Madison’s ‘Triple Crown’

Louisville area boaters have made
Madison a favorite stop

They credit Madison Lighthouse’s
hospitality as a big draw

(July 2013) – Horse racing has its Triple Crown. So does Madison, Ind.
Charlene Ballard, co-owner of the Madison Lighthouse with Gary Gillespie, bestowed the name on the three events that define Madison summers – Madison Regatta, Madison Ribberfest, and Madison Chautauqua – when a group of Louisville boaters made attendance at all three the focus of their summer travel. Madison Lighthouse is a floating restaurant on the Ohio River that offers overnight boat docking and services.


File photo by Don Ward

Madison’s summer festivals – Regatta, Ribberfest and
Chautauqua –  annually attract
many boaters from Louisville

The boaters are all members of the Knights of Columbus Boat Club of Louisville, Ky. Larry Link, leader of the group, began attending Madison Regatta in 1972 and has returned every year since. “The first year, I brought a couple of guys on a boat. We loved the ambience of Madison and the great racing. We kept coming back and bringing more people. Now we are up to 30 boats, and 95 percent of the people who come are return visitors. We love it here.”
A prime draw for the Louisville Boaters is the welcome they receive from the Madison Lighthouse staff. “Charlene and Gary treat us like royalty,” says Dave Vish, a member of the boat club who has been making the trip to Madison since 1987. Vish extols the beauty of Madison saying, “It’s the best kept secret in Louisville.
We boat the Ohio River near Louisville. It’s great, but it’s one of the busiest recreational pools on the Ohio. With the trip to Madison, once you get above the 14-mile creek, the traffic clears and the scenery is just beautiful. The trip to Madison offers a wonderful boating experience in itself. Then we get to Madison, which is a gem.”
Link agrees. “Getting to Madison is like going 100 years back in time. There’s not as much hustle and bustle as in Louisville. It’s just laid back. The shop owners recognize us when we come through the door as one of the Louisville Boaters and welcome us. They’ve become friends, and when we come it’s like old home week. At the same time, though we are only 38 miles from Louisville, coming here is like going to Key West. We just don’t have to go 1,000 miles to get there.”
Link says the partnership they formed with the Lighthouse makes the experience possible. “We bring 30 boats ranging from 30 to 76 feet and all needing water and electricity.
The Lighthouse gives the space for docking plus everything else we need. We love eating at the restaurant or just going over for a drink in the evening. Docking at the Lighthouse gives the room for us to visit between boats and enjoy each other’s company while the central location gives easy access to the town. We come to spend money – shopping, eating, and enjoying the sights – in addition to enjoying the Regatta, Ribberfest or Chautauqua.
We hit the town for days. The Lighthouse is home base for everything else.”
When asked what it’s like to get ready for such a large group, Ballard says, “It’s no trouble at all. We look forward to them coming every time. They have become like family.”
Ballard came up with the idea of dubbing the three events the Triple Crown to recognize the group’s patronage of the major events in Madison’s summer. The Lighthouse finds tangible ways to show appreciation. The second weekend of June, Ballard held an appreciation weekend for the boaters. Further, any boater who attends all three events puts their name into a drawing. The winner gets a free dock rental.
“It’s a way to show our appreciation to them coming to town on a regular basis,” says Ballard.
While the Lighthouse serves as the base of operations, Ballard notes that the group stays for several days at each event and patronizes most of downtown Madison during that time. “They go to Hinkle’s, Shipley’s, Fine Threads, Key West Shrimp House– businesses all over downtown. They are very good to Madison.”
For others wanting to enjoy the Lighthouse’s hospitality, Ballard says that the dock is open to boaters who want to spend one or two nights while they enjoy the town. The restaurant, which is open to everyone, boater or not, serves appetizers, soups, salads, and sandwiches and features a full bar. “Our dock space is booked well in advance of major events, but between those events we are open to boaters wanting to spend a night or two and enjoy Madison.”
Dock rental is $1 per foot for just water or $1.50 per foot for water and electricity. Boaters who want to stay the season are referred to Rivercrest Marina. “We have a great relationship,” says Ballard. “The marina takes care of the long-term rentals. We’re open for the short-term. That way, no one is stranded without a place to dock for the night. It works well for everyone.”
Link eagerly anticipates the Regatta knowing it will kick off a summer of highlights. “Madison might be the oldest town in the country that still has boat racing. We can’t wait to get there to enjoy the racing and the town. We know the welcome mat will be out. That’s what we love about Madison.”

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