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.


Speaking of...


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Leslie Newell Peacock

  • Charlie Wilson at Verizon Arena

    Also, Stand Up for Access Comedy Show, Max & Iggor Cavalera, Billy Joe Shaver, Daddy Issues, Pat Donohue, Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase, Beer, Brats & Bots, Third Friday Argenta Artwalk, 'Key Connections to Humanity,'
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • A weekend of protests

    Actions against women, immigrants bring people to the Capitol.
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase kicks off

    Also, Intimate Apparel, Ansel Adams, Rachmaninoff, High Plains Jamboree, Black Oak Arkansas and more.
    • Jan 26, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

Most Shared

  • Architecture lecture: Sheila Kennedy on "soft" design

    Sheila Kennedy, a professor of architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and founder of Kennedy & Violich Architecture Ltd., will give the June Freeman lecture tonight at the Arkansas Arts Center, part of the Architecture + Design Network series at the Arkansas Arts Center.
  • Petition calls for Jason Rapert Sewage Tanks in Conway

    A tribute is proposed for Conway's state senator Jason Rapert: naming the city's sewage sludge tanks for him. Petitioners see a similarity.
  • Health agency socked with big verdict, Sen. Hutchinson faulted for legal work

    A former mental health agency director has won a default judgment worth $358,000 over a claim for unpaid retirement pay and Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson is apparently to blame for failure to respond to pleadings in the case.
  • Religious right group calls for compromise on damage lawsuit amendment

    The Family Council, the religious right political lobby, has issued a statement urging its followers to oppose the so-called tort reform amendment to limit attorney fees and awards in damage lawsuits.
  • Constituents go Cotton pickin' at Springdale town hall

    Sen. Tom Cotton, cordial to a fault, appeared before a capacity crowd at the 2,200 seat Pat Walker Performing Arts Center at Springdale High tonight to a mixed chorus of clapping and boos. Other than polite applause when he introduced his mom and dad and a still moment as he led the crowd in a recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance — his night didn't get much better from there.

Latest in A&E Feature

  • Believing is seeing

    A look at Rebecca Gayle Howell's new novel-in-poems, 'American Purgatory.'
    • Feb 16, 2017
  • A Q&A with Adia Victoria

    On the cultural dominance of patrician noses, Nina Simone and more.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Warriors

    Michael Shaeffer's collection captures queens-in-transition.
    • Feb 2, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Little River County gears up for Sesquicentennial

Historical entertainment planned for joint celebration of three Southwest Arkansas milestone anniversaries

Event Calendar

« »


  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  

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation