Harvard Men Give Harry Parker 50th Anniversary Gift
by Stephanie Wright
“They’ve trained hard,” said Harry Parker, long time head coach of Harvard’s men’s crew team. They trained hard to earn a winning season. They trained hard to maintain their reputation as an elite crew. They trained hard for him—and they won.
Harvard’s won the men’s Championship Eight for the first time since 1977, beating the US Rowing Crew by five seconds in a time of 14:17.
The crew said they felt comfortable early in the course.
“The rhythm felt really good,” said Andrew Reed, the number five seat. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in a boat that felt that smooth in a race.”
James O’Connor, who rowed in the bow, agreed that about half way through the race, they knew they were headed toward first place. They hit their stride after the Weeks bridge, he said, then they “pushed and pushed.” His teammates nodded in agreement, noting that this race felt different.
They were also able to get on the inside of the bedeviling Eliot Bridge corner, which has been known to cause disaster for crews in the past.
Back at the Newell Boathouse after the race, everyone donned matching tank tops. They were white, each with one blue letter, and when aligned, spelled out “50 Years.” They wanted to show support for the man they call a legend by representing him in the first Harvard win at the Head Of The Charles in 34 years.
“He’s a presence in the boat house,” said O’Connor of Parker, who has been Harvard’s coach since 1963.
He is also battling blood cancer, and while that seldom comes up around the boathouse, every rower is aware of it. It makes Parker’s attention to the business of rowing all the more special for the members of his team. He teases the guys and makes sly jokes, said Reed, he’s still a hard working coach, and expects the same dedication from each rower.
Ask him about his cancer and he’ll tell you about his team.
“You can’t think about that,” he said. “You just coach them as well as you can and hope that they’re receptive.” He did acknowledge, however, that he was happy to hear of his the respect his rowers hold for him.
Despite mid-term exams in the weeks preceding the regatta, they spent their regular time on the water. The combination of Harry Parker’s 50th season and a 34-year gap between wins brought a sense of urgency to this year’s Head Of The Charles preparation.
Every win is sweet. Some are extra special.
Virginia Women Best Radcliffe and Surprising Michigan in Champ Eights
by Hannah Becker
Unlike the men’s Championship Eights, where Harvard rowed to a home-course victory, the Radcliffe women were edged by the University of Virginia, who won the Championship Eights by eight seconds in 16:11.52.
Starting from bow position two, Virginia had its sights set on defending champion Princeton, who had beaten them a year ago, rowing just ahead of them.
Virginia coach Kevin Sauer and his assistant rode the course on their bicycles, “dodging people and cars and looking through the trees,” according to Sauer. Their stopwatches told them they were rowing faster than a year ago, when they finished second, but that didn’t tell them everything.
“We knew we were gaining on Princeton, but we didn’t know what was going on behind us,” he said.
Princeton fell to sixth.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the race came when the University of Michigan, with the 35 bow, finished in 16:22.01 to take third.
Out-of-state crews faired well in this year’s race, while the local teams finished in the second half of the pack. Northeastern University’s varsity team covered the three miles with a time of 17:12.48, good for 20th place. MIT took 25th (17:19.89), Boston College 28th (17:26.62) and Northeastern University’s second team took 35th with a time of 18:02.52.
Ernestine Bayer Race Bids HOCR Farewell
by Samantha Laine
The star-flecked sky lightens slowly as men and women shuffle in the dark. The 90 rowers watch their feet, trying not to trip as they prepare 73 shells to launch. Headlamps sweep the shores of Magazine Beach, glinting off the bows and sterns of recreational shells that cover the beach.
The rowers carry their shells to the launching area. They lower the boats into the subdued Charles River, disrupting the faint mist that lingers over the smooth surface. It’s a perfect day for rowing, the rowers tell each other with a faint smile. The rowers get into their shells. They launch. This is the last time they will set out on this pre-sunrise race. After today, the Ernestine Bayer Race on the Charles (EBROC) will no longer be held during the weekend of the Head of the Charles Regatta.
It brings to a close an era that began in 1974. For 37 years, Sunday racing at the Head Of The Charles has been preceded by this race for recreational class shells. It was known for a long time as the Alden race, after the boat company that started it. Since 1999, it has been named in honor of Ernestine Bayer, the first lady of American rowing.
“It’s absolutely sad,” Mary Dowd said. This was Dowd’s first time racing in the EBROC. “I met Ernie 15 years ago. She has been my inspiration. That’s why I’m here. This is for her.”
In previous years Dowd has raced in the HOCR. In 2001 she was a gold medalist in the fours 50+ division. Dowd decided to race in the EBROC when she found out that this year would be her last opportunity to race for Ernestine Bayer. “The race binds everyone together through her. No other crazy people would be up at this hour,” Dowd said. Rowers arrived to registration at 6 a.m. to launch for a 7 a.m. start.
Ernestine Bayer, the namesake of the EBROC and an inspiration to thousands, first established rowing as a women’s sport in Philadelphia in 1938, when she founded the Philadelphia Girls’ Rowing Club. She was also a major force in developing recreational rowing as a competitive sport.
“She was the feisty wife of an Olympic rower who refused to sit around and not row,” said Blake Doyle, the president of the International Recreational and Open Water Rowing Association (IROW), the group that runs the Ernestine Bayer race.
“When you first saw Ernie, she had this statuesque, elegant countenance,” said Debbie Arenberg, one of the driving forces behind the EBROC. “There was never anything she thought she couldn’t do. She wasn’t aggressive—she just saw the path she needed to pursue and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She was completely captivating.”
Bayer died Sept. 10, 2006, a few years after the EBROC was named in her honor. Behind her she left a legacy of rowers whose love of recreational rowing started with the Alden shell.
“We’ve broadened the base of the sport,” Marjorie Martin Burgard said. She worked closely with her husband, Arthur Martin, the creator of Alden, and Bayer throughout the beginning years of recreational rowing. She said that originally rowers did not like the design of the Alden shell; they said it was too short and too wide to race. She grinned as she said that her husband, who passed away in 1990, has since been inducted into the rower’s Hall of Fame for the Alden design.
Burgard is most proud of her husband and Bayer for their dedication to adaptive racing. From the beginning, the EBROC has allowed handicapped rowers to participate in events.
“Handicapped individuals can row in a recreational boat safely on their own. It’s wonderful to feel independent on the water when you can’t on the shore,” Burgard said. She pointed to a man in a wheelchair. “Here’s a man who can’t do a damn thing on land. But he can row. They’re doing something quite amazing, and we made that possible.”
