High water, a swift current and a debris-filled Schuylkill - including a 40-foot tree - forced Dad Vail Regatta officials to change the Day 1 format of the 71-year event.
Because of dangerous conditions and the forecast of more rain, organizers decided on Thursday to switch yesterday's races to timed events, instead of head-to-head heats, and shorten the distance from 2,000 meters to 1,500.
Wind and heavy rain earlier in the week, an area staple this spring, had ripped stake boats and buoys from their positions.
"The No. 1 reason for switching the format was safety," Robert H. Morro, regatta secretary and three-time Dad Vail champion in the 1950s, said yesterday. "Also, in case the weather turned bad during the day, we wanted to allow as many crews as possible the chance to compete."
On Thursday, when a late afternoon rain worsened conditions, the river was closed for practice. Gavin White, Temple University men's coach, had to call his varsity and junior varsity heavyweight eight boats in after only 20 minutes.
"It was really bad," White said. "You couldn't take 10 strokes without hitting some type of debris. We didn't want to risk any injury to the boys or damage to the boats."
High water and debris had last played serious havoc with the Dad Vail slate in 1998. That year, Saturday's semifinals and finals were postponed until Sunday, and an abbreviated championship round, for those crews that did not have travel commitments and stayed in the area, was held.
"Racing shells are so fragile," Kenneth Shaw Jr., vice president of the regatta, said. "And they're expensive, in the neighborhood of $30,000. You don't go out and play demolition derby with debris."
Weather and water conditions permitting, head-to-head races will resume today. However, the order of the 19 events has been reversed. The premier events, starting with the men's and women's varsity heavyweight eight semifinals, will begin at 7 and 7:21 a.m., respectively. Instead of those Day 2 events concluding in late afternoon, as usual, the respective champions will be decided around noon.
Yesterday morning, Temple's men's varsity heavyweight eight placed 12th overall with a clocking of 4 minutes, 7.71 seconds. The Owls, finishing among the top 18, advanced to today's semifinals. The schools to beat include Michigan (first yesterday in 4:03.00), defending champ Purdue (4:04.54) and Rochester (4:04.83).
In the women's varsity heavyweight eight, St. Joseph's (sixth place, 4:38.28) and Temple (11th, 4:43.01) are still in the hunt for the Evelyn Bergman Trophy.
Also yesterday, with Mount St. Joseph Academy graduate Whitney Zielinski as coxswain, Charleston competed in the women's frosh/novice heavyweight four. With a time of 5:45.32, the Golden Eagles placed 27th and were eliminated.
"With time trials, it's more difficult because you're racing against yourself," Zielinski, 20, said. "In a heat, you can keep an eye on the teams in front of you and behind you. It's more intense, a better competition."
Zielinski, who grew up in Southampton, Bucks County, was a three-year coxswain at the Mount.
"Right away, they put me in the coxswain position," the 5-foot, 114-pound Zielinski said. "I didn't like it at first because I wanted to physically help move the boat, but I grew to like it. The coxswain has a lot of responsibility in keeping the boat controlled and the rowers motivated during the race."
Toward the end of Day 1, Wystan Carswell, a 20-year-old graduate of Academy of the New Church, in Bryn Athyn, was part of a fourth-place finish for Lafayette's women's varsity lightweight eight.
For complete results of the first day's events, go to www.dadvail.org.