by Joseph T. Wilkins
In 1974, the Holy Spirit High School Crew's bid for the Princess Elizabeth Cup at the Royal Henley Regatta in England caught the imagination of people throughout the County. The dedication and hard work of Spirit's Coach Stan Bergman, Father D'Amico, and Viking Rowing Club founder Dr. John Holland showed that world-class rowing was a very real possibility for an area where ocean rowing had long been a challenge to young men.
In Brigantine, seven men, Andy Solari, Bob White, Sr. Mike Burns, Jack Branco, Mike Ruane, Jim Maguire, and Bob Sooy called a meeting to see if enough support existed to start a local club. None had ever been in a shell, in fact, none had ever seen a Rowing Regatta. The meeting, held at the V.F.W. Post in Brigantine, brought out 35 or 40 parents and boys. By general agreement, a Club was formed. It's purpose was to promote rowing, particularly by instructing pre-high school boys in rowing fundamentals, and to encourage them to go on to the Holy Spirit and Atlantic City High School Crews.
That done, the meeting adjourned and the work began. As usual, the work fell on the shoulders of a very few enthusiasts; principally Andy Solari and Bob White, Sr. They persuaded Armand Savino to lend a hand. White managed to corner Armand when Andy was elsewhere, and these two promptly made Solari the President. Solari, stuck with the job, promptly insisted that Savino serve as Secretary and White as Treasurer.
They bought the first eight in the early summer of '74, paying $50 for a 1941 Pocock acquired from Holy Spirit. Bob White donated $500 to buy the oars, and the club was in business. It was incorporated in August, 1974, as a non-profit New Jersey Corporation.
They kept the Pocock on stretchers in Bob Sooy's yard, three blocks from the bay. That summer, with about 25 boys in the 11 to 16 age bracket, the first instructional program began. Joe Guenther coached, as did many others who came and went. The program consisted of carrying the 30 year old boat three blocks to the bay, bringing the oars along, rowing with the coach as coxswain or in whatever launch could be acquired for the day, and carrying the boat and oars back to Bob Sooy's yard.
Among other boys that year who later were to be Henley champions as part of the Holy Spirit Crew were Bob White, Jr., Tim Maquire, and Phil Guenther.
In '75, the program was repeated, but the boat got heavier. In '76, the City of Brigantine agreed to let the boat be stored outside at the City Dock, on 26th Street and the Bay.
It was an interesting year. Spirit again went to Henley, and the Brigantine Rowing Club held a picnic to raise funds to send the boys to England. It was a great success. Six thousand dollars was donated to the Henley Fund by the Brigantine Rowing Club.
But disaster struck. A summer wind storm tore the Pocock off its horses and wrecked the boat. In mid-season, the Club had no boat, no money, and was down to three members - Solari, White, and Savino. The outlook was grim.
They were faced, as they saw it, with two choices; they could quit, or they could go for broke. They went for broke and they did it with style. They decided to build a boathouse.
With the active and vital support of John Daniels, then a City Commissioner, they received permission to erect the boathouse on a bayfront strip of City land at 6th Street and the Bay. The site was ideal, located in a sheltered cove, with adequate room, reasonably firm soil, and acceptable gradient into the Bay.
Each of the three officers personally signed a banknote to raise $13,000 for materials. A small insurance payment from the wrecked Pocock helped, as did unstinting finacial help from Dr. Bud Bacharach, and New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Vincent S. Haneman, two distinguished men of whom Brigantine is justly proud.
Construction began in the Spring of '77. The building of the Boathouse brought out the best in Brigantine. The Club ssked for help in the building and the response was strong. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, and painters pitched in. Those who had no craft fetched and carried for those who did. Not one cent was spent for labor. The job was done in six weeks.
A special appreciation must be mentioned of John Walsh, who had volunteered to do the plumbing. His life was tragically cut short by a heart attack on the day before the work was to have been done.
Plaques on the Boathouse wall thank those who helped, but the names of many were lost in the bustle, and to all of those the Club is deeply indebted.