Bruce and Sara Gillers said they have had a lot of fun racing in the EBROC the past few years. Sara suffered a severe brain injury during a rock climbing accident a few years ago, and the doctors told her she would no longer be able to climb. The same day she discovered she could no longer climb, her dad suggested that they take up rowing. Rowing has since become a big part of the Gillers’ lives.
“It’s incredible to have such a race. I feel so lucky to have participated. It became a great way for me to be outside and spend time with my dad,” Sara said.
“It has been fantastic to be able to row with my daughter; I love having the parent-child races. It’s like a family, the IROW family,” Bruce said.
The Ernestine Bayer has been a victim of its own success, in a way. The Head Of The Charles decided to end the race because it had grown too big for the slender window of daylight that was available to it, before the Regatta’s official start at 8 a.m.
“I understand the decision to remove the EBROC from the HOCR weekend,” Burgard said. “I try to look at both sides, even when it hurts. I have great respect for [HOCR Executive Director] Fred Schoch and the committee. The logistics of organizing the HOCR is mind-boggling. I understand.”
While many individuals tried to empathize with the Head of the Charles committee’s decision to remove the EBROC from the weekend, many rowers and IROW leaders struggled to retain composure. The sadness and disappointment of losing their race became real as the last Ernestine Bayer awards ceremony progressed.
Doyle quoted lyrics from Zac Brown during the ceremony, changing the lyrics slightly to reflect the feeling of sadness as the end of the traditional EBROC approached.
“Keep your heart above the Head and your eyes wide open. You know you’re not the only shell out on the river. Save your strength for things that you can change and forgive the ones you can’t. You’ve got to let ‘em go,” Doyle said.
Burgard echoed Doyle’s sentiment in saying, “Change is part of everyday living.”
The EBROC may be over in its traditional sense, but its faithful following believe Bayer’s legacy will continue. IROW may be able to partner with a Charles River club or choose a different weekend in order to continue the race. Arenberg believes that there may still be hopes for hosting the EBROC during HOCR weekend in the future.
“All major regattas are adding recreational divisions to their lineup. We are still hoping to dialogue and believe that there are alternative solutions to keeping our race in the HOCR,” Arenberg said.
Iowa Girl Looks at Bright Rowing Future
by Hannah Becker
She’s a Youth National Champion. She’s a Head Of The Charles Youth Doubles Champion. She’s a 15–year-old kid.
Racing for Y Quad Cities, Elizabeth Sharis made the journey from Iowa to Boston for the second consecutive year to defend her Head Of The Charles Women’s Youth Doubles Champion title.
With a new partner this year Sharis finished in fourth place, 50 seconds behind the winning twosome, with a final time of 20:06:51.
“I thought we had a good race overall, I thought our cadence was pretty good,” Sharis said of her Sunday afternoon row.
It wasn’t the excitement of last year’s Head, where Sharis’ first-place boat crossed the finish line just 35 hundredths of a second faster than the runner up crew, but Sharis is steadily building her rowing resume.
Already this season she’s won the Youth Nationals, a feat she is looking to repeat next year, while racing a steady schedule to continue her work towards becoming an elite rower.
Sharis began rowing two years ago when she fell in love with the sport while rehabilitating a knee injury.
“Originally I started erging because I needed to do that for my knee,” she said, “and I really liked erging so I started rowing on the water.”
With a National Champion rower for a father and a natural ability for the sport, Sharis is in prime position to make rowing a full time job. But at just 15-years-old, the 5’ 8”, slim brunette has more on her mind than just the cadence of the river.
“We have practice a lot but I still have time to do all my schoolwork and hang out with all my friends,” Sharis said.
Integrating school, friends and competitive rowing into a 15-year-old’s life is a balancing act Sharis has mastered, even when she takes four days out of her week to make the 1,300-mile journey from Iowa to Boston.
Sharis and her team of supporters left for Boston on Thursday in order to give the youth doubles team a chance to get out on the river together prior to the launch of the race.
“The main challenges (of the Head) are basically just getting the right course, figuring out where you need to go and how to set your basic cadence,” Sharis said. “Just getting used to the river.”
Sharis says she enjoys 2000-meter races more than head races. But there is something about the Head Of The Charles that makes the three-mile competition worth it.
“I do really like the head of the Charles because there is so much scenery,” she said. “It’s just really fun to race. “
As for her future in rowing, the teenager has high expectations, which include a possible row in the Olympics.
“That’s like a super long ways away,” Sharis said. “But obviously I am probably going to want to do that.”
The Head Of The Charles: A Good Place to Meet Old Friends
by Sarah Moomaw
In June, four rowers and a coxswain went on an improbable run that was good for a second place finish at Youth Nationals Oak Ridge, Tenn., a first in their program’s history.
“It came as a total shock to our whole team,” said Jack Welsh, stroke for the St. Louis Rowing Club Spring 2011 boys’ four team. “We came out of Midwests having placed third in the region. We came out the first day [of Nationals] in the heats, posted the best time and then guys started thinking that maybe we could make a run in the grand final.”
At this weekend’s Head Of The Charles, the graduated members of the St. Louis Rowing Club silver medal team are reuniting along the water for the first time since taking the podium.
“These guys have been really successful,” said St. Louis Rowing Coach Andrew Black. “Three of the five from that team were all graduating and coming out east to row at schools where they were going to get together at the Head of the Charles, so it’s kind of a reunion this weekend.”
Welsh is now rowing for Yale, Jon Young for Harvard. Coxswain Diana Kwon is now the number one coxswain at Fordham University.
Coach Black said a new competitiveness grew between best friends as Welsh and Young, chose Yale and Harvard and began seeing themselves as future rivals.
“There was this rivalry, it was kind of fun to see,” said Black. “They are obviously old rival schools, but in terms of the lightweights they are very competitive.”
The rivalry grew stronger as the two watched from St. Louis as results from the of the collegiate season came in. Harvard’s lightweights beat Yale in the Eastern Spirits before losing to Yale at the IRAs.
“That was the peak of our rivalry at the St. Louis Rowing Club level,” said Young.
“It was totally just playful,” said Welsh. “When it started, neither of us had been on campus for more than just two days.”
The Welsh-Young friendship is likely to withstand a Harvard-Yale rivalry. At home, they attended different high schools and therefore had different classes, friends, teachers and lives off the water. But days rowing six laps of Creve Coeur Lake during practice gave them a bond that is likely to continue as they row for different crews in the years ahead.
“I talk to Jack all the time, but my only reason for contact with Jack is just to demoralize him,” said Young.
“I really like Jon, he’s a close friend. I wish him the best, but I want to beat him so bad,” said Welsh.
But they will watch each other’s races this weekend. And those of their former teammate too.
