Dad Vail Regatta

Books Through Bars

WHERE: Kelly Drive in Fairmount Park. The Grand Stand, where races end, is located about two miles north of Boathouse Row.

WHEN: May 11 and 12. Admission is free.

WHY: Because the Dad Vail (we’ll explain the name later) is the largest collegiate regatta in the United States. The event draws teams from more than 100 colleges and universities in the U.S. and Canada. That adds up to about 3,000 rowers. Throw in the usual crowd of about 30,000 spectators—most of whom gather and party along the riverbanks—and you’ve got the biggest event of the year on the Schuylkill.

WHAT IS IT? A rowing competition. A really big one. For two straight days, crews of various sizes power their boats down the Schuylkill’s 2,000-meter course, finishing directly in front of the Grand Stand on Kelly Drive. This hard-to-miss structure is just above the Columbia Avenue Bridge.

ROWING NEWBIES, RELAX: Don’t worry if you don’t know much about rowing. The sport is fairly self-explanatory: The boat that crosses the finish line first is the winner. “It’s not all that complicated,” jokes Harry Stinger, spokesman for the regatta.

WHAT TO EXPECT? “You’ll see plenty of color, plenty of action, and a nice crowd of people,” says Stinger. “It’s just a bunch of very pleasant people, and a really upbeat and festive event.”

WHAT’S UP WITH THE NAME? The event takes its name from Harry Emerson Vail, a rowing coach at the University of Wisconsin in the early 20th century who went by the nickname “Dad.” Vail was highly respected in the sport, so when two Penn rowing officials—Lev Bret and Rusty Callow—founded the regatta in 1934, they named it in honor of the old coach. At the first Dad Vail, varsity eight boats from Manhattan College, Marietta College and Rutgers University battled, with Marietta coming out on top.

ADVICE FOR FIRST-TIME VISITORS: With 30,000 people hanging around, Fairmount Park can get pretty crowded on Dad Vail weekend. So prepare for traffic. If you drive, you’ll be directed to remote parking areas around the park. A shuttle system can then take you down to the river. Officials also suggest that visitors wear comfortable walking shoes. And if you want to follow the action, it’s a good idea to pick up a race program or a Heat Sheet, which will tell you which teams are racing, and when.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: Complete event information can be found at the Dad Vail web site:

Originally published on May 10, 2007