Ben Leuvelink Going to Blackburn

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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.

The Spirit of Westport is taking shape!

Hello Dharma Voyage Friends,

The boat building program is making great progress!
The Spirit of Westport now has a hull!

finished hullTwenty four students are participating in this exciting class. Small groups of about eight students have been working with Ben Booth and Jon Aborn four days a week in the boat shop. The groups rotate through the schedule, building upon each others’ progress. Titcomb Brothers Manufacturing on Forge Road has kindly donated the space for our project.

These Westport eighth grade students have sanded, sawed, drilled, spread epoxy, and sewn planks together with wire. Their faces beamed with pride today as they stitched the final plank of the hull.

There is still much work to do. We will keep you posted with another update soon.

Launch date will be in mid-June!

One day a week, the students are all together in their classroom at the Westport Junior High. A guest speaker from the community volunteers to share his or her knowledge with the class. Students have learned about such topics as the history of boat building in Westport, the whaling years in New Bedford and Westport, river water science, and the flow of the Westport River and its watershed. More speakers to come!

This is all possible thanks to your support, local grants, and the recent fund-raising event at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery. It is amazing to witness what a community can achieve together. Thank you.

Warm regards,

Marilyn Packard-Luther
Education Volunteer Coordinator
Dharma Voyage

The Spirit of Westport is supported in part through generous grants from The Westport Education Foundation and The Westport Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Spirit of Westport Benefit

“The Spirit of Westport” benefit was held Saturday, March 19th at the Dedee Shattuck Gallery in Westport.  Approximately 130 people attended to support the program, enjoy foot-tapping music from “The Spindle Rock River Rats”, delicious food and drink from The Westporter, Buzzards Bay Brewing and Westport Rivers Winery, and hear Executive Director, Ben Booth and Superintendent of Westport Community Schools, Dr. Ann Dargon talk about the innovative program.  We also introduced the teachers and boat builders who are working with Ben on the program.  Drama Voyage’s first Youth Rowing Team were on hand as we celebrated their hard work and racing success.

 

The Westport Community was extremely supportive  of our efforts and the Silent Auction and Experience Raffle were both well received and brought in significant funds. By the end of this festive evening, Dharma Voyage had reached our fund-raising goal for the program!  We look forward to doing it again next year.

Thanks for the generosity of all who donated, attended, bid on auction items and bought raffle tickets!

We will be able to Float Our Boat!

Thanks everyone who contributed to our SILENT AUCTION:
Myrna Adolfo
Conrad and Kathy Feininger
DAN AND JOHN
Eva’s Garden
Howie Gifford
Laura Gifford
Wendy Goldberg
Polly Gardner
William “Woody” Underwood
Jim Gorman, The Westport Handy Guy
Joseph Ingoldsby, River Rise Farms
Colby Smith Door Knockers
Perfect Smiles Dentistry, Dr. D. Ahearn
Jordan Farm
B.G. Shanklin, Threepoint Design Architects
Jennifer Coye

Dharma Voyage would like to acknowledge all the wonderful craftsmanship and hard work that went
into building our new Wherry which was on display at the event. Thanks to:

Polly Gardner
William “Woody” Underwood

For making the Spirit of Westport happen in the classroom and workshop, sending thanks to:

Teachers: Mike Ponte and John Correiro
Principal: Carolyn Pontes
Curriculum Developer: Brian Abdallah
Boatbuilder: Jon Aborn
Last but certainly not least thanks to Don Betts for leading our high school students in an after-school program where they will be building a 25′ dory.

Interview with Ben Leuvelink

by James Burraston

I recently had the opportunity to chat with one of Dharma Voyage’s youth rowers, the winner of the singles at the Hull Lifesaving Museum’s Snow Row.  Following is the transcript of our interview.

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James: How did you first get interested in rowing?

Ben: When I first heard about it, it was kind of like a rumor at school that there was going to be a rowing team. This was last February, there was the rumor. I heard about the rowing organization prior to that. I had wanted to do it, but I never really got to. I saw Ben Booth rowing the in the river before, but didn’t know that it was him at the time or think much about it. I’ve been on the water all my life; I’ve always been on the water. So when I came to school and I heard about it and that it was a sport at the school that would be more like something I would like or that I would be good at. And that’s how I got into it. I’ve loved it ever since.

J: What racing have you done with the team?

B: We’ve done two prior races. The first time was in May at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum, and we just recently did the Head of the Weir in October. We won that race as a team.

J: What inspired you to try the single in the Snow Row?

B: I think it was last June or July, Ben was telling us about it one day while we were rowing, and I really took an interest in it. I went down one day when we had a river day here. I was there with one of the other kids from the rowing team and we were handling the booth, and Ben brought the single down and I rode that around for a little bit, just getting used to it and then I think it was about November when Ben came back from his championship race in Peru that I started rowing the single. I basically started rowing it in December.

