A Challenging Course for an Inaugural Head Race
The world-class rowing facility in our backyard isn’t just a venue for sprint races. Benderson Park hosted the Inaugural Sarasota-Bradenton Head Race on November 17.
Of course, holding a Head Race on a course designed for 2k means plenty of tight turns for the crews. Competitors launched from the island and had a warm-up area about 750 meters long. Rowers could make several passes in the warm-up area following a counter-clockwise pattern before heading to the marshaling area.
The start is on the east shore of the lake. Rowers head north into the canal on the far side of the island. It’s an exciting place to watch and cheer on the rowers as they pass under two bridges and compete to set their boats up for the ideal position heading into the first turn.
Once past the island, the crews have an option unique to this venue: a choice in the course they will take. Crews can take an “outside” course where they execute a wide turn and line themselves up for a straight shot down the 2k straightaway, or take an “inside” course, opting for a tight starboard turn, skirting the island right along the beach full of cheering fans before heading across the sprint course and merging with the outside lane. Crews that take the inside lane had the advantage on the merge, and on this race day, had a sheltered shore for a short period of time. Both courses had crews row the full 5k, so there were no advantages in distance.
The racecourse continued down the 2k straightaway before cutting across the south end of the lake, turning again to row along the east shore. The final stretch had crews turn out at an angle into the middle of the lake before making a final turn back towards the island rowing along the wave attenuation system for the finish about 500 meters shy of the island.
It’s a challenging course requiring strategy and skill to execute tight turns, but a fun way to end the Head Race season. Sitting on the island or bridges, the announcers made it possible to keep track of the various at different points along the course and results shared in real-time.
In its first year, 17 clubs from three states attended this regatta and there were 286 entries. Of course our local clubs, Sarasota Scullers, Sarasota County Rowing, and Sarasota Crew, all competed. Sarasota County’s Mixed Masters 8+ won their event and the novice crew placed second. Sarasota Crew used the opportunity to provide novice rowers experience in both the men’s and women’s 4x events. Their Masters rowers also won the Women’s Masters 1x and placed second and third in the Men’s Masters 1x.
Now that our local crews know the ins and outs of the course, next year’s the Sarasota-Bradenton Head Race is sure to be even more competitive. Long after the rivers have iced up and docks pulled out, we’re still able to host Head Races here in Sarasota, rain or shine, all year long.