For Some Fans, the Halfway Point is the Finish Line
by Brenna Eagan
The excitement is infectious at the halfway point of the Head of the Charles Regatta. Part of it comes from the wafting smell of clam chowder and other riverside treats, another part comes from the noise of the vuvuzelas heard from miles away. But the true source of the enthusiasm are the hundreds of loyal fans that line both sides of the Anderson Bridge and flow out of the nearby Weld Boathouse.
The supporters that gather in this area are a mix of parents, friends, and crew enthusiasts, all here to proudly cheer on their rowers. Most are laden with cameras, signs and Regatta programs but they show no signs of fatigue. The clusters of people talk and laugh loudly with each other, their eyes constantly flicking towards the river in anticipation of the start of a loved one’s race.
Jon Svenson and his wife are no different. They stand eagerly on the Cambridge-side banks of the Charles, attaching a lens to their camera. Their son is rowing for Harvard in the Club Men’s Eights, due to start any moment.
“He raced for four years in high school, and we’ve been to a lot of races,” said Svenson. “But he’s a freshman at Harvard now, so we came up to watch from D.C.” he added proudly.
Also watching the Club Men’s Eights are Valerie Huneault and Stéphanie Marchand, who have come from Quebec for the weekend. Today they are supporting their friends, but tomorrow they will be rowing in the Youth Women’s Fours.
“It’s great to be here for both reasons—to row and to see the other Quebec teams race. It’s nice to see each other go,” said Marchand.
This is an attitude shared by many rowers. Elisabeth Malin, a self-professed “crewton,” isn’t picking up an oar today, but she and her friends stand on the Anderson Bridge to watch the Club Women’s Eights race and cheer for a team made up of Harvard Law School and Harvard School of Public Health students.
“Two of our friends are racing in about 20 minutes, we are really excited to see them,” she said.
Malin motions to Minal Rahimtoola and May Wong, who are quickly filling in block letters with Sharpies on hot pink poster board. They practice holding their sign up over the water, smiling at their supportive handy-work.
Even though most of the people gathered at the halfway point are looking out for somebody, a few Bostonians and tourists have wandered over to get in on the excitement.
“We’re actually here [in Boston] for another event, we’re from out of town. We just thought we’d come check it out,” said Becky Mercer, a Virginia resident whose interest in crew stems from watching the University of Virginia team practice.
“We figured while we are here, we might as well join. It seemed fun,” she said.
The Regatta Couldn’t Happen Without the DCR
by Andrew MacDougall
More than 300,000 spectators will line the banks of the Charles this weekend for 47th Head Of The Charles Regatta. They’ll be there to watch nearly 9000 rowers, who will be served by more than 1400 volunteers. But the most important people on the riverbanks may well be the nearly 150 employees of the state, working under the auspices of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). This river and its banks are all state ground, and the DCR takes as much pride as anyone in seeing that the Regatta comes off without a hitch.
“The DCR is the steward for the Charles River Reservation, so our main role in the event is to assist in site preparation, security, parking, and traffic management,” said Nick Gove, the north regional director of the DCR. “We’re also the liaison between the Head of the Charles, the state police, and really any of the other entities that are involved in the event; Boston firemen, policemen, people like that.”
The DCR, developed from the former Metropolitan District Commission, has been working with the Regatta since its inception. As the primary environmental organization in the state, Gove and the DCR are responsible for preserving the conservation efforts along the three-mile racecourse.
Preparation starts well before the first race boat touches the water. The DCR starts their site preparation in September, and consists of hundreds of hours of planning and cleaning. DCR employees mow grass, conduct slope cutting of the banks, and clear the river of any obstructions, debris, downed trees, and other dangers for both rowers and fans.
In addition to clearing environmental debris, the DCR helps with traffic management, parking, public safety, security, and sanitation.
“The week of the event, this is pretty much our main focus in the area,” said Gove. “The actual weekend mobilizes 80 staff members each day. In addition to that, we also have assistance from the Department of Corrections, which brings several crews who assist with sanitation and recycling. There is also a minimum of 50 state police troopers on site throughout the entire event.”
In addition to the troopers, about 20 DCR Rangers help the Massachusetts State Police with parking, public safety and security all along the course.
“We have Rangers at all of the restricted parking areas,” said Deputy Chief Adam Parr, who oversees the Rangers. “Sometimes we have to shut the river down in certain sections of the races, so we have a boat with some Rangers on the river, too.”
Several Rangers work during the night to make sure signs, tents and property are not damaged.
One of the biggest issues the DCR faces during their preparation is weather. Heavy rains the Wednesday prior to this year’s race caused the DCR to spend precious man-hours trying to dry the banks of the course for venders and spectators.
“This event, we’ve had years with 80 degrees and sun, and then two years ago it snowed,” said Gove. “Weather plays a huge, huge part, much like it does for the races. [Weather] impacts the conditions and impacts crowd volume. It’s been a beautiful weekend [so far]. The crowd volume seems high, and it seems like it’s been well attended.”
When the Regatta ends Sunday evening, the DCR’s cleanup operation will begin. DCR employees will spend three days cleaning up the banks of the river and breaking down vender and food tents. They will also take nearly 18 tons of trash with them. True to their eco-friendly mission, they will also recycle nearly three and a half tons of garbage.
“We encourage people to respect the parkland,” said Gove. “We want them to throw out their trash and recycle whenever possible. Three years ago, when we first rolled out [our recycling program], we recycled about a half-ton of trash. Last year, we had that total up to three and a half tons. We are an environmental agency, so we would like to see that trend increase, and eventually get to the point where we’re recycling more material than we’re throwing out.“
Gove’s understands what means to the rowing community on a local, national, and international level. He said that the Regatta falls in line with DCR’s environmentally conscious mission, and that the DCR will continue to work with the Regatta to make it an even better event in the future.
“This is my fourth year working with the Regatta, and it’s an unbelievable opportunity to be part of an event like this, particularly when you saw it from the other side,” said Gove. “Getting to come in and actually understand how complicated an operation it is, but also it’s a great thing for the community. It’s a great economic boost for the city and the local area, and it’s just a great event.”
What’s in a Name?
By Maureen Quinlan
“The Hammer of Thor,” “Blades of Glory,” “Nelson’s Way,” “Spirit of ’47.” These small printed words along the sides of the elegant and well-crafted boats that cruised the Charles River this weekend have back-stories that hold inspiration.
A boat’s name can define a team, inspire its rowers and has become a crucial part in the christening of a vessel.
“You must always christen a boat,” said Mike Vespoli, founder of Vespoli Boats. “It is a naval tradition.”
A naval tradition has now turned into a superstitious practice.
“If a boat’s not named, it’s bad luck,” said Brendan O’Connor, a junior at State of New York Maritime College.
