Alte Achter Competes for the Final Time?

Alte Achter crew members and family members on the Newell dock following their 43rd consecutive Head Of The Charles

By Bailey Knecht Published on October 19, 2014

Pre-race jitters are a thing of the past for the seasoned Alte Achter Boat Club. The team competed in its 43rd Head Of The Charles Regatta on Saturday in the Senior Master Men’s Eights 50+ race. Nerves did not appear to be a concern as they readied to launch from the Harvard’s Newell Boathouse on Saturday morning, as the members of Alte Achter meandered around the Newell dock with their families before the race, telling stories and laughing.

Alte Achter—German for Old Eight—is the crew that won a silver medal in the 1972 Munich

Backlit against a rising sun, Alte Achter gets set to shove from the Newell dock for a final time.

Olympics. They rowed the Head Of The Charles that fall, and have returned every year since. There have been open seats filled with subs from time to time, but the boat has remained essentially intact since 1972. For them, spending the weekend with old friends has become more meaningful than the actual race.

“This is total recreation,” said Gene Clapp, one of the original team members. “We have a great respect for the sport. We trained very hard when we were competing in the Olympics, and from then on it just really became a fun thing for us to do, a good reason to try and stay in shape, a great reason to stay in touch with each other.”

The team launched just after nine from the historic 114-year-old boathouse. The race went smoothly until coxswain Paul Hoffman’s rudders got caught and the boat went careening off course, forcing the team to stop and get back on track.

Despite the hiccup, the team was still able to laugh with each other after the race. “Hoffman was out of control,” team members joked.

Even Hoffman was satisfied with the outcome in spite of the equipment issue.

“We got some good strokes mixed in there for old time’s sake,” he said.

In fact, the team isn’t concerned about its time or placement at all nowadays.

“We don’t even use the word ‘race’ anymore, I don’t think,” Hoffman said. “I think that everybody understands that, for a lot of the old reunion crews, this is about friendship, not about racing.”

The team, which was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame in 2012, has seen the Head Of The Charles become the nucleus of their friendship these past 43 years.

“We have a pretty strong bond, good friendships among us that we decided after the competition that we just wanted to stay together,” Clapp said.

Clapp’s son, Nathaniel Clapp, 34, joined the crew this year to fill an open spot in the boat.

“I didn’t feel like the young guy on the team,” he said after the race, laughing.

Though the Achter boat has participated in the Head of the Charles for 43 years straight, Hoffman and teammate Terry Monk started even earlier, taking part in the very first race in 1965.

“It was always well-run but it was much looser, and in the early years, it was much more of a Boston and New England thing,” Hoffman said.

Clapp agreed that the race has evolved monumentally within the past half-century.

“The director, Fred Schoch, is really the one who has made this regatta what it is today,” he said. “He has really done a phenomenal job of increasing its popularity and bringing a very high level of competitiveness to the regatta. So it’s fun because you’ll have national team athletes from around the world coming to compete, but you’ll also have clubs and colleges and schools participating in the same two-day regatta.”

The Olympic rowing culture has changed as well, and the boys in Alte Achter helped to change in. Prior to 1972, the national and Olympic teams were selected from a series from trials, so rowing clubs would enter races and whoever won represented the United States, according to Clapp. That changed in ’72, when rowers from across the country were selected in a selection camp to form a team that would be more competitive against powerhouses such as East Germany and the Soviet Union. Alte Achter has been a tight-knit crew from the very beginning when members were selected to be on the 1972 national team.

“I think that we all, from very early on in the boat, we trusted each other,” Hoffman said.

A number of national teams go on to compete in the Head Of The Charles.

“There are a number of teams that do that,” Clapp said. “I guess you could say that we kind of started that trend in 1972.”

Being part of a reunion crew is a great way for the team to stay in touch, Hoffman added.

“We just hit it off, we hit it off as friends in ‘72 and we had a very good Olympics,” he said. “We stayed friends, and even in the years when people can’t row, everybody’s shown up.”

The team said that this will be its last race as Alte Achter, but that doesn’t mean its members are through with rowing.

“I’m not likely to be a spectator any time soon,” Clapp said. “I think I’ll continue to row in the Head Of The Charles because I’ve been doing it all my life, but it just may not be the Alte Achter group.”




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