Snow Row tested ladies' mettle

Jane Paquet, Hope Tripp, Tamar Russell, Meredith Gallo, David Murphy, Diane Luckey, and Jane Loutzenhiser
The team (from left) Jane Paquet, Hope Tripp, Tamar Russell, Meredith Gallo, David Murphy, Diane Luckey, and Jane Loutzenhiser. Photos by Tracey Jones

By Tamar Russell - March 15, 2007

After completely failing to get up with my alarm last Saturday morning, a call from my coxswain David Murphy saved me. He and his fiancé Hope Tripp had already been awake for a long time, feeding animals and loading up for our rowing team's meet in Hull. They said they would be at the ferry with the trailer and Grace, our Island-built pilot gig, at 5:30 am. I had 45 minutes to get my rowing gear and board the ferry. This is not how I planned to start out for our second Snow Row, a 3.75-mile rowing race held every March by the Hull Lifesaving Museum.

Last year two teams from Vineyard Voyagers, an Island non-profit seafaring organization, now part of Sail MV, went to Snow Row 2006. This year Sail MV, our new mother organization, sent one team, an all women's team, except for our coxswain, to Snow Row 2007.

Jane Loutzenhiser and Tamar Russell
Jane Loutzenhiser and I stood with the Sacred Cod's sign, our neighboring boat, as we checked out the other teams.

With weary eyes, bobbly heads and all wearing our team uniform- any skirt we could locate, we boarded the boat individually and met on the food deck. Meredith Gallo, seat 5 of our team, part-owner of Mocha Mott's, brought the much-needed coffee and we set off.

We stopped for breakfast in Falmouth and hit the highway for Hull. Our destination was the very tip of Hull, the Gut at Windmill Point, where we would wait with nervous stomachs for the race to start.

We arrived around 9 am and had plenty of time to kill. There were seven of us: David Murphy, our coxswain; Hope Tripp, our stroke; Meredith Gallo, seat 5; Diane Luckey, seat 4; Jane Paquet, seat 3; Jane Loutzenhiser, seat 2; and myself as bow. After we registered, we procured some help to get our boat off the trailer and down the beach to our spot beside our neighboring boat, the Sacred Cod. The temperature on the beach was in the 40s, but dropped back into the 30s and we spent our time before the race trying to keep warm. Our coxswain kept reminding us, as he had for the past 48 hours, to drink plenty of water. We would need to be fully hydrated for the task ahead. We also used our time to help the other teams put their boats in the water, as we'd been helped.

The beach, to our horror, was covered in snow. The water near shore was an icy slush, like applesauce, as many folks called it, and we discovered you couldn't really dig an oar into it.

David Murphy
David Murphy, our coxswain, stands anticipating the start.

At 11 am David took us out for a trial row to warm up. This got us warm enough to realize the amount of clothing we would need for the race and immediately we all started to shed layers, but our signature skirts remained. Finally, after a Coast Guard-called delay due to a tanker coming into Hull Gut, we were able to run the race.

A fighting start

The start was mayhem. Our team was slow heading down the beach and my push-off the beach was weak, but we quickly set into forward motion. Stuck in a messy huddle of boats with verbal blasts and growls hurdling through the air between neighboring crews, we finally broke free.

We rowed our hearts out, directly into the wind. Within no time we were passed by other boats and then had our own opportunity to pass a few others, before hitting some serious chop.

Sheep Island, a small piece of land the race course circles, finally came into peripheral vision. We had strong winds of 15 to 20 knots on our bow, pushing us into the Island and lost some momentum, but quickly picked it back up again.

When we reached Peddocks Island day marker, a key marker in the race, we turned beach bound and were able to gain lost speed as we worked now with the wind in our favor.

We had a long last push of sets of 20 counts from our coxswain until we passed the final race marker. Laid out with tiredness and thirst, we raised our oars in salute to the boats that finished just ahead of us, as they had done for us, and rowed into shore.

Fighting our way away from the beach, the Sacred Cod and the Northern Sun. Photo by Kathy Rose

Last year the Vineyard women finished the course in 57 minutes even and our men's team had a time of 49:03. So naturally we couldn't wait to see how we finished. Unfortunately we would have to wait. Because of our 5 pm ferry reservation we had to jet out of Hull and back to Woods Hole before the results were announced. We arranged with Sterling Wall, who rowed with Team Saquish in the W.G. Tucker, a coxed four-oar gig, to call us via cell phone as soon as the results were final. Mr. Wall, a part-time Island resident, is a member of Sail MV and also rows with our men's team.

When the call came in we were elated with our time of 48:18 minutes, second in our class, Adult Amateur, third in overall Amateur, which included a mixed youth crew, and 37th out of 78 boats in five categories. Other times to note are Dana Gaines of Vineyard Haven who finished seventh overall, and first in the Single Ocean Shell, with at time of 37:17; and our friend Mr. Wall who placed 20th overall with a time of 41:37. For the record, the average age of the men in the W.G. Tucker was 55 years old.

All in all it was a cold and exciting day for Island rowers. We are already strategizing and planning to beat our time in next year's Snow Row.

For more information on Rowing MV, call Sail MV at 508-696-7644 or visit or to join the club.