64 boats on the brook
By Martin Pütter
The “brook”, as Baslers sometimes lovingly call the Rhine, once again proved how unpredictable it can be. The water level and the related currents meant the course record would not be broken, a regional newspaper had surmised in mid-November prior to the fourth “Basel Head”, the city’s youngest sporting attraction. The winning eight crew in the top category Elite Men, Pole France Aviron Nancy, needed just 19:09 minutes to finish the 6.4 kilometre long course – seven seconds faster than the previous record notched up by the same boat in 2011.
Another record fell as well. After the organisers had decided to raise the maximum number of participating boats to 80, a total of 64 boats registered –only three more than last year, but still the highest number so far, and more than double the number of participants in the first Basel Head four years ago. Now, of course, the organisers are wondering whether this record will be broken again on 15 November next year, when the race will be held for the fifth time.
Long-distance rowing races are far from being a rarity. One of the best known is the “Head of the River Race” that held in London since 1926 on the tidal range of the Thames between Mortlake and Putney, with a course length of 6.8 kilometres. Another well-known race is the “Head of the Charles” in Boston (course length 4.8 kilometres). To stand out in this company, you need distinctive features – and Basel Head has plenty of those.
While the eights on the Thames race downstream, to the lowest point of the ebb tide, in Basel the boats have to row against the current for the first half of the course. If you’ve ever crossed the Rhine on one of the four passenger ferries, you’ll have a good idea of how strong the current can be. And unlike in other races, the rowers have to make a 180-degree turn at the half-way point and head back speed downstream. A former participant once explained that three quarters of the race took place during the first half of the course.
Finally, and probably more than in other race, the coxes play an important role in the Basel Head. The closer the boats are to the Kleinbasel bank, the weaker the current – but along that bank are many obstacles, such as buoys, fishing gallows (see issue 2/2012) and piers. And even the slightest correction of the course by the coxes can have energy-sapping effects on the rowers.
Read more about this race on the home page of “Basel Head.”