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!

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:


Youth Athletics Finds a New Field On The Hudson River

By Sally Curtis

As more families move into lower Manhattan, there is an ever-increasing demand for ballfields for youth team sports. Ballfield advocates are pitted against real estate interests and developers who want commercial development and tourist attractions like the Highline. The conflict is all the more acute since it is taking place in Community District 2 that has one of the lowest open space ratios in New York City at 0.58 acres per 1,000 residents. The citywide standard is 2.5 acres.

 Amidst the controversy over balancing the needs of the community with the need for commercial development, an important resource is being overlooked: The Village Community Boathouse (VCB) where a diverse group of New York City high school students row wooden rowboats in the vast and underutilized open space of the Hudson River and compete in open water rowing races throughout the Northeast.

On a sunny and cold Saturday in November, VCB hosted its annual Youth Race at Pier 40. Rowers came from four different rowing groups: Stuyvesant High School and Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, the Sound School in New Haven, and Cortlandt Community Rowing. All the groups walked away with some prizes. In the words of announcer Michael Anton, “There are no losers today.”

More than 160 enthusiastic rowers, coaches, and volunteers gathered at the boathouse in the cold to share food and their love of rowing. The crew names, were the best part, reflecting a competitive spirit tempered by a teenage sense of humor: The Wet Sox (Stuyvesant); Eat My Bubbles (Sound School); Kiss My Aft (NYHS); DeeDahs (Courtlandt) among others.

VCB is an all-volunteer, donation-based nonprofit organization. Incorporated in 2008, VCB occupies a space on the south side of Pier 40 where it had operated as a downtown chapter of Floating the Apple since the establishment of Hudson River Park in 1998. Utilizing a fleet of more than a dozen traditional wooden boats called Whitehall gigs, VCB volunteers take thousands of local residents, students and international visitors out rowing for free all over New York Harbor every year.

High school rowers are VCB’s most enthusiastic and numerous constituency. Rowing clubs from Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, City As School and Stuyvesant High School meet several times a week for rowing during the school year at the VCB boathouse on Pier 40.

Many of the young people who began rowing with VCB in high school return after college as volunteers, bringing with them valuable maritime skills, learned over their years of involvement with VCB.

Pier 40, located in Hudson River Park has four ballfields that are heavily used by children of all ages from local schools and athletic clubs. The legislation that created the park calls for using the pier to generate funds to support the rest of the park. However, the dilapidated pier is in need of adaptive reuse or demolition. Advocates for youth athletics have been working with The Hudson River Park Trust and elected officials to address the needs of the community for ballfields and boathouses. Unfortunately, team sports don’t generate much revenue, creating conflict between the need to generate revenue to support the park and the needs of the community.

Like the ballfields, the boathouse on Pier 40 has nowhere else to go in lower Manhattan. Advocates for youth athletics should recognize and value of the high school rowing programs run by VCB. The boathouse on the south side of Pier 40 should be included in discussions of preserving and expanding space for youth athletics in lower Manhattan.

2019 VCB Youth Race Saturday, November 9

By Deborah Clearman
Steven (ESPO) Powers Mural was the perfect backdrop to the Youth Race thanking VCB volunteers and everyone else who worked so hard to make the event a great success!

On a sunny and cold Saturday, Village Community Boathouse hosted its annual Youth Race at Pier 40. With 80 participants, this was our largest race to date. Teenagers came from four different rowing clubs: Stuyvesant High School and NY Harbor School, both in New York City; the Sound School of New Haven, Connecticut; and Cortlandt Community Rowing in Westchester County. The Cortlandt kids were at a disadvantage because they normally row shells on quiet water and were unaccustomed to Whitehall gigs. Nonetheless, they performed well, and all the groups walked away with some prizes. In the words of announcer Michael Anton, “There are no losers today.”

The format of the races, organized this year by David Palsgrove, differed somewhat from previous years. All 16 crews competed in the first race: two consecutive timed loops around the perimeter of the embayment. The top score in each category—male, female, and mixed—were selected to go on to the final river race without competing in the sprint tournament. Top scores in the perimeter loop went to the Cortlandt Big Boys (male), Harbor School’s Kiss my Aft (female), and Sound School’s Kiss my Stern (mixed).

Fifteen crews competed in the next event, the sprint tournament. This consisted of three heats. In the first heat four groups raced from a standing start and the first two across the finish line in each group moved to the second heat. In the second heat two groups raced and again the first two in each group across the finish line moved to the third heat. The third heat consisted of four crews. They raced to determine their place in the tournament. They crossed the finish in this order: first prize to Harbor School’s Harbor Lambs; second to Stuyvesant’s Swordfish; third to Harbor School’s Marvelous Day; fourth to Sound School’s Golden Age. All four crews went on to the final river race. The first-place winner was given a 10-second bonus in the river race.

The river race started in the embayment, left it to head north against the ebb tide, to a turn boat stationed approximately a half-mile north of Pier 40, and returned to cross the finish line inside the embayment. Seven crews participated in this timed race with a staggered start. There was a last-minute substitution because one of the winning crews from the first event (the perimeter loop) had left early. So Sound School substituted its female crew, the Bombshells. Winners of the river race were: first place Harbor School’s Harbor Lambs, second place Cortlandt’s Big Boys, third place Sound School’s Golden Age.

Coaches, parents, and VCB volunteers crowded the south walkway and cheered on the teams. We estimate that 160 attended the races, including the participants. Frank Cervi provided breakfast coffee and bagels. Dave Clayton had prepared number flags, and the arriving crews were invited to individualize their flags with markers. At the end of the day, they would take their flags home. Sally Curtis and Ruth Lindner had loaded up Sally’s large SUV with hot dogs, burgers, rolls, snacks, etc. the day before. Soup and salad contributions rolled in. Lorne Swarthout manned the barbecue grill with help from Bob and Dave (we think from Sound School). Paul Caviano set up the scoreboard and kept the score brilliantly. Michael Anton provided his ever-witty announcements. Deborah Clearman organized the timekeepers: herself, Ruth Lindner, Lee Berman, and Derek Wollenstein. This year we had two timekeepers per boat, to guard against stopwatch failure and human error. For the river race, we asked for volunteers to provide 14 timekeepers. Seth Rivera, Pablo Garcia, and Kristina Allocco acted as line handlers, helping crews in and out of boats at the floating dock.

On the water, Harbor School’s Rick Lee and his wife Amy Rose Knudson provided a chase and photographer’s boat. Sally Curtis took photos. Seth Rivera, Dave Clayton, and Sound school’s Bob Lazara operated VCB’s RIB as a turn marker. Special thanks to Ingo Gunther for chase boat support and race course map.

Coaches had their hands full organizing and supporting their teams and lending a hand where needed: Sound School’s Neil Geist, Harbor School’s Roy Arezzo, Stuyvesant’s Ka Ming Wong, and Cortland Rowing’s whose name we didn’t get, but she was very busy.

Huge thanks go to all who made this a great day on the water. Kudos to race organizer David Palsgrove and harbormaster Marcel Dejean. Congratulations to all the racers who put their hearts and oars into the race.

The Winners:

First Place Winners!
Harbor Lambs
Second Place
Stuyvesant HS
Third Place
Marvelous Day
Fourth Place
Golden Age
Sound School


The Teams:

Race Photos:

Ingo’s Race Course Map:

Photos by Sally Curtis