Event Recap: 52nd Head of the Charles

-By Aaron Doucett

In true New England fashion, the 52nd Head of the Charles Regatta demonstrated the variability of Northeastern weather, but also framed the persevering spirit of this year’s competitors among the backdrop of the Boston skyline.

Photo by Ian Leonard

Photo by Ian Leonard

 

Background:

Marking my 9th year returning to the regatta, I’ve had the pleasure to experience sunshine, wind, rain, snow, bitter cold; sometimes all within the same day of this half-century old October tradition. This weekend was no exception, with a (seasonably) hot and humid Friday, torrential downpours and squalls through Saturday, and Fall-bliss to round it all out on Sunday. None of that slowed down the thousands of competitors who took to the Charles to partake in America’s Fall Rowing Festival.

The Head of the Charles brings rowers, coaches, spectators, and fans from across the country and around the globe onto the shores of the Charles River for what has grown to be the largest regatta in the world. Every year that I’ve attended as either an athlete, teammate, and now volunteer, I’ve felt a sense of awe that this many people can come together for a weekend of camaraderie and sportsmanship, while battling it out on a 3-mile course.

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Rowing, a sport that has captivated me ever since I picked it up during my freshman year of high school, is known for its rigor and demand on athletes, but also for attracting a certain ethos that in my opinion, sets it apart in a class of its own within the sporting world. As the oldest collegiate sport in the United States, each and every contest holds a reverence for the history and legacy that came before. While rowing has evolved to become more diverse and accessible than ever before, it still conjures images of elite colleges and prep-school competition, perhaps even forming the basis for the archetype of the collegiate athlete. Can you name another team sport in which you can watch 40+ different colleges and universities competing head to head, all at the same time?

The Race:

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A hazy Friday afternoon offered one final chance for rowers to practice navigating the sharp bends and turns of the Charles.

Racing is divided over two days into over 65 separate events, by age class and boat type:

Singles (1x) A single person scull (two oars)
Doubles (2x) A two-man scull
Quads (4x) A four-man scull
Fours (4+) Four man sweep (one oar per rower), with a coxswain
Eights (8+) – Eight person boat, with a coxswain

 

 

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River traffic

Fall foliage set the backdrop for the event, as crews adapted to changing winds and weather.

Crews navigating the Eliot Bridge turn, one of the most difficult segments of the race.

Some of the best crews of the day launched from the CBC docks, seen here with the infamous Eliot Bridge in the background.

Making an appearance here on the awards stage is Sean Wolf and his pair partner Pete Morelli of Riverside Boat Club, who finished 1st in the Men’s Masters Double event.

Other key wins of the day came from Gevvie Stone, a Boston native, who crushed the competition in the Women’s Championship Singles, only a couple of months after earning a silver medal in the Rio 2016 Olympics. This wasn’t her only win of the day however, as just two hours earlier she stroked the Women’s Great Eight (stacked with Olympic medalists) to a first place finish over New York Athletic Club and Yale in the Women’s Championship Eights!

Laga, a collegiate team from the Netherlands, upset Michigan for the gold in the Men’s Collegiate Eights category, and Wesleyan University edged out Ithaca College by less than one second for the title of a Women’s Collegiate Eights victory.

Delftsche Studenten Roei Vereeniging “Laga” wearing traditional rowing blazers. Since they are handed down for years and years, they can get quite dilapidated! Photo by Daniel D’Ottavio.

 

Rowing powerhouse Michigan, on stage with silver medals. Photo by Daniel D’Ottavio.

In the Men’s Championship Eights, University of Washington battled against Harvard and Cal to a 1st place finish, taking the title from Yale, who had earned the win in 2015.

View the full results here

The Scene:

This FluidDesign single decked out with a BB#1 paint job wasn’t just for show– the boat was rowed by Lucy Spoors, a New Zealand rower, to a 7th place finish in the Women’s Championship Singles event.

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Seen towering over me here are the Winklevoss twins, of both rowing and Facebook fame.

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Old Glory over a sea of crew trailers and rowing shells.

There were a LOT of happy dogs to be found!

The fine folks at Concept2, making vital adjustments and repairs to oars for teams from across the country.

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Flags of the world wave over the announcer station at the Cambridge Boat Club, the official host of the regatta.

CBC and the Eliot Bridge Enclosure

The Eliot Bridge Enclosure offers a more laid-back spectating experience, with a gourmet lunch and bar.

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The UPenn lightweights make an appearance at the BB photo spot (Photo by @BrooksBrothers on twitter)

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Catching the narrow streets and walkways of Cambridge in the Fall is a treat in itself. Walking here next to the Harvard Kennedy School is no exception!

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Crowds line the shores on Riverbend Park, where many food vendors and exhibits are set up. Across the river is the Alumni Village, where reunion tents for dozens of colleges and organizations gather watch the race over a few beers from Sierra Nevada Brewing.

 The Gala

For the second year in a row, the Attager Row tent was transformed at night to host an evening event with live music, food, and drinks. I’ve never felt quite as short as being surrounded by dozens of Olympic athletes, many of whom are unwinding after a long day of competition. This semi-formal event was punctuated with rowing blazers abound, earned and proudly displayed by the some of the highest ranking competitors of the sport.

 

Apparel and wares:

What does one wear at a regatta? While competitors are seen in team jackets, spandex unisuits and muddy running shoes, plenty of spectators bundle up in Barbour jackets, Patagonia fleeces, don LL Bean boots to tackle the muddy footpaths, and the appropriate collegiate scarf to show their allegiances. It’s hard to find another event that embodies New England style more than the Head of the Charles.

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I love the products from The Belted Cow, a Maine-based company who produce fun belts that are Made in the USA.

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The venerable Brooks Brothers was back as one of the official clothing sponsors for the event. This year the lineup of trad-approved goods included coffee mugs, in addition to the new volunteer vests for 2016.

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An aptly designed Henley is a classic rowing-themed shirt which was the traditional uniform for rowers at the Henley Royal Regatta.

Repp and motif ties in a rainbow of colors created specifically for the regatta.

Longtime friend and former teammate Trevor Zuch shared this photo of some of the gear he picked up from Brooks Brothers.

Closing Remarks:

The HOCR remains one of my all-time favorite events and weekends of the entire year, and I look forward to attending and hopefully competing again for decades to come. Nothing else really comes close to comparing in size, competitiveness, and professionalism.

I want to extend a big thanks to the board of directors, especially to Katherine Kirk, who was named Chairman this year.

A overwhelming thank you to the sponsors and volunteers who keep this event going year after year, and finally to all the athletes who do the real work!

Till next year!

Aaron Doucett
Aaron is a graduate of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and works as a cartographer in Cambridge, MA. Outside of work, he enjoys rowing, cycling, and hunting for vintage ties at thrift stores.

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