When James Bibb rowed in last year's inaugural Juneau Rowing Club Regatta, he'd been away from the sport for nearly a decade and he didn't make it out of the preliminary heats.
Things went much better this year for the local architect, who rowed collegiately for the University of Oregon and for club teams in Switzerland and Sweden. Bibb purchased a scull - a 2004 Maas 24 that's considered the fastest rowing scull in town - and began rediscovering the sport.
With a year of training under his belt, Bibb had a much better performance in the second annual regatta. He posted the fastest time in Sunday's preliminary heats, and he won Monday's men's championship race even though he almost was run over by a pleasure boat whose captain nearly cut through the racers.
"Once you row in college, you never lose it," Bibb said. "I had to get one of those, and the Maases are pretty good boats. They're practically bulletproof."
Bibb held a small lead over Juneau Rowing Club president Matt Kirchhoff, a former Syracuse rower, when the pleasure boat drifted into the course. Despite attempts to alert the skipper of the pleasure boat, it came within one or two boat lengths of hitting Bibb before the skipper veered off the course.
"It slowed things down, but it refocused me for the rest of the race," said Bibb, who finished the 2,000-meter course in 9 minutes, 20 seconds.
Kirchhoff, who had been close behind Bibb until he slightly misjudged the finish line, took second place in 9:30. Former Michigan State and U.S. Naval Academy rower Glenn Miller took third place in 9:38, followed by second-year rower Sam Skaggs in 10:17 and former Gonzaga rower James McDermott in 11:44.
Heather Haugland, a former Harvard-Radcliffe rower, won the women's championship race in 10:24. She was followed 11 seconds later by Kelsey Skaggs, who just finished her freshman year of high school in Victoria, British Columbia. Ann Ferlauto, a former rower at Mount Holyoke, took third place in 13:17.
"We only ended up with three women, which was kind of disappointing, but the club's building a lot," Haugland said. "We've got four or five people out every morning, and three or four people have bought boats this year. There's momentum."
"The next thing is to get some pairs and fours in town," Kirchhoff said. "Look at the docks. We've got two new floats (with racks to store rowing shells) since last year. It's growing slowly."
Kirchhoff, whose daughter Rachael also is a former Syracuse rower, used a 20-year-old Maas 24 in the race. He also used it to follow behind the women's race, which took place before the men's final.
"The tide and wind were much stronger for the first race," Kirchhoff said when asked to compare the conditions.
In the women's final, Haugland veered quite a bit to her starboard (right) side as she rowed and that extra distance almost let Kelsey Skaggs catch her. Skaggs, whose family splits time between Juneau and Victoria, just learned to row this year at Glenland-Norfolk School and for The Gorge Rowing Club in Victoria. Haugland said she had some problems with the way her oars were entering the water, and Skaggs' technique was better.
"I started last September and I definitely want to continue through university," said Skaggs, who usually rows in a quadruple sculls boat in Victoria, where four rowers each use two oars. "I go to school first, but rowing's a big part of it. We can train in a good climate and there's a natural lake. It's salt water, but it's really protected."
Kelsey Skaggs took up rowing after her father, Sam, was introduced to the sport by Kirchhoff. Sam Skaggs, who works as an investment counselor, said he had injuries from other sports and Kirchhoff suggested rowing as an alternative. He rowed in last year's inaugural regatta, but finished last in his heat. Sam and Kelsey Skaggs used an 18-foot Echo scull, which was wider and shorter than the Maas 24s and has more drag at the back of the boat.
"I rowed as a kid in rowboats, but not like this," Sam Skaggs said. "I love the water. This is much more pleasing. (Rowing) is meditative because you get into a rhythm."
In the men's preliminary heats held on Sunday, Bibb won the first heat in 8:17, followed by Ken Leghorn in 8:39 and Carl Ferlauto in 9:46. In the second heat, Kirchhoff won in 8:44, edging Skaggs in 8:51 and McDermott in 9:55. Miller had to scratch because of a mechanical problem with one of his oars.
"The collar slipped on the oar, and that's the first time it's ever happened to me. I'll have to check them next time," Miller said, adding that technique can be more important than power. "It's more important to row clean, to just row smooth."
The Juneau Rowing Club will host an open house from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, July 17, at the club's Aurora Harbor floats near the Juneau Yacht Club. Club members will make some boats available to introduce people to rowing on that day. For more information, call Kirchhoff at 586-5816 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.