J: You’ve only been training for a couple of months.

B: One thing about that, I’ve had amazing coaching. He [Ben Booth] is one of the best rowers in the United States. He’s representing U.S. Rowing and different things so . . . if it weren’t for Ben I wouldn’t be nearly as good as I am.

J: What is your training regimen like?

B: Since I’d be rowing out at the head, I would train  every other week because of tide reasons.  When the water is up, I’ll go out to Ben Booth’s house and use this dolly to take the boat across the street every day, back and forth, and row up the river, probably about two miles up and then two miles back.  So I’d row every practice about 4 miles. I just kept doing that for about two months, getting used to everything by going through it. It came about in February that I started rowing for times and speed. I’d go and I would time myself. At first I was getting about 40 minutes, and then maybe 38. I would always drop maybe about a minute every single time. That’s how I would train. I would push myself to get a faster time. I’d be looking at my watch and notice how far away I was and I had an understanding of how long it would take me to row from where I was. So I would really push myself to get a faster time than I did before.

I also do a lot of bike riding, and I think that helps a lot. I ride some long distances, not just casually.  It helps to keep me in shape.

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J: Tell me about the actual day of the race.

B: I had a lot of confidence, really. I was thinking before the race, “I’ve got this.” It was exciting because there were boats everywhere and you see people everywhere. I actually practiced maybe about a half an hour before the race.   I went out and practiced for maybe 10 minutes, because I saw a bunch of other guys doing it. It was fun.

We had the boats set up and everything. It was a Le Mans start so you had to run and get into the boat. I only practiced it once before and I thought I had it down, but I kind of failed. I got in, but it took me longer and everyone had started to go out before I really got off the beach. I caught up to them. They had probably been rowing for about two minutes, and after I got in I caught up to them and had passed them within the first five or ten minutes of the race. When I got past them, I was looking behind me.   I was right in with the doubles; I’d gotten in front of a lot of doubles. I was looking behind me and looking in front of me and I couldn’t find any singles. I was looking for them and I couldn’t see any of them, and I kept going. There was this turn where we go around an island, and right when I was there I kept looking and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me and said to myself, “I’ve got this.” So I kept sculling. I actually went probably double the strength I should have for most of the race. I wasn’t really pacing myself like I should have, but I went all out. I didn’t really feel the effects of the race towards the end. I didn’t feel like I was very tired really, but the day after it hit me and I couldn’t do much.

“There’s a difference between traditional rowers and rockets, and these two are fine examples of rockets.”

 

J: What was it like coming in at the finish?

B: It was kind of weird because I was coming in with some doubles and by then the six-persons caught up and everything, ‘cause those things are fast, and especially the surf skis started coming by.   If you don’t know what they are, they are really long boats, and those things are insanely fast. I was right in with the pack of six-oared and surf skis coming right in where the line was and I couldn’t tell if I had passed the line or not. I thought the finish line was closer towards the beach, so I went by the finish line and everything and kept going for a little bit. Then I stopped, then I kept going and I thought, “Wait, am I passed the finish line yet?” They blew the horn, but I wasn’t sure so I put my hand up and asked if they were talking about me. So, I just went all the way in to the beach. I think Ben was yelling at me that I had already crossed the finish line. I crossed the finish line and I didn’t even know it.

J: What was your time?

B: 40 minutes and 39 seconds. The second place time was 43 minutes and 35 seconds.

There were 5 other rowers and the person in last place was 15 minutes after my time, so I beat them by a lot. That was good because if you think about it I’ve been rowing singles for three months and these guys are 30 or 50 years old and have been rowing a lot longer than that. For me to go in my first race and beat them that well, it was shocking. It felt good. Hopefully I can do the same with the Essex River race.

At the awards ceremony I was compared to the younger version of Ben Booth. The guy used to be involved when Ben was younger, and he used to race and beat everyone when he was my age. It was good to be compared to him. The guy said, “There’s a difference between traditional rowers and rockets, and these two are fine examples of rockets.”

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J: Tell me a little bit about the Essex River Race.

B: It’s a 5.5 mile race in the Essex River, which is near Gloucester. That’s coming up May 21st. I have back-to-back races because I have the Essex River Race, and then the week after we’re going back to Vermont to race with the team.

J: What would you like people to know about what your rowing experience has been like?

B: It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s been paying off in the end. There’s still more to come, and it’s really fun. It’s really not what you expect. You can think about it, but it’s really different. It’s a lot more fun. People think we’re out there hauling away all day, but everyone, we’re in the team, we’re having fun, we go out to islands and around the river. It’s a lot of fun. It’s not what you’d expect.

Entering the Unknown

I decided to challenge myself through racing. What can I do? How far can I go? In a few days, I will depart for the World Coastal Rowing Championships in Lima, Peru!

