Power boats urged to use caution near rowing crews at Fort Hamer

PARRISH -- For boaters in open water, choppy conditions and wake from other craft are steady companions.

They present a special challenge to rowing crews, whose numbers have grown since 2011 when the Fort Hamer rowing facility opened on the Upper Manatee River.

"These outrigger racing shells have very low gunwales, merely inches above the waterline, and are easily swamped by wavy waters beyond a minimal height," Paul Brennan, a Canadian resident who winters in Ellenton, said in an email to the Herald.

Recently, Brennan, a rowing crew member in his youth, was at Fort Hamer watching the Yale University rowing team.

On two occasions, a power boat at high speed brought Yale's rowing to a halt to weather the waves, Brennan said.

Brennan said he also saw two engine-powered boats slow down significantly for the college rowers.

Wednesday, Casey Baker of Resolute Racing Shells was working on some of Harvard University's rowing boats at Fort Hamer.

"Some of the power boat owners don't understand what effect they can have," Baker said. "The high school kids don't necessarily know how to handle the wake."

Manatee County is home to rowing teams from Manatee, Palmetto and Southeast high schools.

The least amount of wake is desirable, especially when passing near smaller boats and younger crews, Baker said. Wake and chop can't be totally avoided in open water, he said.

Lou Berl, coach of the Harvard-Radcliffe lightweight crew, had no complaints Wednesday when asked about wake thrown by power boats.

"We are lucky to be here. It's a great venue. We are taken care of so well here," she said. "Wake is just part of rowing. You have to learn to deal with it."

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.