The 18 clubs and organizations that make up the Schuylkill Navy and occupy the 15 boathouses along Philadelphia’s famed Boathouse Row have made that river course an internationally famed rowing venue. The annual Dad Vail Regatta there, the country’s largest collegiate rowing competition, draws amateur athletes from more than 100 schools and dense crowds of fans from across the country. On good-weather days, the view from the water there (above) is a spectacular panorama of the city, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Fairmount Waterworks enjoyed by rowing teams and individuals who are part of the Schuylkill Navy community. But others also have access to boathouse rowing experiences. Google map.
One of the activities housed in the Bachelors Barge Club at #6 Boathouse Row is a rowing program for non-rowers operated by Team Concepts, a team building and leadership development firm. It uses the disciplines and demands of team rowing as a teaching experience for executives and others. Above is a team of undergraduate students taking summer courses at the nearby University of Pennsylvania. Their event is a one-day excursion that begins with early morning classroom how-to-row lessons, proceeds to workouts on professional rowing machines in the Bachelors Barge Club’s attic gym, and then puts the teams into nine-man racing shells and out on the water to compete against one another.
Established in 1853, the Bachelors Barge Club is the country’s oldest, continuously operated boathouse; its main meeting room’s trophy cases boast prizes from more than 150 years of rowing competitions, including the Olympics.
Racing shells cost about $50,000 each. They are intricate machines enabling bodies and oars to move in opposite directions to generate the most powerful forward force. The ground level of the Barge Club is a warehouse of racing shells.
Leading the day’s training is Team Concepts CEO Dan Lyons, a world champion, former member of seven U.S. national rowing teams, and member the U.S. Rowing Hall of Fame. He’s also a former Naval Officer and faculty member at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. His staff are all veteran rowing coaches.
Rowing a racing shell is a surprisingly complicated process for team members, who must do it in exact synchronization in order to efficiently move the boat forward. Here, the students hit the rowing machines as Lyons helps them master the basics.
Racing shells are 60-foot-long craft that seat nine in tight quarters , their feet anchored in attached rubber shoes.
Lyons coaching the novice rowers on the final details of boarding and getting familiar with their oar’s movements.
Shells are carried out of the boathouse, set in the water, fitted with thier oars, and boarded with a team that rows out to make way for the next team’s boat.
From the water, Boathouse Row is a scenic place, bustling place where there is a strong sense of community and camaraderie that is one of rowing’s main lures.
Each shell has an experienced coxswain who captains and steers the craft. The waterborne view is impressive, with the center city skyline dominating the eastern horizon.
Further upstream to the west, the Schulykill snakes through heavily forested park lands and flows under a series of historic bridges.
Although the general public refers to both single and nine-seat racing craft as “sculls,” boathouse aficionados refer to singles as sculls and nine-seaters as “shells.”
After practicing for two hours, the teams line up upstream in preparation for their race back down river.
The race ends near the westernmost boathouse, the historic Turtle Rock Lighthouse dating to the 19th century when his area of the river was heavily used by commercial shipping.
Back at the Barge Club, the teams take their boats out of the water and gather again in the main meeting room for the awarding of gold, silver and bronze medals to the top three teams.
Lyons congratulates and puts a gold medal on Aminata Jalloh of Oakwood University, one of the winning red team members.
The day ends with a photo op for the winning team with their crossed oars.