Gear of Pittsburgh Rowing Club, 2 Other Crew Teams Goes Up in Smoke in Robinson

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
28 December 2014
By Matthew Santoni
A fire destroyed dozens of boats, oars and other rowing equipment at the Groveton Boat Club in Robinson, leaving supporters of three crew teams to wonder Sunday how they will rebuild to compete once again.

The two-alarm fire occurred shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday in a storage building at the boat club on Royal Avenue along a back channel of the Ohio River between the Neville Island and Interstate 79 bridges. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Inside were boats, oars, life jackets, rigging and other equipment that the North Allegheny, Pine-Richland and Pittsburgh Rowing Club teams use. Between the storage building and the teams' equipment, the losses could add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, said Drew Lesniak, a board member with the North Allegheny rowing club.

“They're difficult to replace; as a high school rowing club, we depend on the generosity of our donors,” Lesniak said. “The club will begin to rebuild ... for the spring season, which begins in early April. We fully intend to be back on the water.”

The Pittsburgh Rowing Club estimated it lost about $200,000 worth of equipment in the fire, said acting director Robert Catanzarite. All that was left for the club's 30 masters-level members was two launches and one motor.

“Hopefully we'll get the insurance claim settled, we'll get some new boats. … We're not going to be stymied,” he said.

Each team had about 15 boats in the storage building, plus the small, motorized boats known as launches that coaches use during training sessions, said Ellen Fowkes, president of the Pine-Richland crew team.

“It took a long time to accrue that many boats,” Fowkes said. “Hopefully, we'll have time to call all the people in the local boating community for help.”

The boathouse was closed for the season at the time of the fire. During the winter, club members use indoor rowing machines to train for competitions, Fowkes said.

Depending on the size and hull material, the cost of a new boat ranges from a few thousand dollars to as much as $30,000. The high school teams typically purchase used boats, Lesniak said.

Insurance might offset some of the losses, he said.

Other teams and coaches in the Pittsburgh area rowing community expressed their willingness to help, potentially by loaning or selling boats they don't need, Lesniak said.

Lesniak said North Allegheny plans to host an indoor meet, using rowing machines, on Feb. 28.

Matthew Santoni is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5625.