Crew team fishes picnic table out of Hillsborough River

A couple of weeks ago, the HHS Rowing Club discovered that one of the picnic tables at Rivercrest Park, the team’s practice site, had been pushed into and submerged in the Hillsborough River. The team collectively decided to take it upon themselves to fish the local park’s property out of the river, so it could be returned for public enjoyment. “The community really doesn’t like us being there, we take up a lot of space in the park,” said senior Luke Jeske. “So we picked a bench, basically because we want them to get off our backs, it’s probably not going to do anything, but the sentiment’s there.”

Prior to the actual excavation, the students were warned to bring a change of clothes, as they would be taking a dive into the river. Until January 23, it was unknown how this process would work. The team decided to use the boat straps they tie down their boats with as a method to wrap around the picnic table and pull it onto shore.

After coming up with this idea, Head Coach Jesse Tate asked for volunteers to go into the water to help retrieve the bench. Almost every person’s hand went up. However, it was unnecessary for the entire team to go in the water, so three tall students were selected.

Sophomore Nicholas Jeske, sophomore Harmony Tarpein and freshman Vivek Kondapavuluru used a small motorboat, or launch, to get to the table site. Once they arrived they jumped into the water and proceeded to wrap the straps around the metal portions of the table and heave it over the cement wall bordering the river, along with the help of the rest of the team pulling from above.

“It was strangely exciting, pulling this grand object out of the river,” said Nicholas. “It was like a chest full of gold, mossy and muddy and covered in barnacles, dripping mud and water on our backs as we shouldered it over the sea wall, to have the people on the ropes heave it on land and recover from effort, taking a breath then cheering success.”

Because the bench was submerged for so long, it collected lots of mud and grime. Kondapavuluru was up close and personal with the filth. “It felt nasty because it had that algae on it, and it smelled,” he said.

After this first success, the team lifted the table onto their shoulders and carried it around 300 yards to the hose normally meant for washing boats. The team used small brushes and sponges to scrub the table with soap and water. Junior Rafael Carrion aided with the process. “I was going crazy on that table, absolutely ape-wild,” Carrion said. “Then I realized I was cleaning it.”

Once it was as clean as it was going to get, the team again lifted the 320-pound table and carried it the hilly distance to where it had been originally. Sophomore Annberlee Hothem assisted in the relocation of the table. “It was heavy as crap,” Hothem said. “The table was heavy like a pile of bricks… heavy like Mr. Gast’s homework assignments. I couldn’t carry it by myself.”

“We were efficient, we were effective and we did our park a favor, as is our duty,” said Nicholas. “Sure it was just a dumb old bench, but the satisfaction through teamwork was the best spoil we got from it.”