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Yale-Harvard Regatta celebrated as local tradition

Jun. 8—LEDYARD — Resident Patrick Maloney, who was rooting for the Connecticut team in the Yale-Harvard Regatta on Saturday, called the regatta "one of the rich traditions of Gales Ferry."

He was watching the races on Saturday with his wife, Lisa, and their friends among about 50 people at the pavilion at the Regatta Day Festival at Sweet Hill Farm in Gales Ferry. The races were live-streamed on a screen.

The local festival, which began in 2022, raises awareness about the oldest intercollegiate sporting event in the United States, and its presence in the community, said event organizer Jessica Buhle. Fans call it the Harvard-Yale Regatta, or the Yale-Harvard Regatta, based on the team for which they are rooting.

Buhle said that the first year she handed out flyers about the event, many local residents asked what the regatta was. This year, people said how excited they are about the regatta.

Gales Ferry is home to boathouses for both the Harvard and Yale teams. The longest race, the 4-mile Varsity Race, goes along the Thames River from the Gold Star Bridge to Bartlett's Cove.

Every year around the time of the regatta, Yale and Harvard students are seen at the local library or running in the streets, said Buhle.

Durham residents Rhoda and Paul Whitman, both Harvard graduates, and their 13-year-old grandson Ben Singh of Norwalk, also were watching the regatta Saturday at the festival. Rhoda Whitman said she typically watches the regatta on television, but came to the festival because her grandson rows on the Norwalk River with the Norwalk River Rowing Association.

While she joked that as a Harvard fan she was in "enemy territory," she said it was nice to watch the regatta with other race aficionados.

"Everybody's nice," she said. "It's not that competitive."

It was a different story on the water. For the first time since 2014, Harvard defeated Yale in the men's heavyweight race. The Crimson took the lead over the first two miles and stayed in front, racing a time of 19 minutes, 40.2 seconds. The Bulldogs finished in 19:44.8.

As music played at the Regatta Day Festival, people strolled around and ate food from food trucks and vendors, looked at items for sale at booths, played cornhole, and stopped by the touch a truck and small car cruise.

Kids raced small boats in rain gutters as a small regatta, while the Gales Ferry and Juliet W. Long School PTO spread awareness about their fundraising project to build a new inclusive playground at the Juliet W. Long School.

Sheila Downes, the PTO's vice president and incoming president, said the regatta is "such a big historic event in our little town so it's nice to see the community coming together and enjoying it."

As children decorated miniature wooden boats at a booth, Stacey Burt, youth services librarian at Ledyard Public Library, said the event highlights the community, and it's great to see many families that stop by the library and also introduce other people to library services.

Heather Aboy's sons Oliver, 6, and Max, 2, and niece Ava Pitcher, 5, were making wooden boats at the festival after having earlier watched the Third Varsity Race from Erickson Park in Gales Ferry.

"They're having so much fun," said Heather Aboy.

Heather Aboy said she's reading the book, The Boys in the Boat, and it got her really interested in the sport. She recently moved to Gales Ferry, and when she found out that Harvard and Yale race close to where she and her family live, she just had to go see them.

Buhle, a Ledyard Town Councilor who formerly served on the Ledyard Economic Development Commission, said the Economic Development Commission initially primarily hosted the event to promote the regatta and support local businesses, but the festival today leans more toward a community-focused recreational event.

The Town of Ledyard, Ledyard Parks and Recreation, Ledyard Rotary Club, the RE/MAX Realty Group, Centreville Bank, and Advanced Heating Oil sponsored the event.

Harry Pearson of Gales Ferry, a member of the Ledyard Rotary Club, brought his antique truck to the car cruise, as he has for several years, to support the Ledyard Rotary Club.

He said he loves the festival because he enjoys meeting people he knows and getting to know people he never met before.

k.drelich@theday.com