O’Connor is part of a men’s four collegiate team who rows in a boat named “Alan’s Pearl.”
The boat was originally supposed to be named “Alana’s Pearl” after a former coxswain of the team who died.
“Alana’s Pearl” was damaged in Hurricane Irene in late August. When a new boat arrived from Vesoli, it was now “Alan’s Pearl.”
Boats are most frequently named after donors, or in memory of rowers or others affiliated with the program.
“If someone donates the money it takes to buy a boat, they have free reign to name that boat what they want,” said Georgetown University coach Frank Benson. “The worst way to name a boat is when you die and someone liked you enough to name a boat after you.”
Georgetown’s fleet of boats contains four boats named after former rowers.
“I hate watching those boats float by because they are named after four men I rowed with in my youth,” Benson said.
River City Rowing Club from Sacramento, Calif. is also familiar with the naming of a boat after a former rower.
“We just had a naming ceremony a few months ago,” said Janell Bogue, 35, a member of River City’s club women’s four. “We named a boat after Michael Martin, the club’s first treasurer and a founding member.”
Martin’s wife came from England to the ceremony to christen the boat with champagne.
“We name our boats after people who’ve made significant contributions to our club,” Tricia Bloche, 30, a coach at River City, said.
Teams also can give their boats crazy names.
Pacific Rowing Club out of San Fransisco, who did not participate in the Regatta this year, has some of the craziest names Bloche has ever seen.
“I hate rowing past their boats and seeing the crazy names,” she said. “The coach gives the power to the rowers in naming the boats.”
Amanda Racaniello and Andrea Wagner are both senior rowers at Stony Brook University near Long Island, NY. Their boat, “The Big Wedge” cracked on the way up to the Regatta, but has an interesting naming story.
The crew who named the boat was a group of men who used the boat just before Racaniello and Wagner.
“They couldn’t think of a name, but the last thing they were thinking about was a memory of the last regatta they had been to where they saw a girl with a really big wedgie,” Wagner said.
“The Big Wedge” had served the Stony Brook women well until its recent accident.
The team is now using a borrowed boat. And they are unfazed by their old boat’s inglorious name. “It is the girls in the boat who make the race, not the boat,” said Racaniello.
Hometown Favorite Gevvie Stone Holds off Emma Twigg to Claim 3rd Title
by Grace Munns
Local favorite Gevvie Stone exacted a measure of redemption for a disappointing World Championships, as she defeated the bronze medalist from the world’s, Emma Twigg of New Zealand, to win her second consecutive Head Of The Charles Regatta and her third overall. Her winning time of 19:31 was 27 seconds faster than Twigg. Behind Twigg was Lindsay Meyer of the Seattle Rowing Center, and Pam Am Games gold medalist Margot Shumway.
“There was some tough competition, but I had a very solid race,” said Stone, “It’s more fun when you push yourself to race your best and having good competition does that for you.”
The Charles is a difficult river to navigate, even for the elite rowers. This is something Twigg , who has now raced here twice, is learning.
“I’m slowly getting the course right, it’s about getting to know the twists and turns,” said Twigg, “I’m disappointed with the loss but it’s great fun and I’ll be back next year.”
While many of the rowers face this problem of getting to know the Charles as they race it, Stone has a hometown advantage. She trains out of the Cambridge Boat Club and has been out this river since she was a child and she acknowledged that this is a factor in her win today.
“It’s a huge advantage, being so used to this course, and I had a lot of my friends very audibly cheering me on and that’s always a great feeling,” said Stone.
From here, Stone and the rest of the elite racers in the field, will set their sights on the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“It’s all about being out there every day, you can’t get hung up on your last win or your last loss. I have another big race coming up and that’s what I start training for now,” she said.
But as elite of a rower as Stone is, she can still have a mishap on the river, and in this scenario, the hometown advantage may not be as helpful.
“I hit one buoy on the course today, it was between Anderson and Weeks and there was practically no one around,” said Stone, “but then of course my dad was right there and saw me do it, of all people he would be the one to see that.”
Mahe Drysdale Shows Why He’s a 5-Time World Champion
By Anthony Gulizia
As five-time world champion Mahe Drysdale rowed by the Cambridge Boat Cub late Saturday afternoon, he had already made up the start interval on more than half of the seven boats that started in front of him, and was seemingly gliding over the water, on his way to a convincing win in the men’s championship Singles race at the Head Of The Charles.
Drysdale rowed the course in 17:57.33; his time was 28 seconds better than that of two-time defending race champion Michael Sivigny, who had bested the New Zealand world champion in 2009.
“He’s obviously proved himself two years ago when he cleaned me up, and when you’re used to a course like this you got some big advantages,” Drysdale said of Sivigny.. “It’s very nice to beat him on what’s more his home course than mine. Coming into it, I was in very good shape and had good speed.”
In the past, Drysdale said he has struggled with the first two-thirds of the course, but this year the New Zealand showed little trouble navigating the narrow river.
“It was a good race for me today, I started to run out of gas but that’s always been my weaker part,” Drysdale said, who won the race in 2005. “I was very happy with the way I rowed today.”
As the competitors rowed towards the Elliot Bridge, Drysdale steered clear of any collisions and continued his pursuit of Sivigny.
“Everyone was pretty respectful and I had to go wide around a couple of corners to pass people, but I didn’t really lose much time,” Drysdale said.
After winning four-straight world tiles from 2005-09, Drysdale took home the gold at the 2011 championships in Bled, Slovenia, before turning his focus towards the Regatta. With the Regatta finished, Drysdale will now take aim at training for the London Summer Olympics.
“We had three weeks [off] after the Worlds so that was a chance to relax and recuperate, but we had to get back in there pretty soon with the Olympics starting in July,” Drysdale said. “It makes a fairly short season, and we’re about nine months out and we’re already gearing up [for the Olympics].
Drysdale will look to continue his success on the river tomorrow in the Director’s Challenge quadruple, alongside Women Championship singles winner Gevvie Stone, runner-up Emma Twigg and world championship medalist Andrew Campbell.
“It should be pretty good fun, hopefully some of the younger guys will drag me down the course” the 32-year old Drysdale said. “[Campbell] is only 19 so he can bear all the weight. Maybe I’ll just sit up front and have a ride.”
Paralympians Head Field in Tomorrow’s Trunk-and-Arms Doubles
by Zach Hayes
After a routine visit to the doctor’s office, Laura Schwanger thought not only her competitive career was in jeopardy, but her life as well.
A winner of 11 track and field medals at three Paralympic Games, the 38-year old Schwanger was diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2006. What lay ahead was daunting: chemotherapy, radiation and the prospect of never competing athletically again.
What Schwanger didn’t anticipate was breast cancer paving the way for the new love of her life: rowing.
