Old Dominion Boat Club regatta returns to the waterfront

The second annual Old Dominion Boat Club regatta in 2017. A team from The Netherlands won the race, stripping the ODBC/U.S. team of its championship title (Photo Credit: Chantal Eumicke)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

The Old Dominion Boat Club’s regatta will return for the third consecutive year on Sept. 22, with up to seven teams competing for the trophy.

The regatta is a series of sailboat races with a course that will run along the Potomac River, from in front of the new ODBC building to the turning mark north of the City of Alexandria’s docks in front of the Torpedo Factory.

A cannon will be fired to kick off the first race at 10 a.m. after the sailors partake in a champagne toast. ODBC Regatta Publicity Chair Liz Beckman said she anticipates four to five races taking place throughout the day. No race will start after 2:30 p.m., Beckman said.

This year, a U.S. team, the ODBC home boat, will compete with teams from Canada, Australia, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden. Each team will have the sailboat’s owner on board, as well as up to four crew members, which must include a skipper. Many of the international regatta participants work at their respective country’s embassies in the United States.

The Netherlands, which competed in the ODBC’s regatta for the first time in 2017, won last year’s competition and will be defending the trophy this year. Doug Savage, head of the U.S. team, said his squad hopes to recapture the title.

“I look forward to representing the ODBC/U.S. team in this prestigious event,” Doug Savage said by email. “My team and I hope to carry the American flag to victory.”

Though the competition is stiff, ODBC board members said it’s ultimately about building relationships and having a great time.

“It’s just a lot of fun. You get a whole bunch of people together from all over the world and you have something that sort of creates a reason for doing it all, which is a sailboat race,” ODBC President Richard Banchoff said.

The ODBC annual regatta started with an initial race in 2014 to commemorate Alexandria’s part in the War of 1812. The ODBC team – or the U.S. team – competed with a team from Great Britain.

“We had great involvement from the city, great support from the mayor, in addition to great support from sailors up and down the river,” said Janice Hobart, ODBC board member and chair for the regatta.

The initial event ended in a victory for the U.S. team, and the success of the race led the ODBC to consider making the regatta a repeat event.

“The club, which has a long history in terms of promoting water sports on the river, whether it’s regattas or rowing, which we’ve been supporting for years and years,
started really thinking about how to continue that tradition,” Hobart said.

Compounding the ODBC’s interest in continuing the event was the sailors’ interest in returning.

“After that first year, the countries had told us ‘We’ll be back next year,’” Hobart said.
“… Many of the [international crews] have a sailing background, a Naval background.
Being on the water is second nature to them, so they have an opportunity to do that.
They work with a lot of the people that are racing from other countries, so they have a chance to socialize with them and have an experience with them outside of the work environment.”

The first iteration of the annual ODBC regatta took place in 2016, with teams from Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the club’s home team participating. The ODBC crew won that race, only to lose its undefeated status when The Netherlands won last year.

“Last year, we brought in the Dutch, who had the audacity to win the race,” Banchoff joked. “But they’re a nice group of folks as well.”

Though ODBC’s team hopes to win the championship again this year, Liz Beckman said the club has sought to ensure that it’s as level of a playing field as possible.

“We go to great lengths to make sure the competition is fair, that the boats are evenly matched, so it’s really a match of skill and tactics and strategy,” she said.

Each member of the winning vessel receives a trophy to take home, and the chance to put their mark on the fullsize trophy, which stays at the boat club. A porcelain Dutch clog still adorns the trophy after The Netherlands’ victory last year.

The icing on the cake is that members will be able to view the race from the new ODBC club at the foot of Prince Street.

“I think it’s going to be a fun place to watch and we have a couple of decks to watch it from – we’re not going to have to crowd the [ODBC] pier,” Banchoff said.

The regatta will be visible along the Alexandria waterfront throughout the day on Sept. 22. All team boats will fly their respective country’s flag, which should also be visible from the waterfront.

The ODBC is hoping for clear skies, with a bit of a breeze, for the day of the race.

“I would say, if you’ve never seen a sailboat race, which is just about everyone, if it’s a nice day, and you’re on the river, it’s a nice thing to come and watch for awhile,” Banchoff said.