Dharma Voyage rowing team member, 16-year-old Ben Leuvelink, is planning to race in this year’s Blackburn Challenge. The 22 mile course around Cape Ann is an open-water race with entrants from a diverse range of classes. Two years ago Leuvelink’s coach, Ben Booth, achieved a new record for the race in the men’s single at 3 hours 12 minutes. This is a race that Booth has participated in a number of times, the first when was himself a teenager, a fact that has inspired Leuvelink to try the race this year. More than that, Leuvelink looks forward to the challenges of racing in a more crowded river course and in hitting the open water.
Preparation for this race has prompted some changes in Leuvelink’s training regime. The two Bens have moved Leuvelink’s boat to a spot on the Westport River closer to his home so that he can practice more regularly. Taking longer rows, Leuvelink has been working on his pacing and on using a compass. The Blackburn Challenge includes stretches as long as 4 miles which will make it more difficult to navigate from point to point by sight, so Ben will be adding this new element to his practice as well as studying charts provided him by Jon Aborn, one of the Dharma Voyage boat-building teachers.
In addition to his navigation skills, Ben continues to work on his technique and form, “staying straight, keeping the blades in the water, and keeping my strokes as clean as possible.” Ben says that when he’s rowing fast he wants his form to look as good as it does when he’s rowing slowly.
Leuvelink will be one of the youngest rowers in the Blackburn since Ben Booth himself first raced in it. This is a daring achievement considering last year’s serious weather conditions, which swamped a number of boats, while others were even broken in pieces by the rough seas. Nearly half of the entrants failed to complete the whole course. Such a dangerous race has prompted renewed levels of caution among the officials, which has introduced the requirement that entry boats be equipped with GPS trackers.
The race takes place on July 16th with check in and launch from Gloucester High School, with the finish at Pavilion Beach.