“I most definitely would never have picked up rowing if I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer,” Schwanger said. “I learned to row to get my strength back. If I wasn’t so weak because of the cancer I never would have started rowing.”
Schwanger is one of many adaptive rowers set to compete in this year’s new Trunk and Arms Mixed Doubles race at the Head Of The Charles Regatta, October 22-23 in Boston. In 2010, for the first time in its 46-year history, the Regatta featured an adaptive event – the Legs, Trunk and Arms Fours. This event generated such a positive response that the 2011 Regatta instituted an adaptive doubles race for competitors unable to use their legs.
What separates these rowers is an inability to operate the sliding seat to propel the boat forward due to significantly weakened lower limbs, presenting an even greater challenge to an already intimidating three mile competition.
“The initial view was to stay the course [with the LTA Four],” said Jamie Hintlian, chairman of Community Rowing’s adaptive program. “But after considering how smoothly it went, we contemplated what other event could be added. One of the more popular and competitive events is the Trunk and Arms Doubles.”
An event that draws in excess of 9,000 competitors to the city every autumn will now provide another opportunity for adaptive rowers to shine. Schwanger, who two years after her diagnosis took home a bronze medal at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, is looking forward to competing in this historic event.
“I can hardly contain my excitement,” Schwanger said. “I’m excited about rowing in the first official fixed seat event at the Head Of The Charles. I’d like to kick some butt.”
Ron Harvey, an M.I.T. graduate who took home a silver medal at the 2006 World Rowing Championships, will row with Schwanger in the doubles competition. Harvey is thrilled not only at the prospect of racing on the Charles, but that adaptive racing continues to garner more attention.
“I raced in the Head Of The Charles in college in 1992 so I’m just looking forward to getting back on the course,” Harvey said. “I’m really excited that there is a Trunk and Arms race this year and that adaptive races are getting more included.”
Harvey has never raced with Schwager, but anticipates a smooth acclimation progress once the two begin preparation for the Regatta.
“We have two practice days so we’ll have to figure out how to match up with each other and do our best moving the boat,” Harvey said. “She’s a very inspiring person. She’s certainly a competitor. I saw that with her as she was learning to row. She really wanted to put everything into it and learn how to do it as best as possible. She’s just a really wonderful person to be around.”
The first annual doubles adaptive race will also have a national flavor. Washington D.C.-based Capital Rowing Club, who won last year’s LTA 4+ race, and will be back to defend that title, has a boat in the adaptive doubles competition as well. Schwager and Harvey will represent Harvey’s Philadelphia Adaptive Rowing (PAR) club, while members of the U.S. Rowing Training Center are making the 1,700 mile trek from Oklahoma City to Boston. Two teams will represent Athletes Without Limits, the Paralympic Military Program, comprised of vets from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“It’s going to be a really high level of competition,” Hintlian said. “These are rowers who take their training every seriously. They’re very competitive, despite the fact that they have certain limitations physically, their spirit and competitiveness is no different. In fact, you might argue it’s even stronger.”
Olympic Runner Lynn Jennings Medals in HOCR Debut
by Maureen Quinlan
A Head of the Charles Regatta bronze medal in the Grand Master’s Women’s Singles 50+ is not an Olympic medal, but Lynn Jennings, now has one of each. And the Head Of The Charles medal feels pretty good to the former Olympic runner.
In the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Jennings won the bronze medal in the 10,000-meter track and field event. She also won three consecutive world cross-country championships. She retired from the sport when she was 40.
Five years ago, Jennings started rowing, looking for something to stoke the competitive fires and replicate the feeling of running. “I’ve only sculled,” she said. “But I’ve found that I am very well suited to single sculling.”
The sport was a new adventure for the ambitious woman.
“It was just something new for me to try,” Jennings said. “I fell in love with it straight away. It has been the most amazing thing.”
She said her skills of mental toughness, resilience and emotional coping have transferred well from running to rowing.
“The two sports are psychological siblings,” Jennings said. “Both sports reward the mindful athlete who is passionate about nature.”
The two sports are differently technically, but both require the athlete to fight off considerable pain.
“I always tell myself, ‘You can endure anything for one more minute,’” she said.
For the retired runner, rowing has given her an outlet to compete without the pressures of her successful reputation.
“Rowing relieves the burden of being successful,” she said. “I don’t have to be Lynn Jennings the runner when I’m rowing. It gives me the lightness of being a beginner again.”
Rowing has given Jennings boundless opportunities to race and to hone her skills.
“It was scary when I put my entry in for this race because it meant I had to train with utter focus and no preconceptions,” she said.
For half the year she lives at Craftsbury Outdoor Center in Craftsbury Common, Vt. where she is the director of the running program. When she is not coaching runners, she is rowing. The other half of the year she lives in Portland, Ore.
“The perfect day for me would be rowing on the water and running the trails with my dog, Towhee,” she said. “The two sports are so complimentary.”
She entered her race today thinking she would either be overtaken by her competition or be competitive. She came out competitive, taking the course section by section.
“The race felt like it went by fast,” Jennings said. Before she knew it she was passing under the last bridge in the stretch for the finish. She finished the race in 21:31, just 15 seconds behind winner, CB Sands-Bohrer.
Her technical precision—and her background as a world-class athlete—brought her to her third place finish in her first Charles Regatta.
“Mental toughness rewards rowing, and rowing rewards mental toughness,” Jennings said.
She noted that she is not one to look in the rearview mirror, and her mental toughness keeps her looking to the future.
“This is the next chapter in my life,” she said. “I only look ahead, and I can’t wait to come back next year.”
Northeastern Men Defend Alumni Eight Championship
The Northeastern University men’s alumni eight held off the expected challenge from the Brown and Dartmouth crews, and rowed to their third consecutive gold medal. Laura Nelson, who profiled the Northeastern crew earlier on this blog, now reports on their triumph.
Getting Started: The Head Of The Charles Starting Line is a Logistical Marvel
by Jill Saftel
The Head of the Charles Regatta has 1953 boats racing in the 2011 edition, and none of them can start until John Romain says they can. As the co-chair of the Start Committee for the Regatta, it’s Romain’s job to make sure every one of those boats gets launched smoothly in over 50 races.
Everything was calm on the river early Saturday morning before the first race. Crews rowed into the start channel from the right and left as volunteers in river control boats guided their direction and speed. There was no frenzy, no sense of urgency.
The small office on the second floor of the Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse however, was a completely different story. It’s out of that office that Romain and his son Jack run start line operations for the Head of the Charles. And it’s there that you’ll find the chaos that allows the start to run so smoothly just yards away on the river.