Perhaps the most interesting part of this is the fact that I am entering something completely unknown. Without an International coastal race scene in the U.S., I have never raced against or even seen any of the competition. I have no clue about the speed, ability, or anything about these folks. Everyone else in the race will have been in competitions where they have seen the Championships contenders before, have been in competitive international events, or have won a national trial to attend the Worlds.

How fast am I? I’ve won all the races I’ve entered here, but there is a huge difference between local competitions and international events. I coach myself, I train alone, I have no contact with elite rowers as I practice along empty fall coastlines.

I’ve never raced under FISA rules, or triangulated buoyed courses, or with beach sprint finishes, or in foreign countries, or…

There is only this one time that all this will be new. I am lucky to be approaching a situation that is so fresh, so without prior context. It’s the priceless experience of taking a big leap and entering the unknown.

Blackburn Challenge, 2015

I woke up in the middle of the Friday night before the Blackburn Challenge to the sound of big wind and thunder. Much more wind than the mild weather forecast predicted. Figured it would blow itself out as I turned for some more pre-race sleep.

That morning was grey, and a decent north-easterly wind was blowing. Should be a fine race.

At the starting-line, as I was doing the competition check-out (rowing in the sliding-seat class in the same boat that I set the record in the fixed-seat class last year), eyeing a Filippi C1X Coastal Racing shell that was new on the scene, the following announcement came across the water:

“We’re getting reports of four foot seas at the mouth of the river. Careful out there.”

GO!

With a lot of boats entered, I shot off pretty quickly to get into clear water. The C1X stayed with me, off my starboard beam. It’s always fast at the start, so no worries about that yet. Digging into a head wind and a slappy river chop, I settled into a quick but maintainable pace, a bit high on the stroke rate but easy on the power.

After the three mile swerve through the river, I heard the roar. Looking over my shoulder, walls of water piled into a mess of whitecaps storming the river mouth. Then there was the exhilarating rise of the boat into the beautiful chaos of a whipped up sea.

Once we hit the waves, I pulled rapidly away from the field. My boat rows very well in heavy seas, and I simply love the rush of waves. Focus on technique – calm, smooth rowing.

About a mile into the open water, I passed the first of many carnages – two heads bobbing in the sea next to an attending powerboat. Their double racing shell was broken right in half, bow and stern pointing in Hollywood shipwreck angles to the sky. A moment later, I passed another double, rowing essentially underwater, turned back towards harbor. This is such a cool race.

Its all about finding lines in the sea. Look over my shoulder, take a mental snapshot. Where are the whitecaps? Where are the steepest waves, the unusual inflections of water? Find the line, the angle that threads through the liquid maze, traces a path of least resistance. Certainly, straight lines are not the shortest distance anywhere out here. And facing backwards, I need to remember and feel those paths from brief visual impressions, rather than continually see, think and intellectualize.

These conditions bring an infinite variety. Every stroke is different. The water is moving up, down, around. Rowing becomes a jazzy spontaneity that riffs in response to the water’s whims. It becomes a delicate reaction that erases expectations of predictability and forces an egoless adaptation to the situation. And yet, within this yin-like submission to the sea, there is also the wild rush and power of muscles moving fury. There is the hard joy of spray over the bow, salt water in the eyes.

I eventually arrived at Halibut Point, where the race turned off of the headwind and into a beam sea. Most people took the immediately logical shortest distance course and followed along the shore to save miles. I decided differently, and continued rowing well offshore before making my turn. I swung way wide, adding substantial distance to my course. But what happened was I changed my angle from a beam sea to one that ran more with the waves. I was able to harness the speed and power of some good-sized rollers, and begin a fast surfing run. I flew down this stretch, making a much faster run than had I maintained a more apparent course.

There’s usually a check-point boat at the half way mark, but today they may have been out aiding the numerous boats that foundered. Almost half the field didn’t finish this year!

The south side was more protected, with easy 2 foot following seas. I had to keep very mentally vigilant though, to keep finding the rhythm to catch as many waves as possible, surfing. Surfing is all about joining the wave. Again, it’s a feeling, knowing, immediacy of intuitive response. No time to think about it. A surfski next to me suddenly capsized on a strange angled wave, but he was immediately back aboard and paddling. Fun.

The final stretch, entering Gloucester Harbor, was a slow slog into the headwind and calm, protected water. I hit the beach 20 minutes ahead of the rest of my class!

The Blackburn Challenge – September 4, 2014

July 19th was the annual running of the Blackburn Challenge – 20 miles racing around Cape Ann in honor of the heroic exploits of Gloucester Dory Fisherman Howard Blackburn. This race has become the premier open water rowing race in New England in its 28 years of running. This is the race that I designed and built the Westport Racing Skiff for.

