Black Fly Scullers
1382 Fellows Road
Danville, Vermont 05828
Phone : (802) 745-7207
Fax : (802)748-4323
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WHAT A BUNCH OF CRAZY PEOPLE
Course records shattered at Inaugural Black Fly Regatta

Sixty hours before the siren signaled the mass start of the Inaugural Black Fly Regatta on the upper Connecticut River in Waterford, Vermont, heavy rains flooded Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. From its banks, the river looked like Jigger Johnson's last log run of virgin spruce to the mills more suited for peaveys than sculls (even sculls with vortex edges).

Although seemingly impossible, conditions worsened as dawn broke on race day, June 15, 2002. A classic nor'easter blew rain and a 15 mph headwind into the Comerford Reservoir, the venue for the mass start, as temperatures hovered near 50 degrees. It seemed that the only life unaffected by all the chaos was the nesting pair of bald eagles, the great blue heron and the loons.

There was a sliver lining: the wind, rain and chilly air kept the black flies at bay. Every year during the month of June, the pernicious,biting bugs (for whom the regatta is named) feast on the inhabitants of the Northeast Kingdom who typically take refuge under heavy clothing, mosquito netting and toxic doses of DEET. But even the black flies deferred the opportunity to sample the fine corpuscles of the willing competitors.

There was a sliver lining: the wind, rain and chilly air kept the black flies at bay. Every year during the month of June, the pernicious,biting bugs (for whom the regatta is named) feast on the inhabitants of the Northeast Kingdom who typically take refuge under heavy clothing, mosquito netting and toxic doses of DEET. But even the black flies deferred the opportunity to sample the fine corpuscles of the willing competitors.

Undaunted, a trio of volunteers navigated their motorboats upstream and carved a path through the 4.2 mile race course, under the watchful eye of US Rowing referee Gayle German, nattily attired in a waterproof cowboy hat and coat right out of the Australian Outback. At 8:45 AM regatta creator Tom Paul declared the river fit for sculling (making no comment about the fitness of the scullers) and convened a mercifully swift pre-race meeting. The scullers drew lots for bow numbers and were reminded that any wrongdoing on the water would result in denial of porta-potty privileges after the race.

From this crucible of defiance, laughing in the face of peril, or perhaps figuring that they drove all the way to Vermont and might as well make the best of it, seven intrepid scullers made history. Merely thirty minutes after the pre-race meeting, all had aligned themselves across the middle of the Comerford Reservoir. For once it seemed a speedcoach would be a severe psychological handicap; the prospect of staring at absurd split times into 4.2 miles of headwind and chop against the current was daunting. Perhaps more daunting was the sight of starter, Don Wallace, in thinsulate camouflage coveralls trying to load his shotgun for the start. By the grace of the rowing gods he blew his siren instead.

As they raced upstream the scullers could see that in a mile the river would narrow considerably, holding the promise of an advantage over their competitors or the threat of a trip to the repair shop. All seven made it through unscathed. Just like War Emblem at Churchill Downs, Tim Whitney led from wire to wire. Ellen Kennelly and Stu Miller battled hammer and tong with Kennelly hitting the line one second ahead. Tom Paul managed to shed his LL Bean hunting boots in time to stumble out of the starting gate and finished a furlong behind. Jesse LaFlamme and Jeff Foltz battled it out for fifth and sixth and Sandra LaFlamme valiantly pushed her lightweight frame through 4.2 miles of headwind to round out the field.

"Six course records were shattered today," announced Paul during the post-race award ceremony. Tim Whitney set the benchmark in the male Larvae Division at 28:21 and Sandra LaFlamme set the female Larvae Division mark at 35:48. "I'm very happy that three Larvae competed today," said Paul. "This bodes well for the propagation of master Black Fly Scullers in the future."

In the female Swarm B Division, Ellen Kennelly threw down the gauntlet at 30:54, while Tom Paul took a bite out of the male Swarm C Division at 32:05. Stu Miller would return to Main with the male Swarm D record at 30:55 and Jeff Foltz would also return to Vacationland with the male Swarm E record of 33:45.

It was no wonder that the records fell like overindulgent black flies. At stake in each division were the most coveted awards on the racing circuit: one dozen of Pete and Gerry's Organic Eggs (laid right on the farm overlooking the race course) for first place; a bag of Maple Crunch popcorn from Maple Grove Farms in St. Johnsbury (just upstream) for second; and a 12 oz. honey bear from McLure's apiaries in neighboring Littleton, New Hampshire for third.

Tim Whitney, as the fastest male black fly of the day, also took home a tin of Bag Balm (made just upstream in Lyndonville, VT) and a Champion Tomato Plant which would bear fruit for the rest of the long Vermont summer(in other words, July). Ellen Kennelly, the fastest female, took home a Stargazer Lily from a nearby greenhouse and will no doubt soothe her chapped hands with her tin of Bag Balm on her way back to the Charles River.

The happy, soggy, hypothermic scullers munched on bananas, oranges, bagels and cookies, cradling their cherished awards as they ordered the soon-to-rival Dolce & Gabbana Black Fly Scullers T-shirts complete with the Black Fly logo and motto, "Morde Me!" (which is thought by some scholars to be the last words uttered by Cicero).

Reflecting on the days activities, Regatta secretary, registrar, hospitality committee and finish line chairwoman, Tracy Sherbrook, summed it all up rather succinctly: "What a bunch of crazy people."

"I'm looking forward to next year's race," mused Paul. "I think we need to have a 'Name the Mascot' competition, and I won't forget to give the special award to the car most likely to break down on the way home."

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