Stiff headwinds upwards of 20 mph and choppy Housatonic waters did nothing to stop Yale heavyweight crew’s first varsity boat as it beat out both Penn and Columbia by open water on Saturday to retain the Blackwell Cup.

While three of the day’s races — the third and fourth varsity and freshman races — were canceled due to inclement weather, the first and second varsity boats sped past their Ivy League rivals to win by 13 and 35 seconds, respectively.

“Those conditions were extreme and I could not have been happier with the way our two crews handled it,” said head coach Steve Gladstone.

Gladstone said that while the Yale crews had been well-prepared for conditions like Saturday’s, he sensed the rough waters had knocked the Penn and Columbia crews out of rhythm and that both teams could have achieved faster speeds on flat water.

The Housatonic is subject to variable conditions throughout the entire year, explained varsity oarsmen Tom Dethlefs ’12, so the Bulldogs had the chance to build competence rowing on both flat water and white caps, which occur when the wind blows so hard that wave crests foam up.

“It’s tough to tell what the races may have been like absent the wind and the swells,” said captain Derek Johnson ’11. “Fortunately, we’ll be seeing Penn and Columbia again at the Eastern Sprints a month from now.”

With less than a month before the championship season kicks off with the May 15 Eastern Sprints, varsity oarsmen Alex Mastroyannis ’11 said there still have not been enough races to judge the varsity boat’s speed compared to that of other schools.

Still, Gladstone said next week’s race against Cornell and Princeton for the Carnegie Cup — the last before championship season — would give a clear indication of where the Yale boat sits in the hierarchy for Eastern Sprints. The Elis took out the Carnegie Cup last year, though Princeton placed in second place at the Eastern Sprints ahead of Yale’s 11th.

While next week’s race takes place on Lake Carnegie in Princeton, N.J., which Dethlefs said was well sheltered from the wind, the Eastern Sprints on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.,can be “notoriously rough,” according to Johnson.

The composition of the varsity boat, however, will be kept constant, Gladstone said, adding that he was very happy with the speed the lineup that came together last Thursday managed to produce.

“The longer they row together, and with good attention in practice, stroke by stroke they’ll become more cohesive,” he said.

Neither Gladstone nor any of the rowers interviewed said they could predict how the Carnegie Cup race will play out.

Johnson said he was expecting the Princeton boat to be fast, based on its close loss to reigning Eastern Sprints champions Harvard on Saturday.

Saturday also marked the last home race for seniors on the team.

“It’s great that as seniors we finished our careers at home with a victory, but as soon as that race was over we immediately shifted our focus to Princeton and Cornell,” Mastroyannis said.

Next week’s racing kicks off on Lake Carnegie this Saturday at 8 a.m.