Shipping off to Boston

The T

For the past twelve years, I’ve been making the early March trip to Windmill Point, at the southern entrance to Boston Harbor. Few have heard of pilot gig racing, let alone the Snow Row, but its loyal band of participants enthusiastically gather on a small cobble beach each winter for a race that has been held for the past three decades.

My early participation in the Snow Row began as a member of an adult rowing team, but in 2008 I started coaching youth rowing at Burlington High School on Lake Champlain. Last weekend marked the fifth year that I’ve traveled to the event with student crews.


The race itself is a single event. lasting 45 or 50 minutes, but for the students who look forward to the event, it’s much, much more.

The routine is well established. Depart Burlington at 8:30 a.m. on the day before the race for the drive to the Sullivan Square T station just north of the Charles River. We ride the T (Boston’s subway system) into downtown and head for Faneuil Hall, Newbury Street, or Harvard Square for some random wanderings through a very walkable urban center.

Trinity Church

While the gang was off sampling the boutiques on Newbury Street this year, I headed for Copley Square to photograph the contrasting styles of the Trinity Church and the Hancock building (above). Next, in search of a restroom, I discovered the Boston Public Library (below).

Boston Public Library

We’d agreed to meet back at the T stop by mid afternoon. I’m not sure what was in the bags they’d collected along the way.


We seem to have gotten quite good at timing our departure from downtown to coincide with heavy (stopped) traffic through the tunnel on I-93 south, but we eventually arrive at the Hull Lifesaving Museum with a stack of pizzas to get us through the dinner hour.

The Loft

The loft at the museum is mostly used for after school kids programs, but when Burlington High School rowers are in town it’s a comfortable place to put down a sleeping bag for the night.

Breakfast at The Corner Cafe

Another tradition is The Corner Cafe on Nantasket Beach. They know we’re coming and bring in extra staff for the two hours when Vermont rowing crews fill the tables before heading to the race.

An annual ritual

Jay Cassell (above left) is much beloved for his steady support of the Burlington High School rowing program. Affectionately referred to as simply “Cassell” by the students, the trip wouldn’t happen without Jay’s efforts.

Captain Emily

And, what would the Burlington High School rowing program be without Emily. She’s been with us for all four of her high school years and has served as the team captain for more than two years of that time. Emily makes it happen. I follow along, watch, and smile.

4-oared crew

Oh, yeah, then there’s the race. Throughout the morning hours boats are offloaded from trailers to the beach. Crews take a few strokes to limber up and adjust the hardware. The coxswain’s meeting is at 11:30 and the race begins at noon(ish).

The biggest class belongs to the traditional six-oared pilot gigs, but many other craft are welcomed to compete. Above, one of the Burlington crews backs away from the beach with the four-oared boats.

Headed for Sheep Island

Under way to Sheep Island (above), the four-oared Burlington High School crew settles in.

The Start

Next, the six-oared pilot gigs get their start. It’s a Lemans style launch where the gigs begin with bows on the beach and only the coxswain aboard. When the cannon sounds, the rowers race from the start line to the boats and scramble to their seats before the rower in the number one seat pushes off and climbs aboard.

Heavy Traffic

In heavy, oar to oar traffic, crews must turn the boats 180 degrees before heading to the first mark on the 3.75 mile course. Above, the Burlington High School crew gets trapped between Grace (about to bump their stern) and Mike Jenness (blocking their way forward). Nothing to do but wait for the other crews to clear, but they make up lots of lost time once under way.

Awaiting the return

After the 80 or so boats depart it gets pretty quiet. Between the start and finish I wander about with cameras in hand while awaiting the fleet’s return.

Well Done!

After a strong middle of the pack performance, the Burlington High School six-oared pilot gig crew (above) celebrates another great event. The four-oared crew (below) placed first in their division (albeit a division of one that was created after one of the youth rowers couldn’t make the event and an adult rower was recruited last minute, making it a mixed youth/adult team).

First in class

Back on the beach for plenty of sunshine while awaiting the awards ceremony and the drive back north to Vermont – exhausted, but all smiles.

Exausted yet happy

The seniors on the team, including coxswain Erica (below) will leave the rowing program at the end of this spring with much to be proud of.

Captain Erica - Coxswain

And, finally, who couldn’t love Molly’s boots.

Great boots