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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Athletes get out on the Tennessee River to compete in the Head of the Hooch rowing regatta Saturday, November 2, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
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Head of the Hooch

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Despite fog and frost and from a cold front that made fall feel like winter in Chattanooga, thousands lined the banks of the Tennessee River early Saturday for what's been billed as one of the world's last great fall regattas.

The morning fog settled upstream of the finish at the annual Head of the Hooch at Ross's Landing, limiting visibility for crew members awaiting the biggest event on the race calendar.

Race directors ultimately delayed the start by two hours and canceled the final seven events on Day One of the two-day regatta. There are 89 events in total.

"It's hard because we kept hoping it would be good," said Emily Oxford, who helps direct the event with her stepfather, Daniel Wolff. "It would look great down here [at Ross's Landing] but it would be really foggy at the start. We decided the most fair way to do it would be to just take off the events at the end, rather than picking and choosing [which events to cancel]. People are pretty upset. We want to find the best solution for everyone, but it's just one of those things where there's not one solution to make everyone happy."

The roughly 10,000 participants flooded toward vendors and tents to keep warm as the temperature dipped to freezing. The 2,000 boats set to compete, crews, their families and spectators stretched more than a mile down the bank from the Springfield Marriott to the west past the Walnut Street Bridge to the east.

However, the delay was a problem worth dealing with for directors who wanted ensure participant safety despite complaints.

MORE INFO

For a schedule of events and results, visit headofthehooch.org

some text Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga rowing team picks up their boat to take down to the water during the Head of the Hooch rowing regatta Saturday, November 2, 2019 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

"Safety is our No. 1 priority, so we for sure could not launch this morning," Oxford said. "An interesting thing about rowing is that all the people who are rowing face backwards. They cannot see where they're going. They're pretty dependent on their coxswain or bow person to see where they're going. We want to make sure they're not running into boats or into the land. We have these beautiful bridges here, and we don't want people running into those and getting hurt."

By 10 a.m., the fog had lifted and the sun began to warm the venue, allowing the event to begin.

For many, the local event is a favorite on the race calendar and ends the rowing season. That was the case for the Miami University Rowing Club out of Oxford, Ohio.

"It's a lot bigger [than typical events]," said freshman rower Corinne Henderson. "It's more fun. It is harder to place."

"This one is the biggest ones we've been to by a large amount," said fellow freshman and crew member Katie Short. "But there is really more competition."

The club, with its 54 members, was competing in its fourth regatta of the season, which began with the start of school in early September. Henderson and Short would compete against more than 40 other crews in their event. For comparison, at other regattas this year they've competed against as few as two.

The Head of the Hooch is in its 15th year in downtown Chattanooga — moving to the city with the opening of Ross's Landing. Previously, it had been held as the Head of the Chattahoochee, beginning with 105 boats racing in Roswell, Georgia, for its first year in 1982.

This year's regatta had crews from about 30 states and four countries: United States, Canada, Mexico and the Netherlands. Crews ranged from masters competitors in their 60s and 70s to young club members and high school teams.

While some, like the two college freshmen, are in Chattanooga rowing for the first time, others are making the event a staple of their rowing seasons.

The Texas Rowing Center brought back its female 50+ Masters 8 crew following a third-place showing last year.

"We basically have a three-race season," crew member Susan Morse said. "We went to Head of the Charles [in Massachusetts] two weeks ago, and we did well there. We had a hometown regatta, called PumpkinHead for short, last weekend. This is the end of the season. It's the last gasp before winter training, so we're hoping to do well here, too."

Contact Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoorsTFP.

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