As co-chair for the Start Committee, John Romain has every last detail covered. From the PA system to the time clocks to the volunteers in safety launch and river control boats at the launch, he uses everyone and everything at his disposal to make sure every boat starts racing without a hitch.
The start crew has all the bases covered. If the conditions are windy and bow cards fly off boats they have a kit to make new bow cards on demand. If conditions become extreme, anything over 18 knots from the east northeast quadrant of the river, the start line is moved down river to the Riverside Boathouse but with computer timing equipment, umpires and a hefty PA system it’s not an insignificant move to make.
But when the weather is agreeable, it only takes eight to ten people organize the start from the upper floor and deck of the DeWolfe Boathouse, but Romain said he could do it with just three people if perfect conditions arose.
“It helps if they’re dedicated, sarcastic and can have fun under pressure,” Romain said of his volunteers. While he runs a tight ship, a sense of humor brings a lightness to the intensity that comes with getting every race to start within five seconds of the published minute.
He has one person on a microphone, one on the countdown clock and three or four people peering out of binoculars at the windows to keep track of the competitors in the basin, all in an office sized for two to three people to work comfortably.
With some races made up of upwards of fifty boats, a zipper “launch” is used to keep everyone in check and most importantly, on time. Half the boats queue on the Boston side of the river, the other half on the Cambridge side. Then one after another they pull into the starting channel and advance towards the red flags, then yellow and finally green.
The volunteers in the river control boats direct competitors to adjust their lines and add pressure to their strokes.
“Unless they’ve rowed here before, they’ve never been at a start as clearly managed as this one,” Romain said.
If necessary, slower boats will be called off to allow faster boats to get through and clear the arch under the Boston University Bridge first. It doesn’t happen often, but Romain said good sportsmanship and good rowing usually characterize the races.
Rowers are always encouraged to raise a hand and notify volunteers immediately if they need any repairs or are experiencing problems at the start. For many rowers and coxswains, this race is unlike any other they’ve experienced.
“The coxswain training helps, and the coaches prepare them,” he said. “This is like the world series of rowing, it’s not the time for them to become creative.
Behind the scenes, key to the organization of the start is the follow up report, in which Romain examines what was core to the organization, and if those tasks were executed.
“I’ve got this thing wired pretty well,” Romain said, but he certainly isn’t afraid to improve where needed. “If I can even make a one percent improvement in five or six out of 20 to 25 areas, that’s great.”
Romain and his team completely revamped the scheduling which reduced slack time in the 2010 Regatta and allowed the event to finish 50 minutes earlier than in the previous year. More importantly, it allowed them to get more competition on the river for this year’s Regatta with the confidence that it could be done safely.
While safety is the priority, Romain’s a stickler for punctuality. He said a Cornell crew coach once told him he loved the Head of the Charles simply because “the race’s start on time.”
“We don’t show much mercy if a competitor is late,” Romain said. There’s no special treatment at the start, regardless of the crew or rowers involved.
Fairness and accuracy, plus fun, are Romain’s goals each year, values he said he’s glad his son Jack, his co-chair on the committee, understands. And while the Regatta is an intricate part of Romain’s life, he said if someone can do his job better than he can, they should go for it.
“I have a large stake in improving the event,” Romain said. “I try to earn this job each and every year.”
Getting Ready: Pre-Race Rituals at the Finish and Launch Site
by Stephanie Wright
The Head Of The Charles runs on a kind of continuous loop. Fans wander ceaselessly around the Finish Line shopping, amongst free Cliff Bar and 5 Hour Energy samples, smelling the chowder and pulled pork cooking in the vendor’s tents; athletes continually come off the water, their racing over for day, and maybe for another season. And, no matter what the time of day, there are always racers getting ready, going through their practiced, pre-race rituals.
For each competitor, the race beings with a different activity. A team run, a good stretch, the shout of the coxswain.
Some choose to warm up independently, such as woman from the Ithaca College crew, who went out on a sold run. The Evergreen Boat Club, a boat of Dartmouth alumni, seemed to prefer the group approach, with a team huddle that was accompanied b y loud chanting and cheering.
The women’s crew from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester starts by jumping rope to get their heart rates up. They also sometimes get caught dancing during warm up, which never makes their coach very happy.
The physical warm-up is important, the Holy Cross women say, but mental preparation is key. Team meetings help them get organized mentally, they say. They talk about what their expectations are of each other, their strengths and weaknesses and the strategy of the race, the women said.
The strategic discussion that precedes the Head Of The Charles is particularly important because of the difficulty level of the course. There are a lot of turns, and the girls agreed, it’s hugely challenging to get under a bridge during a turn. The curve at the Eliot bridge is always tough for the coxswain. Holy Coss does have one bridge on their home course on Lake Quinsigamond, but it’s on a straightaway.
After the team discussion, the women launch their shell. At first, they say, there’s some tension and nervous laughter. But as they glide over the water, catching their rhythm and approaching the start line, they get focused. By the time they reach their start positions, they’re ready.
The Miami University men’s crew has a different strategy. They like to eat well the morning of a race and go for a run to get their legs warmed up.
They also have a team huddle, in which they take turns around the boat and say what’s on their minds and get each other motivated. The coxswain gets the last word, and from then on he is their leader, according to members Rob Hadley and Ben Swofford. At the conclusion of the huddle, they call a cheer. It might be the school name, “MU Crew!” or the name of their boat, “Black Knight.”
Then as they heft their boat to their shoulders and head to the launch, the coxswain begins his short, loud, military-like calls. “Shoulders! Watch heads! Down to waist!”
“The more demanding and confident he sounds, the better it is for the rest of us,” said Swofford. It gets the crew in the right mindset by the time they hit the water.
Gevvie Stone Looks to Defend at HOCR, and Looks to London on the Horizon
by Jill Bongiorni
With a 5:30 a.m. wake up call, it is hard to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep. Throw in medical school, training for the Olympics and finding time for a social life, it’s near impossible.
Twenty-six-year-old Genevra “Gevvie” Stone has been perfecting this juggling act her whole life. From playing games with neighbors as a kid to playing sports in high school and eventually college, Stone has always valued fitness and balance in her routine. Now, as a top-ranked female single sculler contending to represent the U.S. in the 2012 London Olympics, the feeling has never left her.
“I think you get used to it. I have a balance to life,” said Stone, who is set to graduate from Tuffs Medical School in 2014. “I think med school helped in a way, in terms of distraction from the stress of rowing. I found that laziness worked its way into my rowing, compared to when I was thinking and using my other time, I was more motivated.”
Stone began rowing in 2001 while at the Winsor School in Boston. Seven years later in 2007, the 6-foot, blonde-haired rower graduated from Princeton University and then won gold in the quadruple sculls at the 2007 World Rowing Under 23 Championships. She was named to the Collegiate Rowing Coaches Association (CRCA) Div. 1 All-American team and the Academic All-Ivy team.
