DERBY, Conn. — Exhibiting their best rowing of the season, the Columbia varsity lightweights held off Penn to take second place in the Dodge Cup, in the process fighting through conditions duplicating those of a North Atlantic storm.

The normally placid Housatonic River, Yale's home course, flows on a northwest to southeast course. When the Housatonic met the strong winds from the southeast that buffeted the area Saturday morning, they combined to produce extremely roiled water, with whitecaps, wind-blown spray and actual waves. Combined with the temperature, which hovered in the 40-45 degree range, conditions were created far more suited to the Long Island South 40 miles south, or even to those of an Atlantic storm.
   
Columbia's heavyweight coach Mike Zimmer, a veteran of more than 20 years competing on the Housatonic, said the conditions were "absolutely the worst I've ever seen here. Nothing even comes close!"
   
The headwinds hadn't reached their peak when the varsity lights set out for the Dodge Cup race. It began on a stagger, with Columbia "ahead" , Yale in the middle, and Penn "behind" on the far right. Although staggered starts even out during races, they begin with one team "ahead."
   
And so Columbia began, as head coach Scott Alwin noted, "with a lead to protect." The Lions got off to a good start, but Yale had a better one. In short order, the Bulldogs made up the stagger and took the lead. Penn tried to move up, too, but Alwin's crew held them off.
   
The course has several left turns, indicated by buoys, giving great opportunities to pass another boat, but Columbia's eight rose to the occasion each time, staying ahead of Penn. They established a 5-7 second lead on the Quakers and held it to the end, winning by 7.9 seconds in 6:30.6. Yale came in first in 6:21.6.
   
"Our guys did a great job!" Alwin said. "It's the best I've seen us row. We were aggressive right off the start. They rowed like they've been practicing."
   
Alwin marveled at his crew's intensity. "It was," he said, "a level of intensity that has been eluding them. But now they've found it."
   
Conditions had been worsening during the race, and during the half hour before Columbia's next event, the second varsity eights, they really began to go down. When the crews began the 2V race, they had to contend with fierce headwinds, oars stroking above the water, and spray flying with gale-force intensity.
   
Nevertheless, they completed the race, with Yale winning, Penn second, 14 seconds behind, and Columbia third, 14 more seconds behind the Quakers.
   
The order of races had been altered in order to ensure that the varsity cup races would be completed. It proved a wise move, as the wind and water conditions precipitated. The lightweight freshman eight race began, but when Penn's freshman eight swamped a little more than halfway through the 2000 meters, the race officials halted the race, rescued the Quaker rowers from the cold water, and then called off the rest of the regatta. Columbia's confrontation with Connecticut's version of the North Atlantic had mercifully ended.
   
The Lions make their only home appearance next Saturday, April 23, in the Geiger Cup regatta with Cornell and MIT. It is scheduled to begin at about 4 p.m., possibly with Georgetown rowing as a guest.
   
Today's results:

The Dodge Cup
Columbia, Yale, Penn
April 16, 2011
Housatonic River, Derby, Conn.

Varsity Eights

1. Yale, 6:21.6
2. Columbia, 6:30.6
3. Penn, 6:38.5

Second Varsity Eights
1. Yale, 7:09.7
2. Penn, 7:23.7
3. Columbia, 7:37.1

Freshman Eights
race halted, then canceled after Penn's eight swamped

Today's Boatings vs. Yale, Penn:

Varsity Eight
Stone Cao, cox; Daniel Kirrane, stroke; Bruno Salemme, 7; John O'Mara, 6; James Kahmann, 5; Tucker Haunt, 4; Matt Hayto, 3; Brian Nickel, 2; Graham Pupo, bow

Second Varsity Eight
Jesse Qualliotine, cox; James Brown, stroke; John Zucchi, 7; Blake Pinell, 6; Alexander Ciucci, 5; Noah Buckley, 4; Carlos Rodriguez, 3; Tim Reichmann, 2; Elliott Velson, bow

Freshman Eight
Amelia Kudenholdt, cox; Anders Smedsrud, stroke; Curtis Kachline, 7; Connor Dougherty, 6; Chris Hatzis, 5; John Hold, 4; Steve Boyle, 3; Roger Stone, 2; James Winford, bow