Head of the Hootch

After a morning of hang gliding, we return to Chattanooga in time to check out the Head of the Hootch scene. The first thing about the Head of the Hootch is the sheer number of boats on the water. In spite of the fact that the river is closed to both recreational and commercial traffic for the regatta, and the fact that these boats are as sleek and trim as it gets, the river looks like it could not possibly have room for one more boat on it. As we walk over the Market St bridge to the aquarium, we have to stop and stare several times and gawk while we count the number of boats in a small space.

As we make our way across Market St bridge, the next thing that stands out is the number of people standing on the bridge. There are so many people jammed on the sidewalks on either side of the bridge at the South end that they are jumping off the sidewalks and onto the roadway to go around each other. When a close race goes under the bridge, people dart across between traffic to see how it comes out on the other side. This seems so dangerous that I wonder why they didn’t close Market St all together.

The third thing that catches our attention (oh, all right, so we could see this from our apartment before we left) is the number of tents lining the riverfront by the aquarium. There are market-style tents set up practically on top of each other. They line the street and spread out onto the grass between the road and the river. The road is closed and rowers walk in large groups, the teenagers oblivious to other pedestrians and not bothering to move out of the way when they occupy the entire sidewalk.

We make our way through the crowd looking somewhat like we need press passes. I have my tripod bag over my shoulder and Pat carries my camera bag over his. We walk down the steps next to the aquarium bridge to get under the street and out to the pier next to the fountain. I figure we’ll be able to get some good shots from under the bridge. Pat helps pick a setting by suggesting I shoot boats as they appear from behind the bridge support. These turn out ot be some of my favorite shots.

I’ve put my big lens on my camera and mounted it on my tripod. I stand behind the camera and discover that I can barely zoom out far enough to get half of an eight person boat from here. I contemplate changing lenses, but decide to stick with the 100-400mm for a while yet. I shoot the boats on the other side of the river. I zoom in and see how tight I can get from this far away. I’m pretty impressed with my lens. I’m feeling like I could pass as a professional with my lovely tripod and my nice big lens.

That’s about the time that the real professional (or wealthy want-to-be) shows up. He’s carrying what must be at least a 300mm f/2.8 lens, if not a 400mm or more. For those of you not familiar with camera lenses, we’re talking a $7,000 – 13,000 lens here. It has an enormous circumference and looks like it could gather enough light to shoot the stars at a high shutter speed. Suddenly, my big lens looks pitiful.

That’s the trouble about comparing your lenses to other people’s–someone always has a bigger lens. But when I look through my lens again at 100mm and just fit half a boat in the frame, I suddenly wonder what the heck the other guy is shooting. From here, I wonder if he can get more than one eye in the frame. I imagine some of the more dramatic sports shots I’ve ever seen and decide he can probably get some really great facial expressions. While I may have the same reach with my lens (or not, I can’t actually tell), I don’t have the same aperture opening. That means I have to have slower shutter speeds to get the same exposure that he can get by opening up his aperture wider. This allows him to freeze those rapidly moving facial expressions sharply in time when they would likely be blurred for me. I would love to see his shots.

I contemplate briefly walking over to him and asking him about his lens, but decide there’s no point in finding out what it is since I already have 2 lenses on my wish list that are in a far more practical price range. Plus, I don’t feel like embarrassing myself today by asking stupid questions. I would love to see the shots he’s getting, though. My main confusion is that he isn’t using a tripod. I wonder how he can hold that big lens without one. As I contemplate whether to talk to the photographer or not, Pat points out a large Swallow condominium complex built on the underside of a bridge structure. Their little mud huts hang, now abandoned, in a line, somehow making me think of a row of abandoned beach houses.

I turn my attention back to the boat races for a few minutes. Watching two boats neck and neck as they come to the finish line gets me excited. I am thrown back in time to my brief lessons in a learn to row class and the feeling of flying across the river in a 4-person boat when we all got into a good rhythm. I think about about how delicious it felt to kick the rears of the competing boat that day (especially when the average age of their boat was about 10 years younger than ours).

However, I don’t know who is competing against whom in this race. It makes it tough to follow or to decide whom to celebrate with. Boats just keep coming in. Then, I see the OSU women and then some OSU men. I’m somewhat excited that I recognize them by their paddles–the rowing class I took was held out of the OSU boathouse on the Scioto River in Columbus.

After shooting some more, we head to Thai Smile for lunch. I have my leftovers packed up and even think to ask for plasticware and napkins. I’m all ready for any homeless we encounter on the way home. However, it looks like all the homeless were shuttled off somewhere. All that are left on the Walnut St Bridge are a group of rowdy partiers who are having the time of their lives. We continue back across the river and go home with our leftovers still in tact.

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