Favorite

Six Bridges Regatta restores rowing tradition 

The river race returns.

ROW: ABC River Rats practicing for the Six Bridges Regatta.

Brian Chilson

ROW: ABC River Rats practicing for the Six Bridges Regatta.

click to enlarge ROW: ABC River Rats practicing for the Six Bridges Regatta.
  • ROW: ABC River Rats practicing for the Six Bridges Regatta.

Lawrence Finn describes rowing as a beautiful choreography of arms and oars pulling in concert to move slender boats down a waterway. Today, those rowers are men and women in waterproof synthetics, rather than all male crews in striped wool, as were the members of Little Rock's first rowing club, the Boathouse.

It was 1882 when the Boathouse, a private affair at the foot of Main Street, launched its first race, and 1936 when it launched its last, deep-sixing the tradition of a Labor Day regatta on the Arkansas River. The Boathouse burned down — for a second time — in 1938 and there was little interest in rebuilding.

Now, 78 years later, the Arkansas Boathouse Club will bring back the tradition 21st century-style with the Six Bridges Regatta on Saturday, Aug. 30.

The Boathouse has swapped shores, from Little Rock to North Little Rock, and the boats in the regatta will no longer be named for debutantes as they were in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Other things are different too: Competitors may or may not indulge in moonshine two months before the races, though their antecedents had a rule not to, and not to smoke, either.

But the ABC expects the enthusiasm of the early days of river racing will repeat itself as crews from Wichita, Houston, Dallas, Memphis, Oklahoma City, Northwest and Central Arkansas and — and St. Louis, it's hoped — compete in the club's inaugural Labor Day races. The U.S. Rowing Federation-sanctioned event will include 5K head races in four categories — youth, collegiate, open and masters — that will start upriver near the Burns Park bluffs, where buoys and anchored pontoon boats will designate the starting line, and conclude at the Junction Bridge. (Boats will launch from the Boathouse dock between the Main Street and Junction bridges and row upriver to the starting point.) The club expects there will be five or six hours of racing, starting at 8:30 a.m., with 75 competitors from eight to 10 different clubs in about 30 different boats, including crew boats with a coxswain and sculling boats. The races are time trials ("much like the Tour de France," Finn explained) in which the boats race against the clock, not each other.

For those on land, there will be food trucks, hot-air balloon rides and a beer and wine garden under the Junction Bridge in North Little Rock, as well as the sight of boats headed down the Arkansas.

"It's such an amazing resource for rowing," Finn said. "Whenever we bring outside coaches they are amazed at the resource that we have and we recognized how underutilized it is."

Finn, who is competing in a scull with ABC member Ellen Sullivan, said a great way to watch the race would be from a bike, on the North Little Rock portion of the River Trail. "Just nip in at the Burns Park cliff and follow the boats." The Broadway, Main Street and Junction bridges will offer good views as well.

Formed in 2006, the Arkansas Boathouse Club has 25 active members and maybe twice that many nonrowing members. Club members launch from the clubhouse on Riverfront Drive — a former North Little Rock maintenance building — and also row on Lake Maumelle.

Though there is "a level of fitness that's required" to row, Finn said it's the ability to be mindful of balance, stroke counting and the movements of others in the boat that are crucial. "It's incredibly technical, akin to skiing on water or snow. When you're fighting the mountain or the water, you're expelling energy but losing the gracefulness that is the hard and soul of the sports. When you become comfortable with the technique ... it's not an arm-pulling workout. ... The choreography is exhilarating," Finn said. His partner, Sullivan, he said is a "much stronger" rower than he.

The last race of the day is hoped to restore what was a tradition of the old Boathouse: a sprint race between a Little Rock crew and a St. Louis crew. St. Louis whopped Little Rock in its first competition here, in six-oar barges, in 1923. Finn said an invitation from Gov. Mike Beebe to Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to send a crew to compete for the Governor's Cup hasn't been answered; but then, Nixon has been busy lately.

Though the Arkansas River's reputation is that it can be dangerous, Finn said, "I haven't seen the Loch Ness monster yet." Use of the river — which Finn reminded a reporter is free — can "animate and change perspective" on the resource.

The regatta has gotten support from Little Rock, North Little Rock, state Parks and Tourism and individuals like Mike Coulson of Coulson Oil, who with his wife, Beth, is a member. So far, no slot machine is required to keep the lights on, unlike its predecessor in the 1930s. Finn said the boat club is already signing up teams for next year.

Favorite

Speaking of...

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Kay Odyssey comes to Maxine's

    Also, Dames, Dems and Drinks at Pavilion in the Park; Bi-Okoto Drum and Dance Theatre at the Faulkner County Library; 2nd Friday Art Night; Dolly Parton at Verizon; Cedell Davis at White Water; and "Do the Right Thing" at Riverdale 10.
    • Aug 11, 2016
  • County responses to flawed felon data suggests eligible voters have been removed from rolls

    Earlier this summer, Secretary of State Mark Martin’s office passed along flawed data on Arkansas felons to county clerks. We contacted all 75 counties to see how they had decided to handle it. Their responses varied dramatically. In at least 17 counties, clerks took a "shoot first" approach, which almost certainly means eligible voters have been stripped of their rights.
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • 2016 Best of Arkansas editors' picks

    A few of our favorite things.
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Everything new is old when it comes to Arkansas education

    Depressed yet? No? Then read Ernest Dumas' prediction of what's likely to come of a new way of providing state money to higher education — money allocated on performance.
  • AAC: In the black

    The leadership of the Arkansas Arts Center announced at its annual meeting and luncheon today that it has just completed its sixth year in the black, continuing its recovery from a budget black hole created by an expensive blockbuster exhibition, "World of the Pharaohs."

Latest in A&E Feature

  • The Beatles anew

    Daniel Whelan's remixes expose hidden treasure in the Fab Four's catalog.
    • Aug 17, 2016
  • See the Main Thing

    The comedy trio is a polished — but hidden — gem.
    • Aug 10, 2016
  • Gridiron: a century of satire

    Little Rock lawyers' theatrical spoof turns 100.
    • Aug 4, 2016
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

August

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation