VENTNOR – Bernadette Ritzel’s “vision” for the Ventnor City Sprints and Coastal Regatta was a bit hard to see on Saturday, through the steady, wind-swept rain of a rare summer nor’easter.
But as Ritzel, the race director, looked out from a deck on the Ventnor Heights intracoastal waterway, she saw the future of an event that she hopes will become an integral feature of the area’s summer sports landscape.
“Ideally, on a nice summer day, we’ll have people lined up all along the bay watching the races in style, with food trucks and vendors on hand and a true regatta atmosphere,” Ritzel said. “That’s my vision.”
For the inaugural edition, there were a few dozen hardy spectators along with about 20 competitors who braved the gusty, 40-knot winds and choppy waters of the 1,500-meter course.
Though 20 races were planned for the event, from youth to Masters, involving local high school rowers and clubs from as far away as Massachusetts and Florida, only six races actually got off the ground Saturday, according to Ritzel.
“It was a good, fun event but challenging, to say the least,” said Ritzel, 44, of Margate, a former Holy Spirit High School and Rutgers University rower. “The weather did not cooperate. You could surf in that bay today.”
Eileen Normoyle and Alexis Franklin of Philadelphia’s Vesper Boat Club had planned to compete in the regatta with a crew of eight women from their club but were limited by the conditions to a 500-meter duo sprint.
“It was only about 15 minutes but it seemed like about three hours,” Normoyle said. “It was like crossing the Atlantic, it really was. Very challenging.”
USRowing referee John Wik said the conditions Saturday were actually ideal for a coastal regatta (we’ll have to take his word on that).
“Coastal rowing is the extreme version, the adventure side of rowing,” Wik said. “It’s not like the flat-water Olympic style of going in a straight line. Coastal rowers prefer rough water which adds a whole new dimension to the sport.”
Coastal rowing is especially popular in Europe. Unlike traditional rowing shells, coastal shells are heavier and designed to be extremely stable. Riggers on the doubles and quads are hinged to allow for the difference in wave height along the hull in choppy water.
Saturday’s inaugural event was hosted by the Viking Rowing Club, a non-profit organization founded over 50 years ago. The club will use the proceeds to benefit its current Youth and Masters programs, an Adult Learn-To-Row program, and fund a new program for retired and disabled veterans.
“We actually have a lot of retired vets in the area, so we’re trying to get that off the ground,” said Ritzel, a rowing instructor for the Viking Rowing Club and an Egg Harbor Township High School assistant girls crew coach. “Everything from new equipment for our youth rowers age 10-14, to our Adult Learn-to-Row program, which is open to anyone, to our new veterans program. It’s a non-profit fund-raiser to help the community, raise awareness about rowing and get more people into it.”
Ritzel said her vision is still very much alive, despite the challenges and abbreviated nature of Saturday’s inaugural edition.
“But it laid the groundwork for future events,” she said.