The morning of the race was too early for any nerves, hitting the road well before any signs of sun to get up to Gloucester for a pre-7am registration deadline. These are hard moments in a race – the rushing to wait. Wait in line to register, wait for the Captain’s meeting, wait for the start. I’m bouncing foot to foot, need to get in my boat.

My heat was third, not bad. The multi-oared boats started first. A quad (4-person sculling boat) took off from the start with the crisp, clean sound of expert rowing. The four of them moved as one, and the boat responded in kind, as they quickly opened up a sizeable lead. One splash as the blades entered, one loud thump as the blades flipped from the water and settled in the oarlock. They won’t be long getting to the finish. I found out later there was at least one Olympic rower in that boat. Quite a few international competitors entered the race in both rowing and paddling, pushing the 20 miles into faster and faster times.

My heat started fast, with two expert Adirondack Guideboat rowers pushing the pace. I settled into third place, thinking that this will be a difficult and great race! We flew down the river with the current pushing us along, dodging moored boats, buoys, and other racers. Trying to figure out our positions, testing each others speed. One boat pulled further ahead, I crept into second. Then there was a loud crack and I looked over my shoulder to see the lead boat swerve away – a broken oar. We swept past. Less than three miles in, already lots of action!

Once we got out of the river I was able to pull into a lead and creep away in the calm waters of the north coast.  It was a cool 70s, no wind, and a quiet sea. A little haze softened the horizon. All conditions pointed to record-breaking possibility. Keep on the oars, all the way around. Enter the zone that is really joy – joyfully becoming a space of awareness – a meditation that encompasses the mind, the body, the art that is the boat, and of course the great sea and sky.

There is an intensity in racing that is uplifting. A race is a safe space to go to dangerous places – those wild places deep within our minds and spirits that stay covered in more mundane experiences. It cleans us out and lets us see ourselves clearly, to balance the movement of life with the stillness at the core. Its a place of community – a community where there is great togetherness in appreciation of the effort and will it takes, even while each member brings a different history, a different philosophy, and even vastly different goals all to the same course. A race is also very private, similar to the mountaintop monk retreat. It’s a space to heighten all senses, to make a great effort in removing all obstacles to fearlessly approach the possibility of pure existence…

Coming into Gloucester Harbor I caught a nice big powerboat wake and surfed across the finish line, 3hours 12 minutes after the start.

-Ben Booth

*The previous record was 3 hours 20 minutes.

The Road to Blackburn – May 29th 2014

On May 10, I gave the newly designed and built Westport Racing Skiff its second race test – the Essex River Race. This is a 5.5 mile race with a mix of curving river and open bay rowing. I took first place in the fixed-seat single category by a margin of 13 minutes!

I designed and built the Westport Racing Skiff this past winter for the Blackburn Challenge (July). This is the east coast’s premier open water race – a 20 mile coastal race that circumnavigates Cape Ann, MA. I won the race in 1994 and 1995, and haven’t raced in open water since. So this year has been an exciting return to racing. Particularly since I gave myself the added challenge of designing my own boat. It’s also a bit of a personal experiment, because in the 19 years since I last did this race, I have spent much of that time in temples and on extended retreat. So I am folding all of that mind-body training and introspection into this rowing journey. In fact, my ultimate goal with this is a sort of Zen Rowing experience. Each race is a moment to condense all of reality into a small moment of simplicity: row fast. Its a moment to put aside all doubts and to open up the mind to appreciate the vast potential of unhindered, pure connection to Being. Each day I am out on the water is a meditation – connect with each stroke, each ocean wave. I feel like training is an expansion of mind’s capacity to percieve potential even more than it is “getting fit.” It’s a moment to wonder about energy and life and to wonder if there are mental spaces that I hold which may hold me back from a full appreciation of energy and life. It reminds me a lot of the time I spent living in Shaolin Temple, Wudang, or the Mind-Light Temple.

This year’s Blackburn Challenge is also the first in a multi-year project: to design, build and race boats in multiple rowing categories. Designing and building boats is such a creative endeavor. Particularly for me, since I have no formal boat design training. I design the old way – from feel, eye, intuition, and a lifetime of being on the water. A boat is a work of art – a sculpture that is a perfect balance of creativity and receptivity. You need to create the shape, lines, dimensions yet you need to respond to the environment. Its a beauty that is functional. Its also a challenge to innovate and to trust yourself to be mentally fresh in a field that has such a long tradition. Its also a balance in not innovating just to be innovative, because you still have the environment that is in charge. So you could return to the Zen moment and say that looking for design innovation is an art of peering into the soul of the sea to see not what you think or want to see, but to see what is actually there. What is the sea and what shape will move through the sea? And of course, a huge part of it is luck – because really, there are too many factors to balance. And that ultimate release of “control” is the best part. Let the project go and let the boat take its own life.

– Ben Booth

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