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Northampton rowing club loses gangway to ice jams

  • Reba Knickerbocker, left, executive director of Northampton Community Rowing, hands a surface marker buoy to diver Bert McCasland, of At The Water's Edge scuba facility in Westfield, Wednesday at the Connecticut River Greenway Park in Northampton. McCasland, and fellow diver Jim Straub, right, searched waters up to 36 feet deep for a roughly 70-foot stretch of metal gangway that was ripped from its base, seen top left, by ice jams during the winter. The divers found a small mangled piece of the gangway 25 feet below the surface. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • The base portion of the metal gangway leading to the Connecticut River Greenway Park boat dock is roped off Wednesday after the rest of it was ripped off by ice jams during the winter. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Betsy Powell, Paradise City Dragon Boat coach, left, Jeanne Friedman, a Northampton Community Rowing masters coach, and Reba Knickerbocker, executive director of Northampton Community Rowing, move a safety launch into the Connecticut River April 11, 2018 to oversee a diving operation to find a roughly 70 foot stretch of metal gangway that was ripped from its base by ice jams during the winter. The divers, from At The Water's Edge scuba facility in Westfield, found a small mangled piece of the gangway 25 feet below the surface. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Reba Knickerbocker, executive director of Northampton Community Rowing, left, and rower Dorrie Brooks of Florence look on as divers Bert McCasland, center, and Jim Straub, both of At The Water's Edge scuba facility in Westfield, enter the Connecticut River April 11, 2018 in search of the roughly 70 foot stretch of metal gangway that was ripped from its base, where Knickerbocker and Brooks are standing, by ice jams during the winter. The divers found a small mangled piece of the gangway 25 feet below the surface. —GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY

  • Divers Bert McCasland, left, and Jim Straub, both of At The Water's Edge scuba facility in Westfield, exit the Connecticut River, Wednesday, after searching for a stretch of metal gangway. Paradise City Dragon Boat coach and Northampton Community Rowing volunteer Betsy Powell and rower Nora Blake of Northampton look on from a safety launch, rear. GAZETTE STAFF/SARAH CROSBY



Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Ice jams this winter on the Connecticut River damaged a vital walkway for Northampton Community Rowing club members, delaying the start to their season and sending scuba divers on a thwarted recovery mission Wednesday.

“The gangway got essentially ripped off the wider walkway and we think it is somewhere out here,” said Reba Knickerbocker, executive director of Northampton Community Rowing, gesturing to the river. “When ice that big starts to move, it’s a lot of power.”

The 70-foot suspended walkway, known as a gangway, was ripped from its hinge over the winter. It was apparently crushed and mangled by massive slabs of ice, some of which were left in piles on the riverbank after the wintertime flooding.

Two scuba divers from At the Water’s Edge, a scuba diving shop in Westfield, were able to find one mangled section of the gangway underwater. Bert McCasland, the shop owner, and Jim Staub, an instructor, donned drysuits and fought currents, poor visibility and 39-degree water to see if there was anything to salvage.

“I’m one of the only dive shops in the area, so we get calls like this all the time,” McCasland said.

They were able to find one 10-foot section of the gangway “twisted like an aluminum pretzel” about 25 feet underwater, as McCasland described it.

“It was twisted real bad,” Staub said. “It got real dark and the current was strong.”

The rowing season usually starts in April, but until a new gangway is installed, or a creative arrangement of docks allows the boats to enter the water, nobody can practice. Each boat is 62 feet long, and requires a long gangway and docks anchored to the riverbed to safely enter the water.

“It would be a lot of money to replace the whole thing,” Knickerbocker said.

The gangway, designed by the Berkshire Design Group, originally had a removable pin in the hinge so it could be taken out for the winter. Last year, when it proved too difficult to remove, the gangway lasted its first winter on the river with no issue, but this winter was a different story.

“If it’s out there in pieces there’s not much that we can do,” said Dorrie Brooks, a rowing club board member and architect. “Sometimes, design means design, then fix it.”

She estimates a new gangway would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

The club has started a GoFundMe page, raising $2,800 so far to put toward a replacement gangway. The club also received donated materials from RK Miles Building Material Supplier to build a replacement dock, also damaged over the winter, and about half a dozen club members volunteered their time to build it.

The original gangway was purchased jointly with a state grant, community preservation funds and by Northampton Community Rowing, according to Wayne Feiden, Northampton’s director of planning and sustainability. The city is not responsible for fixing the gangway, he said, because Northampton Community Rowing leases the property from Lane Construction Corp. in Granby.

“This is a tremendous community resource,” said Gloria DiFulvio, president of the rowing club. “It’s not just docks for the rowing program, its a community access point.”

Paradise City Dragon Boats, a club for cancer survivors and their supporters, and All Out Adventures, an outdoor recreation company for people with disabilities, also used the gangway and docks.

The city does maintain responsibility for the handicapped-accessible walkway to the river’s edge, which was also damaged by the ice jams. Feiden said the city is working to clean the mud and debris from the site before repairing the damaged handrails.

Founded in 1998, this year marks the 20th anniversary of Northampton Community Rowing. About 60 members pay annual dues to keep the nonprofit club running with the help of fundraising and donations. Originally practicing from the Oxbow Marina, the club moved to its new location at 80 Damon Road three years ago after building and financing a new boathouse there.

“This program could not run without community support from members, families, alumni, businesses,” DiFulvio said. “We’re ready to get out on the water, so we’re really working hard to make that happen by Monday.”

On May 5, the club will host its first free “Learn to Row” session from 9 a.m. to noon. Anyone interested is encouraged to attend regardless of age or skills.

“The thing about rowing that a lot of people don’t know is that you can start it at any point in your life,” Knickerbocker said. “It’s a non-impact, full-body workout and people are rowing up until their 80s or 90s.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com.