The Boathouse opened in the Summer of '77, with Dr. John Holland of Viking Rowing Club as guest speaker. Two boats were acquired, a Gig donated by Dr. Bacharach, and another battle-proven Eight, the Rusty Callow of Olympian fame in the 30's, received as a gift from Viking Rowing Club.
In that summer, 72 boys took part in the instructional program, including several who went on to Henley four years later - Ed Stinson, Scott Storr, and Tim Wilkins.
It was also the first year of the BRC Island Run, a fund raising 4 and 8 mile run now held every year in the Fall.
In '78, Stockton State College's Crew was permitted to use space in the Boathouse, which greatly increased the activity in the Spring and Fall, and permitted the Club to have the use of two Fours ( the Lev Brett and the Mason) and two Eights ( the Ernie Arlett and the Louis B. Green) for the summer program. Girls attending Holy Spirit, having no crew of their own at school, organized themselves as the Island Rowing Club, and rowed out of the Brigantine Boathouse.
'78 was the first year that Brigantine sent a crew to the Viking Rowing Club picnic for an exhibition race, an event repeated every year since.
'79 saw the Club acquire two fiberglass Singles, the yellow and the blue, one donated by Bob White, Sr., the other by a Navy Lieutenant whose gift was deeply appreciated. The summer youth instructional program continued and grew. It drew favorable comment as one of the few programs for pre- high school rowers anywhere.
In 1980, adult recreational rowing began to catch on. Ed Rehill and Tony Phillips came out to row and were promptly put to work coaching, repairing equipment and organizing the rowing program. Their contribution of long hours, untiring work, and endless good will inspired a powerful momentum in the Club's activities.
In 1981, four years after the building of the Boathouse, the Club acquired its first brand new shell, a Kaschpar Vac Convertible Quad picked up in Ontario, Canada and driven with pride, and caution, down the long road home by Bob White, Sr. and the author. Boat, Oars and riggers cost $6000, raised through the Island Run, the Annual Picnic, and contributions. It was named the Vincent S. Haneman.
This was another Henley year for Holy Spirit. Stan Bergman's dreams and work continued to inspire area rowers. The First Harrah's Intercollegiate Regatta was held, under the leadership of Stockton's Crew Coach Mike Hughes. For the first time, a 2000 meter course was laid out on the Bay, although terrible weather led to a shortened course after several crews sank. The Brigantine Rowing Club provided space, equipment, and workers for the affair.
After seven years, the Club got around to its first Installation Reception for Officers. Andy Solari, Bob White, Sr., and Armand Savino were honored for their efforts, but sentenced to continue.
Adult rowing increased substantially, women rowing in ever increasing numbers. Tony Phillips organized a full coaching staff, Ed Rehill was named Club Captain, with responsibility for all equipment, and the Summer Youth Program grew to 90 boys - and girls. Blacktop was applied on the ramp and parking area, the Club acquired a Double and a Pair, Ed Rehill became the first to carry the Club colors of brown and gold on the Schuykill, and for the first time Brigantine's youth boats carried the day at the Viking Exhibition Races.
The First Annual Seashore Regatta was held, with crews coming down from the Schuykill Navy Clubs to row over a measured course, and to celebrate the event with picnicking and good fellowship.
Thus the short but lively history of the Brigantine Rowing Club. As the 1982 season gets underway, the Club seems to be constantly in motion. A new launch and motor has been acquired; there are fifteen shells in the Boathouse; Andy Solari has put all members to work on committees, and is getting results out of all of them. Brigantine City Government, Mayor Ed Kline, and Commissioners Joe Grecco and Paul Savino, have begun preparations to bulkhead the bayfront and to put in a floating dock.
Atlantic City High School's Crew is getting stronger every year; Holy Spirit has won the National Championship and is off again to Henley; Brigantine Rowing Club graduates are in boats from England to Canada, and a large and excited new group of kids will get into their first shell this summer, raising blisters, breaking equipment, and dreaming of Henley.