We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat(house): First Strokes toward Protecting and Supporting a Growing Program

Published by Doug Cook

I have it on good authority that everyone questions their dedication to the sport of rowing when the alarm sounds at 5:30 a.m. It is dark; it is cold—and a slight breeze on campus means a strong wind on the water.

Cameron Snow '22
Cameron Snow '22

“When you finally push off the dock and take that first stroke, the switch must flip,” said Cameron Snow ’22, warmth permeating his recollections.

“Your crew is relying on you to be sharp mentally and physically. It usually takes about twenty-five to thirty minutes before the sun starts to rise. At that point, the crews are in full swing, the bodies warm, and the minds sharp. The orange glow across the water as all of us row in unison is one of the greater joys in life.”

Snow took his first strokes in the water as a Bowdoin student. Head coach Doug Welling says that’s true of nearly 80 percent of the student athletes on the team.

That sets rowing apart from just about every other college sport you can imagine and creates an accessible pool of inclusivity and diversity into which the uninitiated may dip their blades.

In large part because students can learn to row in college and compete at a high level within a short period of time, the rowing team has steadily grown over the past decade to a point where there are now upwards of a hundred student athletes on the roster.

To accommodate this growth, the team's fleet has also increased in both the number of boats and in their size. To remain competitive and to enhance safety on the water, the team increasingly uses eight-person shells. 

Smith Boathouse, however, dedicated in 2002, was designed only to house ten four-person rowing shells and cannot accommodate the team’s evolution toward larger boats. The team’s eights are stored outdoors, unprotected from the elements.

Smith Boathouse as it currently stands.

Smith Boathouse as it currently stands cannot accommodate the rowing team's longer eight-person shells, which must weather the elements in racks outside.

A planned expansion of the boathouse would not only house and protect this equipment but also provide needed improvements, including space for team changing rooms, accessible bathrooms, and a safety shower for warming in the event of a capsize.

Coach Welling points out the passion and work ethic of Bowdoin’s rowers, coupled with the generosity of the program’s many supporters, have yielded many successes in recent years.

“Bowdoin has been well represented on a national and international stage, with gold medal wins at the Head of the Charles, New England Rowing Championships, and Dad Vail Regatta and trips abroad to the Women's Henley and Royal Henley regattas in England,” says Welling.

"Safety is an obvious priority for our team, and the renovation project is highly anticipated to better support the current roster and their performance levels.

The renovation project, which is to begin in spring 2022, involves two Maine-based companies that previously worked on other campus projects.

JF Scott Construction out of Winthrop was responsible for the expansion that became the Schiller Coastal Studies Center and also built the support building at Whittier Field and a warehouse off campus that was designed by CWS Architects, the Scarborough firm that will also design the boathouse renovations.

Construction of this gift-funded project is expected to be finished in time for the fall 2022 season; in the meantime, it’s hoped a celebration may take place this coming fall to observe the thirty-fifth anniversary of the modern rowing program.

“The boathouse expansion project will allow for continued growth and success of the program while maintaining the history and tradition that is very much alive in the Smith Boathouse,” said Associate Director of Athletics Alice Wiercinski, who oversees the crew program.

Ross Remembers

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"My time on the Bowdoin rowing team fundamentally changed how I saw myself and worked with others. With every stroke, I developed confidence in my mental and physical strength and learned to motivate and trust others, knowing that together was the only way we were going to succeed." 

—Katie Ross ’14

Ross was captain her senior year and earned gold medals at the Head of the Charles, Dad Vail, and Reading Regatta in England.

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Wiercinski uses the word “family” to describe team members past and present who compose an “an inclusive group of hardworking and dedicated team members who value speed and humor as parts of their team culture.”

“Those values that guide the team while at Bowdoin continue to be exhibited well after graduation by the supportive, generous, and enthusiastic alumni of the program,” Wiercinski said.

A house for boats, sure; but also a hub for so much more—and though Snow is one of the newest members of the family that forever inhabits it, it’s clear he, among others, has found a home.

“The team embodies the purest form of sport with our desire to both win and enjoy the act of rowing itself,” Snow said.

“Through grit and grace, the team emerges time and time again through hardship as a collective unit."