Blackburn Challenge Preview

 image from the Blackburn Challenge website, featuring the course around Cape Ann

image from the Blackburn Challenge website, featuring the course around Cape Ann

The Blackburn Challenge features a FISA C1x contingent this year!

This Saturday, July 21st is the 2018 edition of the Blackburn Challenge, the biggest coastal race on the US east coast. The course is a 20 mile (32 km) circumnavigation of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. In this event, entrants get it all: a winding river, sheltered coast, exposed coast, and the big-boat traffic of a busy commercial harbor.

The Blackburn generally draws between 300-400 participants in all manner of craft. Big Banks Dories, traditional Cornish Pilot Gigs, Hawaiian canoes, surf skis, kayaks of all kinds, sup boards, and of course rowing shells. On the rowing shell side of things we get everything from flat water racing shells (on calm years) to do-it-yourself garage-built celebrations of personal ingenuity. 

This year, for the first time, is a solid contingent of FISA coastal boats. In the men’s solo, we have eight FISA C1x boats entered! This is a big jump from previous years (2-3 C1x boats), and shows that good things are afoot for U.S. progress in growing this international coastal racing class.

Here’s a preview of who to watch in the C1x fleet:

We can start the competitor preview with me (alphabetical order, that's all!). Starting in 2015 I've been using this race as a testing ground for Rebel C1X prototypes (now being readied for production). I've won each year by an average margin of nineteen minutes! Since I'm in the middle of training for the Coastal World Championships, I've put a lot of miles under my hull this summer, and feel good about my chances for continuing my Blackburn winning streak. 

James Dietz II. Big James is an impressively powerful rower. A former national champion on the 2K course, James has raced the Blackburn twice, and medalled twice. He’s been out of the boat for awhile this summer, but can always crank on some oars.

Jim Dietz. The legend!…great to have multi-time Olympians showing up on the coastal scene.

John Easton. Unknown to this author. This is John’s first Blackburn in a C1x. Lets see what his story is!

Charles Hauss. Charles has been instrumental in getting coastal rowing in Canada started, and is on the organizing committee for this year’s World Championships in Victoria. He was also a B finalist in last year's Coastal World Championships. Charles is a skilled coastal rower who is bound to row a smart and steady pace in his first Blackburn.

Rich Klajnscek. Rich has won this race in the “racing” class (an unlimited class, i.e., no boat specs to meet) countless times by wide margins. He’s borrowing a C1x this year to take on this competitive crew. Rich will probably want to claim multi-class titles, so he’s one to keep an eye on out there!

Ryan Miranda Williams. Ryan is a grad student, fresh off a collegiate rowing career. Aside from being a Blackburn rookie, he appears to have what it takes to be a good bet for podium honors – he’s young, fit, competitive and training hard. 

Carl-Henry Piel. Here’s a guy who rowed across Sweden, took silver two years ago in his first Blackburn, and considers a recent 35 mile row around Manhattan easy because there was “assistance from the current.” He skipped the race last year, so lets see what he brings back to the mix Saturday.

Sinead FitzGibbon. Sinead is the only woman racing a C1x. Given her extreme fitness and fearless racing tactics, we do expect to see her both at the top of the women’s class and rather high up the men’s division too!

Since the Blackburn Challenge doesn’t recognize a distinct “FISA coastal” class, C1x rowers are grouped into the larger “Touring” class, which is closest to FISA coastal specs. While we focus here on the C1x competitors, there are a couple other boats in the mix, some of which will be significantly lighter than the FISA boats and may mix up into the ranks. We’ll be pitching for a dedicated FISA class to be instituted in next year's Blackburn Challenge.

There you have it! As you can see, its a great collection of rowers. This will be a competitive race Saturday, so come down to Gloucester if you’re in the area. Results and write up to follow. 

Check out the race website here:

Blackburn Challenge