s time. Rowers were sent off in the traditional order: singles, doubles, coxed fours, then the behemoth pilot gigs that would attempt the chase down the field.

VCB’s Youth Crew racing in Lady Moody, a stretch dory: Mary Harvey (coxswain), Hanson He, Daniel Elliott, Daniel St. John, and Abi Johnson.

This year’s youth crew comprised of a mix of familiar faces and first time racers. Coxed by Youth Rowing Coordinator Mary Harvey, who started rowing in VCB’s youth program pre-COVID, the youth crew placed first in their category with an enviable time of 1:01:06. So skilled was this crew, not even the adult coxed four crews were able to catch up!

The VCB & Friends adult crew racing in pilot gig Cady: Rock Singewald (coxswain), Esteban, Austin Geist, Elizabeth Argiro, Stone Su, Nafel Khan, and Andrew Leung.

With short notice leading to a limited number of rowers available, VCB’s adult crew became an amalgam of rowers from New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. This hodgepodge performed admirably, finishing with a time of 57:35, which landed the crew in the middle of the pack — the fleet of pilot gigs finished with times ranging from 51:59 to 1:45:52 — not bad for a group that hadn’t met each other until the day of the race!

Gratitude to Don Betts for lending VCB the use of his boats for this race. Image credit Sean Baggett Photography.

VCB Youth Race 2021

Photography by Sally Curtis

Videography by Ingo Günther

On Saturday, November 20th, the Village Community Boathouse held its annual youth race, a free invitational for youth rowers of all ability levels. This year saw seven crews of varied experience levels gather at Pier 40 for the festivities and a bit of friendly competition. Governors Island’s Harbor School fielded two seasoned teams and two novice teams. VCB’s youth rowers, hailing from high schools throughout New York City, formed three teams, one seasoned and two novice. This year’s race consisted of three stages, each designed to test the crews’ mettle in different facets of open water rowing.

Stage one of the race was the basin laps time trials; each crew took three timed laps around the embayment south of Pier 40. The worst time was dropped, and the crews best times averaged and compared to the other crews in their category. The average lap times of the novice crews is as follows Bay-Gulls (3:47), The Tainos (3:51.5), Goose (4:11.5), Dry Sox (4:21.5). The average lap times of the seasoned crews was The Seamen (3:10.5), Kiss My Pink Aft (3:36), Wet Sox (3:41.5).

Stage two of the race was the river race. A race course on the mighty Hudson was carefully measured and marked — each crew would complete a nautical mile, leaving the embayment to a marker north of Pier 46, then speeding back home. Crews were sent out in one minute intervals in a head of the river format. The novice crews departed first, and this race proved to be exciting with crews jockeying for position northbound and a lead change at the turn marker! The novices crews returned home as follows Bay-Gulls (14:59), The Tainos (16:01), Dry Sox (16:46), Goose (18:07). With the novice boats back and the ebb even stronger, it was time for the seasoned crews to test their long course endurance. This iteration of the nautical mile saw no lead changes but was equally exciting for the beautifully synchronization in each gig. The seasoned rowers put up the following times: The Seamen (12:20), Wet Sox (14:12), Kiss My Pink Aft (14:33).

The third and final stage saw stopwatches tossed aside as we relied on a more primitive technology: our eyes! Stage three was a hard sprint across the Pier 40 embayment. Although this was the shortest distance, all rowers realized they’d have to row harder than every. Judges from each rowing program waited at the finish line, marked by a Jolly Roger lashed to the northern fence. An airhorn sounded the start of each heat before oars furiously churned a mist of Hudson water into the air!

The novice basin sprint brought looks of surprise and confusion to the faces of the audience and judges alike, with the lead boat stopping short of the marker. When the air cleared, the order that novice crews crossed the finish line was The Tainos, Goose, Dry Sox, and Bay-Gulls. The seasoned crews took to the water next, now made more aware of the placement of the finish line than their novice counterparts. The Seamen crossed the finish line first, but the second and third place boats were separated by mere inches. Video review confirmed that only the stem of the Wet Sox gig crossed the finish line before Kiss My Pink Aft caught up!

Thanks to the efforts of our volunteers the event was a resounding success. Facing the prospect of a forced cancelation and with mere days to plan and execute this event, VCB’s membership rallied together to ensure that the months of training were not for naught. Thanks to Phil Yee for his expertise and guidance throughout the day; to Ingo for laying out all course markers and serving as our safety boat; Frank, Sally, and Melissa and Regine for feeding our hungry crews and spectators; Michael Anton for handling MC duties; Marcel for working on race logistics and the hand out; Frank and Henry for setting up the PA system; Dave and Harbor alumni for line handling and receiving crews at the floating dock; and Ruth, Lorne, Barbara, Eric, Phil, Mary Nell, Pablo, Sean, Regine, and Harbor and VCB parents for serving as time keepers!

Dozens of rowers, many first time racers, were able to get on the water and test their ability against unfamiliar crews. Perhaps their appetite for competition was whetted and we’ll see some familiar faces at next years races?

The Crews:


Head of the Weir River Race 2021

After scuttled plans for Snow Row 2020 amid a rowing season lost to COVID, the Hull Lifesaving Museum hosted their 35th annual Head of the Weir River Race on November 6, 2021. The race course was set, the medals painted, and the goodie bags equipped with a reusable HLM cloth face mask — the only question was whether race participants would return to Hull after skipped season.

And return they did! Nearly four dozen boats containing over a hundred of the finest open water rowers from New England and the Atlantic Northeast gathered at the start line on an unexpectedly warm morning. Surrounded by the changing foliage, boats jockeyed for position in this “head of the river” start format. A horn sounded every thirty seconds to start the timer for each boat and signal its departure.

Once free of the starting scrum, participants navigated through the marsh, flooded by an uncharacteristically high tide. Several enterprising boats with shallow drafts took advantage of this newfound “waterway” and carved new tangents around the race course. Once through the marsh and under the George Washington Boulevard Bridge, rowers navigated across world’s end and into the three mile stretch of open water to the finish line where waving spectators waited to greet tired crews.

Rowers from the Village Community Boathouse were eager to race again and test their ability against the region’s best crews. Traditionally, VCB sends a youth crew and an adult crew to races in which it participates. Mindful of our youth rowers who missed their senior racing season last year, we decided to forego an adult crew and instead create a mixed youth/adult crew to accompany our youth crew to Hull.

Racing in Warrior, a coxed four stretch gunning dory, VCB’s relatively inexperienced youth crew performed admirably and won their category with a time of fifty-seven minutes and fifty seconds. Head of the Weir was the first race for all but one of the youth rowers, making this victory all the more impressive. With most members of the crew eligible to return next season, the future of VCB youth rowing looks bright!

Racing in Pete Seeger, a Whitehall gig built in house by VCB volunteers, the mixed youth/adult crew overcame a rocky start to finish the race in fifty-four minutes and twenty-two seconds. This time was the fastest in the mixed coxed four fixed seat category and earned the crew their golden clamshells. So impressive was this time that it was second overall in the entire coxed four, sweep oar, fixed seat class, registering a mere twelve seconds behind the first place finisher.

After the race, with the youth on their way home, the few participants who remained on the beach at Pemberton Point were treated to an exquisite sunset. We all look forward to making the trek back for the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Snow Row early next year!