In years since, Stone has won the elite single sculls at the 2009 Henley Women’s Regatta and also at the 2010 and 2011 National Selection Regatta #1. She has also won two Championship Single titles at the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) in 2008 and 2010 and placed second in 2009.
While Stone enjoys contrast and balance in her life, she is now at a point where rowing takes first priority and med school has to be put on the back burner.
Most recently, in August Stone won single sculls at the U.S. World Championship trials and represented the United States at the World Championships in Bled, Slovenia, finishing 11th. After the Head Of The Charles, Stone will compete in the 2011 Fall Speed Order, which draws in more than 150 scullers to Princeton, N.J. each year.
In order to train for these events and others, Stone has taken a leave from med school. She has been out of Tufts for almost a year and a half, but plans to go back in the fall.
“I think she manages it fine. In my view, it’s all worked out well,” said Stone’s father and coach, Gregg Stone, who was one of the top U. S. rowers in the mid to late ‘70s, but missed the 1980 Moscow Olympics because of the U.S. boycott. “There’s a big support system and that’s been helpful.”
Stone missed making the 2008 Olympic team, at a time when she was was less competitive and experienced, but the disappointment showed her how big her support system really is.
“After not making ‘08, my dad and my mom were ready to just ease back into rowing. I didn’t need to do it all quite yet and that was important,” said Stone, whose mother Lisa is also an elite rower and took bronze as part of a doubles team at the 1977 and ’78 World Championships. “Everyone has been very supportive.”
Stone said the local support will help in this year’s HOCR, where she will return to defend her title in the Women’s Championship Singles event. While Stone earned her 2010 title with a 30-second win, she said this year will be a completely different race.
Stone said she is most concerned about facing Emma Twigg, who came in third at the World Championships this summer and Margot Schumway, who won the single sculls at the 2011 Pan American Games Trials earlier this month, among others.
“Last year was a different situation. It was mostly to have fun and go out and race the course,” said Stone. “This year there’s a little more pressure, but it’s about having fun too. You have to take [head races] with a grain of salt and enjoy them for what they are. Enjoy the fans, enjoy the atmosphere, enjoy everyone just being there.”
For Stone, there will be much to enjoy, especially the home advantage. She has been attending HOCR since she was born, either with her parents or to watch them. Both Gregg and Lisa Stone won single titles at the 1977 HOCR.
This year, Gevvie and Gregg will share the river. While Gevvie races in the Women’s Championship Singles race, Gregg will compete for the Grand-Master Singles Men [50+] title. The duo will have the support of family, fellow members of the Cambridge Boat Club and Gevvie’s friends from med school.
Stone also has another advantage over her international competitors. Growing up in Newton and now living in Cambridge and has allowed her to practice regularly on the Charles and memorize the course.
“Racing the course once a year, you just don’t have the familiarity with exactly where you are, how to take the turns, how to pass the bridges,” she said. “So it’s a huge advantage is terms of knowing my own racing and knowing the course.”
Racing in the regatta will also help Stone in her Olympic training.
“Fall season is about getting endurance and focus back and strength in general back,” said Stone. “It’s important to build up your base doing long pieces, so even if I wasn’t racing in the head season, I probably would be doing longer pieces anyway in preparation for first trials, then qualifications and ultimately London, so it works out well.”
While Stone seems to have everything in her life figured out right now, her future is very much unplanned. But no matter where she ends up, family and fitness will always remain.
“There’s the discussion about the Rio Olympics in 2016, which seems like a lot to think about. I don’t even know what my internship and residency are going to be,” Stone said. “I pretty much know what I’m going to be doing until 2014 and after that it’s a mystery.”
Northeastern Looks for Three in a Row in Alumni Race
by Grace Munns
“This is a Coxswain’s Race.”
When a course includes a turn called dead man’s curve, it’s safe to assume it’s never an easy river to navigate. When this course is filled with novice coxswains it’s a potential nightmare scenario, which is why the bleachers were filled at the coxswains’ clinic held Friday, as hundreds of crews get set to take on the Charles River, many of them for the first time.
“What we want to do is teach them how to steer, how to make it a great, safe race for their team, because this really is a coxswains’ race,” said clinic organizer, veteran coxswain and Stanford women’s coach, Yaz Farooq, “we’re the person in the boat trying to find the best way to handle the race.”
Farooq’s presentation is a complete breakdown of the course, and covers any scenario the coxswain might face from navigating the Elliot Bridge to how to pass a panicking crew, to locating the turning tree. As this is the first time on the Charles for a majority of the crews, with each scenario, she shows videos taken from inside a boat traveling the course, allowing the coxswains to see just how the turns and passes will look from their vantage point in the boat. For many in the audience, this was an invaluable tool for their upcoming races.
“It’s so helpful for our coxswain since after watching this she can visually anticipate what’s ahead of her,” said longtime rower and assistant coach for the Pittsford High School Crew team, Jamie Coughlan, “and it’s good for coaches to watch them since then we can translate the important points to the rest of our team.”
For Coughlan and the Pittsford head coach, Sue Parvin, the clinic is especially important. The team, from just outside Rochester, New York, has a first-time coxswain guiding their boat this year, 14-year old Margaret Kneuer.
“I’m most anxious about facing the Weeks Bridge,” said the young coxswain, “this is my first time on this river and it seems like a lot, but I think this is really great, and really helpful.”
But avoiding crashes and negotiating wide turns aren’t the only worries a coxswain has. A penalty can cause the crew to lose valuable time during the race, or get them disqualified entirely. John Lambert, head of rules at the Regatta told the coxswains how penalties occur and just how costly they can be.
“The most egregious offense is interference, because it’s impossible to give that time back to the other team and it risks a crash,” said Lambert, “it can lose you up to 60 seconds, which is seven percent of the race.”
For the Pittsford team, which races Sunday afternoon, the clinic provides the best possible way to prepare their team for the Head Of The Charles.
“The girls are jittery and confident at the same time,” said Coughlan, “we placed 6th last year so it’d be great to be in the top 10 again, and seeing these visuals of past races is great.”
No matter how prepared they are, all the teams about to race know that the real test doesn’t come until they’re out making those turns and navigating past the other crews.
“We want to show them the all the best ways to steer their team,” said Farooq, ”because anything can happen on the river.”
A Time Lapse Look at Installing the HOCR Docks
On a breezy Sunday morning a week before the Head Of The Charles Regatta, a crew of volunteers installed the docks from which some 1500 crews will begin their Head Of The Charles journey.
