Head of the Hooch rowing competition draws 15,000 to river

photo Rowing teams and their fans fill Ross's Landing Park and the surrounding parking lots during the Head of the Hooch regatta in Chattanooga on Saturday as teams carry their boats to the Tennessee River. Thousands of people come from all over the world to watch and participate in the 5,000-meter event.

IF YOU GOWhat: Head of the Hooch rowing regattaWhen: 8 a.m.-2:30 p.m. todayWhere: Finish line at Ross's LandingAdmission: FreeWebsite: www.headofthehooch.org.

Last year, they beat the Texas Crew by more than two seconds. The year before, Jacksonville University's championship eight-man rowing team beat Georgia Tech's crew team by five seconds.

The Jacksonville crew's goal for this year's Head of the Hooch event was to beat 15 minutes and 18 seconds. After practicing nine times a week, the team beat its goal by nearly eight seconds, but lost the race in the eight-man crew event.

"We had the power," Jacksonville crew member Andre Kleijn said. "It just wasn't our day, really."

The eight students from Jacksonville came to Chattanooga's Head of the Hooch Rowing Regatta with 25 rowers to join the 1,965 other boats entering races Saturday and Sunday.

With 45 events Saturday and 41 more today, teams had plenty of chances to compete.

In all, the regatta had about 9,800 spots for rowers, though some rowers filled multiple spots by competing in multiple races.

About 15,000 crew, family and spectators crowded Ross's Landing and other viewing spots along the Tennessee River for the first day. Event officials say the Head of the Hooch brings $4.86 million to the city.

The Head of the Hooch is reportedly the second-largest rowing race in the country. Teams come from as far away as Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada; Miami, Fla.; and Dublin, Ohio.

Kleijn, a freshman, said the Tennessee River has a stronger current than the St. Johns where the team practices. But he said the Tennessee was beautiful to row on.

"The scenery is awesome," he said.

Deb Farrell, an event spokeswoman, praised the weather -- 60-degree temperatures, calm winds and clear skies.

"They turn on the best weather every year for us, so we can't complain," Farrell said. "People say this is the best regatta they come to."

Lining the Riverfront Parkway, vendors sold rowing shirts, rowing bumper stickers, rowing jewelry. Shirts promoted rowing causes such as curing breast cancer and ending discrimination.

High-carb and high-protein food booths sold $6 "barbecue sundaes," $7 crepes, $3 cheese pizza slices. An ATM on a trailer encouraged spending.

The Jacksonville team and others stayed at hotels. But some, like the University of Notre Dame Men's Crew Club A that beat Jacksonville by one second, drove in early in the morning and drove back Saturday night.

To see the list of winners, visit the Head of the Hooch website at www.headofthehooch.org.