ST. CATHARINES, Ont. -- More than 2,300 athletes from 151 rowing clubs have gathered in St. Catharines this week to race for gold at the 129th Royal Canadian Henley Regatta.
"It's pretty close to the same as last year," said Bryan Perry, a volunteer at the regatta and a member of the Canadian Henley Rowing Corporation.
American clubs are well represented, as well as a sprinkling of entries from Mexico, Serbia, Australia, Argentina and Guatemala. Event organizers were hoping to welcome athletes from Ghana for the first time, but visa problems have nixed those plans for this year.
American crews have not been scared off by the value of the Canadian dollar.
"That doesn't seem to be an issue," Perry said. "The number of clubs is down slightly, but the number of entries is up slightly.
"For us, the numbers look good, regardless."
Of the 2,397 athletes competing in the regatta which began Tuesday, 1,163 are men and 1,234 are women. The most entries are in the single (683), followed by the double (446) and pair (258). For the eights, there are 199 entries.
There are no structural changes to the main portion of the regatta, but the masters regatta, staged Sunday, included a few new mixed races. There were 330 entries in the masters regatta, down from the more than 400 that came in 2010 in anticipation of the world masters championships in St. Catharines.
The adaptive races will return to the main regatta and will be staged Sunday. Among the four races contested will be a mixed leg, trunk and arms coxed four, featuring the Canadian team that won gold at last year's world championships. Eden High School graduate Laura Comeau coxes the Canadian crew.
"We're trying to get the word out to the adaptive people out there to enter and participate," Perry said. "Part of the problem is there isn't a lot of adaptive rowers out there and to get enough to enter a crew is a little bit difficult right now."
Representing St. Catharines in the adaptive women's single are Marga Sanderson and Sharron Lippelt.
Masters and adaptive rowing are two areas the Henley organizers would like to see grow, Perry said.
"We are looking at the ways we implement rules and such. With the athlete rosters that we have them hand in early, it's harder for the masters because they are not usually part of the regular competitive programs. The coaches going online are only dealing with their own competitive crew and they're not thinking about the adaptive or masters."
To help the week run smoothly, between 650 and 700 volunteers will be on hand. The number of volunteers has increased by around 100 this year, which makes it easier on everyone.
"We put the word out we were looking for volunteers and they seemed to come out in droves this year," Henley commissioner Bill Schenck said. "It's a nice problem to have."
In charge of the regatta for the second straight year is 72-year-old Brampton resident Joe Lyttle. Lyttle has been president of the Central Ontario Rowing Association since 1980 and has chaired many Rowing Ontario championships.
"You can never replace Carol (Purcer), but I enjoyed myself last year," Lyttle said. "Every year, you learn something new and there's a new twist."
Racing started at 8 a.m. Tuesday and was scheduled to run to every six minutes to 5:48 p.m. Wednesday's schedule will start at 8 a.m. and run every six minutes until 6: 30 p.m. The first final will be held Thursday at 3: 18 p.m. The regatta ends Sunday and, as usual, organizers will be keeping their fingers crossed hoping for good weather.
"It's looking good," Perry said. "I think Friday there might be a little rough weather, but we're notorious for catching up if there's any delays."
In terms of technical advancements, regatta organizers are using more video equipment and putting it up on the regatta's website. Webcams are providing images from the start, clerk's booth and finish line.
"We're also working on a new display for next year that will be down at the grandstand," Perry said. "It will give us the capacity to show video."
Organizers have used a large single screen in the past, but plans are for an array of nine 46-inch monitors.
"It's similar to a Jumbotron, but this is a newer product they call outdoor signage. It's high contrast, high definition and the nice thing about it is it plugs into the network."
The ultimate goal would be to have the monitors spread out at locations across Henley Island, such as the clerk's booth and the Henley Island Helpers stand.
The technology is in place to make that happen, but funds need to be raised to make it a reality.
"We will be going through appeals, grants and what have you to raise the funds."
The regatta made its website bilingual last year and is hoping to expand the bilingual aspect to include announcements and other things such as a bilingual help desk.
"That's an evolving thing that we're constantly looking to improve," he said.