Photography by Sarah Moomaw
Training for the Head Of The Charles Could be Hazardous to Your Health
by Anthony Gulizia
There’s an old maritime tradition that says a captain never abandons his ship—if the boat sinks, the captain goes down with it.
Nicholas Daniloff, avid rower and journalism professor at Northeastern University, went this tradition one better. Rather than sinking with his ship, he saved it.
Daniloff was out on the Charles River for his morning row at approximately 8:50 a.m., September. 28, preparing for the Grand Master Veterans, 70 and older in the Head of the Charles Regatta. As he passed under the Boston arch of the Larz Anderson Bridge and set his course for the Weeks Bridge, a freshmen eight from Harvard University collided with him.
“I heard a shout from the Harvard coach and we immediately struck each other,” Daniloff said. “My boat rowed on top of the eight, between two Harvard oarsmen, and I recollect one Harvard oarsmen holding the ball on the end of bow and pushing me off [their boat]. I was shaken, but in no way injured.”
Daniloff, who was in the correct spot on the river, said that the boats disengaged, the Harvard coach asked if he was okay and he began to row back to the Riverside boathouse.
“I had no idea [there was a hole in the boat], nobody knew,” Daniloff said. “There was a six-inch gash in the bow, and as I went through the River Street Bridge, it was clear that the bow was going underwater and the boat became unrowable so I bailed out. What else could I do?”
The 76-year-old professor clung to the boat with his left hand and swam with his right towards the Riverside boathouse, which was just over a quarter of a mile away. Finally, a single from Riverside spotted Daniloff and offered help. The professor grabbed the stern of the helper’s boat with his right arm and hung on to the damaged shell with his left and was towed to safety.
“I was swimming for sometime and was getting tired,” Daniloff said, who has been rowing since 1950. “I was glad to have a tow. [When the collision happened], I was never concerned something more drastic would happen.
“When you have an accident like that, you’re shaken and there are a lot of things you don’t think about. I wasn’t thinking about the Head Of The Charles, but I was sad the boat was damaged,”said Daniloff of his Graeme King single.
Looking back on the incident, he said he would have done some things differently.
“I would have swum to the Weld boat house, which was right across the river – it would have been shorter. I should have gone to the nearest dock, the coach of the Harvard crew should have come with me should to assess the damage, and he should have brought the boat back to Riverside.”
Daniloff normally rows out of the Riverside Boat Club, but in the summers, when he’s away from his teaching duties, he rows out of the Putney Rowing Club in Vermont, where Graeme King has become a personal friend as well as his boat builder. King, who built Daniloff’s boat six years ago, had it in and out of his Putney shop and back in Daniloff’s hands in time for this weekend’s Regatta.
“I’ve got to ponder about this one,” King said when the boat came in to the shop where he’s been designing and building his Sitka-spruce-and-mahogany shells since 1965. “There’s a crack that possibly runs six inches to four feet inside of the hull. Fixing the crack isn’t bad, but getting to it is the difficult problem.”
King said that the boat weighs 31 pounds, but he estimated that the water added an additional 150 pounds.
“I would say that’s a pretty good effort of someone his age to be doing that,” he said. “There’s not too many people his age that would be willing to do that, or be able to do that.”
Daniloff, rowed a club boat out of Riverside while his was being repaired, and has tried to put the incident behind him.
“I essentially forget [the incident] once I get in the boat and start rowing,” Daniloff said. “But it’s not totally forgotten because it was a bad incident. I’m more aware that I have to pay more attention to the boats on the River because everybody is practicing for the Head Of The Charles.”
The Head Of The Charles Regatta: Where the Officials are as Well-Trained as the Athletes
This is a first in a series of articles on the competition and atmosphere at the 47th Head Of The Charles Regatta. The stories will be posted throughout Regatta weekend, and will be reported and written by graduate and undergraduate journalism students from Northeastern University.
by Michael Brown
When 9,000 rowers take to the Charles River in the largest and most famous head races in the world, it’s up to 110 umpires to make sure they race fairly.
For many rowers, the 47th Annual Head Of The Charles Regatta (HOCR) is the biggest event that they will race in all year, and one 60-second penalty could ruin all their hard work leading up to the event.
So how does the HOCR Umpire Committee ensure that the racing is fair, and any penalties are deserved? By making sure every inch of the three-mile course is watched at all times during each event. By umpires that know the sport, and its rules.
“This is the most difficult head race in the world,” said Chief Umpire Pete Peterson, who has been rowing since 1953 and the HOCR Chief Umpire for seven years.
On September 24, Peterson and the Cambridge Boat Club held a training course for roughly 20 umpires that have not previously worked the Regatta. The session was led by Mal Watlington, who is in charge of umpire training and umpire central.
Watlington outlined two specific duties of Regatta umpires– to ensure a safe and fair race and issue no penalties in error.
To see these goals executed on Regatta weekend, sixteen umpiring stations are set up throughout the course, with more experienced umpires watching over the tougher portions.
The course runs three miles upstream on the Charles River, through seven bridges and numerous twists and turns, including an almost-180-degree turn in the river near the Cambridge Boat Club.
“Why do we have you here? Because this is a wicked bad course,” Watlington said to the group. “[Racers] really have to know this course.”
Peterson has seen how inexperience has led to more incidents in some events, making those events challenging to officiate. “The toughest are the novices, Peterson said. “The coxswains don’t know how to steer. The easiest are the elite events.”
In the case of colliding with another boat, the boat at fault is issued an infraction of 60 seconds, followed by a 120-second penalty for a second infraction and disqualification for a third infraction. Generally, the crew who is attempting to pass is given the right of way and the benefit of the doubt in the event of a collision. If a crew goes off the course, a ten-second penalty is assessed for each buoy passed.
In extreme cases, however, a disqualification can happen for a first offense.
“The worst things have been, we’ve had several eights leave when the dockmaster told them no, in the middle of a race,” Peterson said. “They cut across the race and almost caused collisions. Those people were disqualified.”
If a crew receives a penalty that they do not agree with, there is an appeals process. Umpire Central aims to post race results within fifteen minutes of a race’s completion, and teams can see any penalties they were assessed.
The Cambridge Boat Club has an ombudsman on hand during Regatta weekend, who helps teams fill out an appeal. From there, the team meets with a five-person jury who hears their side of the story.
After the meeting, the jury contacts any other teams involved, and they try to piece together what happened. Then, they call back the team and let them know their decision.
“Everyone gets a fair hearing,” Peterson said. “The goal is that no one leaves feeling they were treated unfairly. They might not like the decision, but they were treated fairly.”
To avoid a situation where a false penalty is given, Peterson and Watlington urged the new umpires to only report what they saw, not what they think happened. “If you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen,” Watlington said.