BATH – Kennebec Rowing is an organized group of casual amateurs, but boy do they row like they’re training for something big.

When the email call goes out before a Monday, Wednesday or Sunday row, the happy crew responds immediately, filling spots in the sliding-seat racing gig.

Formed in 2006 by rowing enthusiast Chuck Mainville, a retired environmental consultant from Phippsburg, Kennebec Rowing is an entirely free opportunity.

Mainville supplies the sliding-seat rowing boats, teaches the strokes, coaches members and shows up at a Bath boat launch to share the river.

Mainville says three days a week, sometime four times a day, he’s the winner.

“I get more than I give,” he says.

By 9 a.m. on the Kennebec River shore on a Wednesday, the sun already is beating hot on the water.

A van pulls up and Mainville unloads the open-water boat. Before long, two more rowers appear. Then Serena Marrone rolls in on her motorcycle, pops off her riding boots and jacket, and in no time she’s ready to pull with the guys.

After Mainville has rolled the boat into the Kennebec, this group is ready to go. Before long, three veteran adult rowers have the boat moving with a visitor. Over an hour and a half, they stop just three times.

And Mainville is delighted with the boat’s motion, gliding easily to 20 strokes a minute.

Sitting in the coxswain seat, he enthusiastically shouts instructions but snaps to silence when Marrone offers advice to the visitor.

“She’s a great resource,” Mainville says gratefully.

But the rowers say the same of him.

“I first heard about it from a friend of my mom,” said Seth Strickland, 21. “I fell in love with it instantly, with the boat and the crew. I make as much time as possible for it, to get the chance to get out on the river to enjoy a part of Maine you don’t get to very often.”

Five years ago, Mainville started Kennebec Rowing with a poster at the local YMCA. He invited anyone, requiring only enthusiasm.

“We built it strictly by word of mouth. It’s gotten very little attention. There are about 20 adults who drift in and out and 12 who show often,” he says.

It’s not unique, with open-boat rowing clubs in Boston and New York City. But membership to those clubs can cost $100 to $300.

Mainville’s program is free.

“He’s incredibly self-sacrificial when it comes to rowing. He loves the sport. He loves the boat. He loves the people who do it,” said Strickland, who last year tried to start a rowing club at his college in Michigan but lacked the funding.

Mainville has a sailing background, having sailed a 50-foot cutter for 20 years. Then, with his four children, he fell in love with the simple rowboat, and together they raced on the ocean up and down New England.

For 15 years, Mainville has built upscale sliding-seat rowboats. He builds a few high-end boats each year to fund the rowing program.

While Kennebec Rowing participation lingers around 20 members, the program is moving in a new direction. Now Mainville is introducing young rowers to the sport.

For the second summer, he is teaching youth from Morse High School in Bath. The rowing class is being given in conjunction with a boat-building program that counts for school credit. But to the young rowers, the outdoor class is like nothing they’ve experienced.

“I’ve kayaked a couple of times. It’s not the same thing because with this you’re working with people,” said Kelsey Brick, 15. “And you have to go at the same pace as the other people. I still don’t quite have it. I would do this more, definitely, if I was allowed that opportunity.”

Mainville says the essence of Kennebec Rowing is about enthusiasm and the energy of the river. But he admits the work of teaching youth has added a new dimension to his special program.

“I think it’s important people go out and see what’s going on on the river. In the fall when we row across Merrymeeting Bay to watch the fall migration, it’s just a cloud of waterfowl taking flight. It takes your breath away,” Mainville said.

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be contacted at 791-6452 or at:

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