By Jane Harrison
Organizers of the largest rowing regatta on Lake Lanier hoped for drier weather leading up to the first weekend of spring. As registrations for the March 21-22 John Hunter Regatta began trickling in last month, the regatta director and course manager were keeping an eye on the water.
“We continue to watch the lake level,” said John Kish, director of the regatta held annually by the St. Andrews Rowing Club in Roswell. He recalled a similar situation last year, when high water complicated installation of the buoyed race course. “Last year it was challenging until a week before,” he said.
As Lanier’s depth rose to six feet above winter full pool about a month before the double regatta weekend, course installation manager John Ferriss reported the course anchors were beyond reach. Ferriss, an-all round anchor himself for the Lake Lanier Rowing Club for almost 20 years, predicted that with drier conditions and release of water downstream, he could get the course laid out in time for the regatta. He mentioned that the regatta date, two weeks later than the 2019 event, allowed more time for water to subside.
An estimated 1,500 college and high school rowing crews usually migrate to Lake Lanier Olympic Park for the weekend of early season competition. About 50 southeastern colleges, high school and middle school colleges send athletes to “The Hunter,” a 34-year rite of spring for young rowers. Participants, spectators and volunteers pack local hotels and restaurants.
Kish said the Gainesville Convention and Visitors Bureau, directed by former LLOP executive director Robyn Lynch, has been very helpful getting word out to teams about where to stay and where to eat. Some crews visit just for the weekend. Others flock in for spring break training camps, culminating with the regatta.
Kish mentioned that an official from an Austin, Texas high school team called seeking places to feed 50 kids for a week. He was glad to refer them to the Gainesville CVB, which compiled a list of restaurants and hotels.
The regatta will follow the same format it started in 2016, with college crews racing Saturday and high school/middle school crews on Sunday. Collegiate teams practice on Friday. The St. Andrews club fills 500 volunteer spots to run the regatta. LLRC prepares and maintains the course, plus provides some wakeless launch boats to monitor lanes during races.
Ferriss, who also coaches LLRC juniors, expects to put young rowers in about five events, possibly the middle school 8-boat and some singles, doubles and maybe a quad. About eight boys and two girls trained with LLRC all winter, he said. Several other new rowers reported for a team meeting last month.
Ferriss, interim coach, took over the youth program after coach Tracey Mayo resigned in 2018.
Kish hinted that another organization may come aboard for next year’s Hunter, possibly growing the regatta. He said negotiations under way with another group may expand the field.
He intends to keep the regatta at LLOP. The St. Andrews club started The Hunter in 1986 as the Atlanta River Festival in Roswell. It moved to Lake Lanier in 2002 after it outgrew the original site and traveled to Oak Ridge, Tenn. from 2005-2008 before returning to Lanier more than a decade ago. “I have an affinity for (LLOP). My kids rowed there. It is the home of the John Hunter Regatta,” Kish said.