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A race on the Rhine appeals with its unpredictability

By Martin Pütter

On 15 November 2015 the international rowing race Basel Head will take place. This event is growing in popularity among both athletes and spectators – and the “brook” plays a major role in this.

At quite an early stage, the organisers of Basel Head knew that this year’s number of participants had topped last year’s. “Up to now around 70 crews from 10 countries have registered,” it said in a newsletter that appeared on the German pages of Basel Head’s website in early October (unfortunately, the English version of the newsletter lacked this information).

At the press conference four days before the actual race a new record number of participants was announced: 93. And the organisers added another piece of good news: the race will definitely go ahead on the Rhine. According to the weather forecast, both the expected water level and speed of flow will not force Basel Head to move to the alternative course on the Rhine-Rhône canal in Alsace.

A year ago, 64 eights participated in this pursuit race of 6.4 kilometres along the “brook”, as people in Basel affectionately call the Rhine. Two boats even provided a spectacular incident: their oars clashed at the turning point – no other rowing regatta has this – below the dam of Birsfelden’s hydroelectric power station. This mishap had no major consequences: nobody fell into the cold water, the boats remained undamaged – only the pride of some rowers took a knock.

Asked what makes Basel Head so special, Björn Uhlmann replies: “It is so unpredictable.” As the head coach of rowing club Blau-Weiss Basel explains, for the crews “it is actually quite a challenge to move the boat forward”, specifically while rowing the first half of the course, upstream from the start to the turning point. On top of that comes the fact that the current is anything but uniform. Another key point – apart from the turn – is the spot between the bank just above the Tinguely museum and the first pillar of the Schwarzwaldbrücke. There the boats have to overcome the strongest current of the entire race.

You can find further details about this unique race that attracted close to 10,000 spectators along the banks of the Rhine, as well as about rowing in the Basel area in general, in a feature article in the latest print issue of The Basel Journal, now available at Bider & Tanner or via subscription.

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