Sunday, July 25, 2010

Getting ready to row, row, row their boat

Not going gently down the stream
Germans, Decatur educators enjoy time on Tennessee
Paul Huggins, Staff Writer, The Decatur Dailt

You won’t find centuries old castles on the Tennessee River like the ones that line the Rhine River, but a group of German rowers gave rave reviews for their week-long trip from Chattanooga to Huntsville.

And based on that feedback, local rowers from the Rocket City Rowing Club, including five Decatur teachers, hope they’ve started a river excursion that will catch on with more Europeans and Americans seeking new scenery and cultures to explore from their long, slender boats.

“You have much better water than we have in Germany,” said Olaf Ehses, 46, a German rower, who came to Alabama with four other Germans last week.

He explained while Germany’s largest and best-known river, the Rhine, has its stately castles and manicured vineyards and farms, it has far more commercial traffic, making for more choppy waves with which to contend.

“Here, maybe, we pass two or three barges while out rowing. In Germany, you pass 10 barges an hour,” he said. “It’s like biking on the interstate.”

Because the water is smoother, the rowing group can use sleek, 45-foot long racing shells, which was an extra incentive to lure the Germans to Alabama.

They started Sunday in Chattanooga and rowed to Nickajack Lake. On Monday, they rowed from Nickajack to about five miles south of Scottsboro. On Tuesday, they continued to Guntersville State Park. On Thursday, they drove to Tennessee to try whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River. On Friday, they rowed from Guntersville to Honeycomb Creek, and Saturday, they rowed to the club’s boathouse near Ditto Landing in Huntsville. They carried their boats around the dams instead of using the locks.

In addition to dealing with less traffic and getting to use faster boats, the Germans said they have enjoyed the calming scenery and varying wildlife, such as ospreys and herons.

“To see the green,” German rower, Christian Krause, 52, answered when asked what drew him to row the Tennessee River. “When I go on the river, I enjoy the quiet and the nature. That’s why you go touring.”

Ehses said he even enjoyed the hot humid weather because it is so different from rowing in Europe.

The German rowers said they got accustomed to the heat and humidity after a couple of days, but added they limit rowing to three or four hours each day on the Tennessee River, whereas in Germany they regularly row six hours. They also row at a less intensive 18 strokes per minute compared to 30 for racing.

Ehses got to know local rowers when he worked in Huntsville for nearly two years until 2008. A rower since age 9, he eagerly joined the Rocket City Rowing Club and made lasting friendships. In 2009, he invited a Huntsville group to row on the Rhine for a week. That led to the idea of bringing German rowers to Alabama.

Diane Winters said it took a good deal of planning to coordinate the trip and find places where they could launch and land their fragile boats as well as hotel accommodations that gave them a truer sense of the region.

The group spent nights on the Delta Queen river boat, a bed and breakfast, cabins at Camp Maranatha and Guntersville State Park.

“Part of the plan is to market it to other clubs,” Winters said, noting they can use fees to buy new equipment for the local club. “There’s huge interest in Chattanooga to join in something like this, Nashville, too.”

Ehses said he thinks more European rowers would like to visit the Tennessee River because of its natural scenery, noting that rowing tours are popular back home.

Krause said every German city has a rowing club, and major cities have as many as 10. His hometown of 25,000, has one club with 300 members. Almost every rowing club in Europe sponsors tours, some as short as a day and others as long as three weeks, he added.

The Decatur-Morgan County Convention and Visitors Bureau has begun efforts to stage a rowing regatta at Point Mallard with a course set up on Flint Creek in front of the beach.

In November, Chattanooga was host to 1,620 boats for the annual Head of the Hooch rowing regatta.

Need for Decatur club

Kim Qualls, 50, International Baccalaureate coordinator for Decatur City Schools, was one of five Decatur teachers who rowed with the Germans last week.

She said she’d love for Decatur to start a rowing club so they wouldn’t have to drive to Huntsville to practice.

She said she grew up on the river, and loves boating and water skiing, so rowing made perfect sense.

“I’m also a runner and this is better than running, Qualls said. “When I ran, I had to go to a weight room for an hour for an upper body workout. With rowing, I can get it all, upper and lower body and in half the time.”

The other Decatur teachers who rowed with the Germans were Cindy Moore, a Decatur High career tech teacher; Alice Evans, a Decatur High math teacher; D’Arcy Harder, a Decatur High math and science teacher; and Sabrina Helm, a Cedar Ridge Middle School science teacher.

Moore, 46, who has rowed for five years, said the week with the Germans was a true cultural exchange that all the teachers can take back to their classrooms.

“It’s funny how you can get one thing to unify you, which in our case is rowing,” she said. “It just brings you together and you see how you’re more common than different. So I will be able to explain to my students that all over the world, although the cultures are very different , we as people are really the same.”

Interested in rowing?

The Rocket City Rowing Club will have its next

Learn to Row class starting July 30. It starts that Friday night going over safety rules, and the next morning puts students in the boats. Students will learn the fundamentals of sweep rowing, equipment, terminology and common commands.

The cost of the class is $100, and $25 of that cost can be applied to club membership should students choose to join after the class. For more information, send an email to

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