The Hillsborough River doesn't usually get confused for the Thames — or even the Charles River in Boston, for that matter.
But that could change on Saturday when the river becomes the site of the Roosevelt Rowing Regatta.
Ken Walters, a Tampa socialite and party promoter, and Tom Feaster, president of the Stewards Foundation nonprofit rowing group, have teamed up to organize the area's first rowing regatta.
The event is modeled after the Head Of The Charles Regatta and the Henley Royal Regatta on the Thames in England — two longstanding rowing events that attract thousands of competitors and spectators every year.
Walters and Feaster came up with the idea to draw more attention to the downtown riverfront and to acknowledge the college rowing teams that train here during their winter and spring breaks.
"It's been a tradition in Tampa for many, many years,'' Feaster said. "We never got the word out very well.''
College teams from the Northeast have practiced on the Hillsborough River since as early as 1941, Feaster said. They typically come for a week or more, spending money at local hotels and restaurants and leaving their school name painted on downtown bridges and seawalls.
The regatta will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday near University of Tampa's Plant Park. Four- and eight-person boats will sprint a short 450 meters from the Cass Street to Kennedy Boulevard bridges. Mayor Bob Buckhorn is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.
Teams will come from Drake University, George Washington University and Rutgers, as well as local high schools, including Tampa Catholic High School, Berkeley Preparatory School and Academy of the Holy Names.
The six races will be scattered throughout the day and last only a few minutes each. Feaster, who will serve as race commentator, promises intense action from start to finish.
"It will be wonderful to watch because in most cases rowing events are 1,500 or 2,000 meters. You see the finish and that's it,'' he said. "This whole thing will be exciting.''
In between will be a party at Plant Park with full liquor bars, live music from the Lisa Casalino Jazz Quartet, a picnic lunch, sit-down brunch and childrens' play area. Walters, who puts on a Frank Sinatra party in South Tampa every summer, says it will have an old-school feel worthy of its namesake, Theodore Roosevelt. The former colonel and president stayed at Plant Hall, formerly the Tampa Bay Hotel, with his Rough Riders during the onset of the Spanish-American War.
Guests are asked to dress in "fashionable outdoor event attire.''
If successful, organizers hope to expand the event next year to the Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on the opposite side of the river. A portion of proceeds will go to the Stewards Foundation.