The Litchfield Hills Rowing Club is sporting stylish new branding that ripples with “lake monster” intrigue as it embodies the message that the successful and growing club is still all about community, camaraderie, and having fun.
The new face of the club based on Bantam Lake is the “Space Whale,” affectionately named Hilly.
If having a whale as the mascot for a club that rows in a freshwater lake seems a bit puzzling, Hilly’s origin story sets it all straight. This Space Whale is part of lake lore inspired by a strange and fascinating occurrence in the middle of the night on April 10, 2012.
It was then, at 2 a.m., that a glowing green object the size of a whale descended from the sky and fell into Bantam Lake.
That’s gospel truth … or at least what witnesses observed and reported, though these observers weren’t on the lake and didn’t see the phenomenon up close. They were either elsewhere in Litchfield or a bit farther away but understood from local geography that the falling object would have been over the lake.
In the aftermath of the mysterious visitation, the Republican-American newspaper reported that someone driving in Litchfield reported the falling object – and there’s another account that gave the whole thing a certain gravity.
A Connecticut State Police trooper who was about 10 miles away in Warren called dispatchers at the same time to report a glowing green object falling out of the sky in the area of Bantam Lake. The story rippled out across the country and even made news internationally.
Learn to Row Day is Sat. June 3, from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Details and registration are on the club’s website
A legend was born, and the lore of the Space Whale became most cherished, perhaps, by the rowing club. After all, apart from kayakers and canoeists, by virtue of proximity to the surface of the water, and the volume of boats and rowers on the lake, its members had the greatest chance of a Space Whale encounter.
Gail Zaharek, who rowed varsity at Ithaca College, joined the club in 2015, and has been president of the board for about four years, recalls that a former coach used to tease younger student rowers by saying, “Don’t fall out of the boat, the Space Whale will get you.”
The legend of the Space Whale, now formally known as Hilly, became so integrated into rowing club culture that there’s even a Space Whale Race with a bejeweled oar blade as the prize.
Fast forward to 2023, when the club – first formed back in 1967 when Litchfield High School students started rowing on the lake – decided it was time to rebrand to differentiate itself at regattas. Infusing fun, inclusiveness, and high energy into the brand was another key goal.
In a stroke of serendipity, the club counts a master of luxury branding among its parents, and he offered to guide the process pro bono, in part because the club has been transformative for his sons, who are 12 and 14.
Enter Alexander Duckworth, the principal of Point One Percent, a strategically focused branding and marketing creative consultancy whose clients include Cadillac, Rolex, Tiffany & Co., Hudson Yards, and others of similar status. (Duckworth is also a Partner of Pop Capital, which invests in luxury market brands that target high net-worth individuals.)
With the Space Whale emerging as the right choice for a distinctive mascot, Duckworth guided the rebranding process, beginning with a position statement that stressed the club is welcoming, not elitist. Next came the look of color palette, and then typography. The drawing of Hilly was done by Tokyo-based illustrator Luis Mendo, thanks to Duckworth’s connections.
“Supporters and fans at the regattas now cheer on any Litchfield boat by chanting ‘Hilly!’,” Duckworth said, noting that as part of rebranding the club’s profile will be boosted in other ways, too, including some Hilly merch being made available to the public ( a k a non-members).
The website summarizes the appeal of Hilly this way:
Hilly represents the friendly, accessible, and open nature of the Litchfield Hills Rowing Club. Hilly is a moment of levity, and a unique source of pride for our focused and passionate athletes.
The number of athletes has been increasing, with approximately 20 eighth-graders, 40-plus high school students, and 30 adults as members currently. Success is on the rise, too. A girls double boat won its division at the prestigious Head of the Charles Regatta in 2021, the club is sending 24 students to Nationals this year, and 13 graduating high school seniors will be rowing in college.
Zaharek gives credit to Head Coach and Director Drew Combs and the team of coaches, saying, “Drew has a great sense of camaraderie and has redefined the meaning of ‘team’ to include all members, who are close-knit and supportive.”
To learn more and get involved, see the club’s website.