PARRISH -- There were fire ant beds on the ground, biting no-see-ums in the air, and dreary fog over the Upper Manatee River on Friday, but what Yale University Bulldog rowing team members were talking about was the Fort Hamer rowing training facility.
"This is really nice," said one of the tall, lanky crew members.
"Fancy," said another. "Absolutely perfect."
On New Year's Day, 41 members of the Yale team arrived in Manatee County. Friday, they were attending to logistics, including removing the long, slender boats from a trailer, and attaching seats and rowing apparatus.
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They will be putting their boats in the water at Fort Hamer for the first time on Saturday.
There was a bit of history in the air on Friday. Rival Harvard began coming to Fort Hamer when the facility first opened in 2011.
"The first intercollegiate athletic event in the United States was between the Yale and Harvard rowing teams 150 years ago," Yale coach Stephen Gladstone said.
That was before there was intercollegiate football, baseball, or any other sport.
At least seven nations are represented on Yale's rowing crew this year.
Among those who came the farthest to get to Yale, or Fort Hamer for that matter, is 6-foot-8 Ed Reeves of New Zealand.
"I think we'll do great this year," Reeves said. "We have a lot of great recruits from all over the world. Every year we continue to build. Our team is capable of being the fastest boathouse in the country."
Reeves is a good example of the type athlete Yale recruits for crew.
"Rowing is an endurance sprint lasting 5 1/2 to six minutes. You have to have the endurance of a miler, plus tremendous leverage and power," Gladstone said.
"All of our athletes are between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-8. If they played football, they would be tight ends," Gladstone said. Because the boats are inherently unstable, the athletes also must have exceptional balance.
Rowing has long been popular in the Northeast, from Boston to Washington, D.C., and is now rapidly growing all over Florida, Gladstone said.
For anyone wanting to know more about the sport, Gladstone suggests reading the book "The Boys in the Boat" by Daniel James Brown, about the U.S. quest for a gold medal in the 1936 Olympics.
Paul Blackketter, president of the Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc., called Fort Hamer Park a tremendous asset for the Bradenton-Sarasota area.
"We are hoping to grow and have more teams here in the future," Blackketter said. "We do this for the economic impact. Rowing is here to stay."
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.