Members of Georgetown University’s crew team were among about 20 people pulled from the Potomac River Saturday amid frigid conditions when high winds and rough waters caused several boats to take on water.

Crew Head Coach Tony Johnson said that a crew of nine women decided to abandon their boat near Hanes Point after strong winds and a swift current prevented them from being able to row upstream to their boathouse. A coach brought them, and another rower who was riding with the coach, in a skiff to the seawall on the eastern bank of the river, where bystanders helped pull them onto the shore.

The coach, together with at least two other coaches in two other boats, tried to rescue the empty shell and in the process their skiffs took on water, Johnson said.

At 11:30 a.m., bystanders along the east bank of the river placed a distress call to 911 after seeing several boats overturn, according to D.C. Fire Department spokesperson Alan Etter. Johnson said that when a fire rescue boat arrived, one coach jumped out of his boat and swam to shore with the assistance of two emergency responders. The other coaches swam to shore on their own.

About 300 yards upriver, near the Thompson Boat Center, a nine-man Georgetown crew also decided to abandon their shell after waves and wakes from powerboats filled it with water. Johnson said the team jumped out of the boat and swam a short distance to the dock of the boathouse.

“They weren’t in the river very long,” Johnson said.

Johnson said that at least two launches and the women’s shell capsized but that due to the weather, all had already been abandoned.

NBC4 reported that the water temperature in the Potomac on Saturday was 37 degrees, and according to The Washington Post, wind gusts were as high as 30 miles per hour. Etter said everyone was rescued before hypothermia could have set in and that no one was hospitalized.

“While there were no advisories out to my knowledge, you don’t have to be an experienced boatsman to know when not to go out,” Etter said. “This simply was not the proper thing to do.”

Johnson said that, while the wind was blowing all day, it did not seem dangerous at around 7 a.m. when practice started.

“Early in the morning it was not that big a deal,” he said.

He said that around 9:30 a.m., coaches decided that condidtions were becoming more dangerous. Shortly thereafter, the women’s shell turned around to head home but began filling with water before it made it.

Johnson said that several high school crews were also on the river that morning.

embers of the crew team declined to comment.

Updated: March 4, 2008, 5:07 p.m.

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