Rowers prepare to compete on ‘best course I’ve ever seen or raced on’
Close to 100 ocean-going sculls, kayaks and outrigger canoes will line up across Mackerel Cove for the shotgun start of the fourth annual Jamestown Counter Revolution on Saturday, Aug. 27. The 15.5-mile circumnavigation of Conanicut Island draws elite competitors from all over the country.
Dan Gorriaran of Providence is the race’s founder. Gorriaran, who will pilot a single scull in Saturday’s race, got his start when a knee injury sidelined him in the late 1990s.
“I blew out my knee in my senior year of college and required rehab,” Gorriaran said. “I was hobbling along the road one day and I saw a bunch of kayakers on the Seekonk River. I noticed that there was really no impact and I signed up for a class a few weeks later. So I started it as rehab.”
The North American Open Water Rowing Championship is an event that is piggybacked onto other races. The event had already been held as part of the Blackburn Challenge in Cape Ann, Mass., and the organizers were looking for a new East Coast venue so that they could continue to alternate the race between the East Coast and the West Coast.
“We started scouting,” Gorriaran said. “Bill Prichard, who lives in Jamestown, is a good friend of mine. We started driving around looking for a new venue when we realized that Jamestown couldn’t be more perfect. We came up with this concept of starting at the cove, going around counterclockwise, and finishing at Fort Getty. Having the start and finish in two places creates logistical problems but it’s a fantastic course.”
Safety concerns were paramount in Gorriaran’s mind when laying out the course. He said that the waters can be rough, but being close to the shore almost the whole time adds safety and security. “It’s probably the best layout I’ve seen,” he said. “If you choose to bail, you can bail anywhere.”
In January 2008, Gorriaran approached the town of Jamestown about his idea. He asked around to find out whom to speak with to help him get the race going. He said it was former Police Chief Thomas Tighe who brought everyone together.
Gorriaran said, “He brought in all of these people and said, ‘OK, what do you need?’ The town really just opened their arms to us. It was really spectacular. It requires a lot of leg work and permits and all of that stuff, but the town has made it so easy.”
While the Counter Revolution is not the Open Water Championship this year, it will be again in 2013. However, this year’s race is the East Coast Championship for kayakers.
Gorriaran decided to include kayakers in the race right from the beginning. “That was a no-brainer,” he said. “Open-water rowing and paddling really go hand in hand. Those guys really like rough water ocean paddling.”
According to Gorriaran, certain kayakers aboard fast ocean-going surf skis will finish ahead of some rowers. (Surf skis are lightweight kayaks that are long and narrow with an open cockpit.)
“This year there will be a lot of fast guys,” he said. “It looks like it will be a little bumpy with that storm coming in. There will probably be two or three single scullers who will beat the top surf ski guys. The top surf ski guy will probably be in third or fourth place overall. I’m going to be challenged.”
As an added safety measure, six powerboats will surround the fleet of racers. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Jamestown Fire Department are also aware of the race and will be on call.
“The first year we did it they said they would put a boat out on the water just to be ready,” Gorriaran said. “But they’re so quick in responding that if anything came up, a 911 call would get them out there. With the number of boats that we have, and the proximity to the shore, it’s really never a problem.”
The fleet has no trouble with bigger boat traffic because they never enter the navigation channel.
Even in the heat of the competition, Gorriaran finds time to take in the beauty of his surroundings. “I have all of the electronics in front of me to keep me from realizing how hard I’m pulling and how painful it is,” he said. “But the thing that works best for me is to just look out of the boat, scan the horizon, take it all in, and then refocus. It’s too beautiful not to take it in.”
Gorriaran said that the Jamestown course is the best track that he has ever raced on.
“The combination of having the dramatic shotgun start in Mackerel Cove, and then finishing at a place as beautiful as Fort Getty, could not be better,” he said. “There is no race that I go to that has a combination of all of those amenities.”
The post-race party for the Jamestown Counter Revolution will take place at the Fort Getty pavilion and will feature food, entertainment and the awards ceremony.