On a rainy Thursday in May, after their finals were over, the Fairfield University men’s and women’s crew teams boarded a bus to Philadelphia. We watched as the sky turned from dark gray to light blue, while trees disappeared and were replaced by the tall buildings of Philadelphia. I only went to the regatta as a spectator, but I’m glad I went.
Dad Vail is a huge event with many trailers, tents, and (I would estimate) at least a few hundred people. It took about 20 minutes to walk from the furthest trailer to the last tent. There were various vendors selling various foods, clothes, and even ergs. You could even get free cowbells, so naturally we had the pleasure of listening to those all weekend. We spent most of Friday and Saturday watching the boats row by.
I overheard someone give a “sparknotes version” of the history of Dad Vail, which is that there was a school that banned rowing and a coach whose last name was “Vail” brought the sport back to varsity status and made it successful. So he got the nickname “Dad Vail” and here we are several decades later.
According to one of the coaches, the way the event was structured didn’t make sense, because advancement to the next heat was determined by heat result rather than time. Therefore a boat that came in 3rd place against slow boats could potentially race against much faster boats in a semi-final. Also, lanes 1 and 6 were on the outside and therefore didn’t benefit as much from the current. I didn’t see and boat in either lane do very well the entire time (though I was told that a few in those lanes managed to win some races).
The clouds reached Philly by Saturday, and it rained lightly most of the morning. Fortunately we were protected by our yellow-striped tent. Swarms of mosquitoes joined us, but for the most part they stayed up at the top of the tent trying fruitlessly to escape, while we enjoyed strawberries and other delicious foods provided by the parents.
As far as our athletic success went, our women’s team performed well, and one of their crews won a gold medal. The bus returned to Fairfield the following Saturday, where we encountered thunder and lightning that lasted until the night. I am now back home with the weight of my junior year academics off my shoulders, in search of new weights (and since I need to start training for next season, I mean that literally).