2012 Regatta News

No Champion’s Probably Ever Had a Race Like This

After Crash, Overturned Penalty, UW Edges Harvard

By Andrew MacDougall

HOCR

For two hours Sunday afternoon, the Harvard University Men’s Eights had accomplished something no other Crimson rowing team had: clinch back-to-back Men’s Championship Eights at the Head of the Charles Regatta.

And in a cruel twist of fate, alongside the river that they call home, Harvard rowers were forced to walk back to campus without the title of repeat champions.

The unofficial results had Harvard as champions after the University of Washington had been assessed a 10-second penalty for a buoy violation. But Washington appealed the penalty, had their appeal upheld, and won their third Men’s Championship Eights in five years in a controversial conclusion to the 48th Head of the Charles Regatta.

“Everyone knew that our raw time was faster,” said senior coxswain Seamus Labrum, “It’s just more like validation. I think we in our minds, whatever the result was, we were going to have a lot of momentum going into the winter, and that’s essentially why we come so far for this race. It’s a momentum builder.”

The controversy stemmed from an alleged buoy infraction in front of the Belmont Hill Boat House. As the Huskies hugged the line in hopes of cutting precious seconds off their time, the field judge determined that Washington had gone outside one of the green buoys.

The infraction tacked on 10 seconds to Washington’s final time of 14:37.27, placing them in third behind Harvard (14:42.35) and the University of California at Berkley (14:47.24).

“We were very tight to the Belmont Hill buoy,” said Labrum, “but I assure you [the infraction] did not happen.”

Without evidence, however, chances are Washington’s appeal would fall on deaf ears. A ‘he-said, she-said’ appeal would likely have been awarded to the judge and kept Harvard as champions.

But luckily for the Huskies, the age of modern technology allowed for fans and spectators alike to capture the moment in pictures and in video, including Labrum’s father, Bill, who had just managed to squeeze his way to the front of the pack at Eliott to watch his son compete.

“I had no clue” of the importance of the photo, said Bill Labrum, a photo he ultimately sent to the appeal’s committee. “I simply took the photo and said to myself, and the fellow standing next to me, ‘you look at that line, that’s a clean, clean line. That’s exactly the line you want to row on that curve,’ because otherwise you lose seconds, and in that kind of race, you can’t afford to lose seconds.

“I’m walking back and I’m going, ‘I’ve got photos of this,’ and I started shaking. I met the mother of [Washington sophomore Alex Perkins] and she said we had to get those over to the officials.”

With evidence in hand, Seamus and Washington head coach Michael Callahan presented their appeal to the jury. Where most of the 45 appeals that were filed through the weekend were adjudicated by a panal of one of two jurors, this decision required the deliberation of the full six-person jury.

After 20-minutes of discussion, the verdict was inconclusive.

“The belief was that there was reasonable doubt on whether the violation occurred and the athletes get the benefit of the reasonable doubt,” said John Lambert, Managing Director of the Head of the Charles, who has oversight of the rules.

“From the line of the hull [in the picture] it seems clear that the hull missed the buoy. The buoy did disappear. They get sucked under by the force of the stroke.”

When asked about the pressure of the verdict, Lambert didn’t mince words. “[We have] never had a protest with this much at stake.”

Seamus Labrum had stood outside the room waiting to hear the decision. When it was announced, he called up Callahan and his teammates, most of whom had already returned to the private home where they are staying in Winchester, to let them know about the news.

“We don’t want to win races over appeals,” said Callahan. “You just want to be able to win races, but I thought there was enough evidence on our side. We had a few photographs and everyone on the boat realized where the boys were, saying they were hitting them with their oars and stuff. I think it was the right decision.”

While Labrum then waited for his teammates to arrive from their host home in Winchester, Harvard found out about the decision the hard way. Having believed they were the victors, the Crimson crew gathered at the awards ceremony waiting to receive their accolades.

Longtime Harvard coach Harry Parker frequently checked with the volunteers at the awards table, and near the end of the awards ceremony, he received the news.

He walked over to his team, who had gathered in a circle, and uttered only five words.

“They gave it to UW.”

The Crimson, visually upset with the call, handled the outcome with class and poise. Said senior coxswain David Fuller, “We were just excited to compete earlier on. We’re a very young team. Things are looking up, but there’s definitely some speed we need to get.”

Added Parker, “They went faster. We were told they cut a buoy and they had a 10 second penalty. We weren’t there. I don’t know whether they cut the buoy or not. Regardless, they were the faster crew, so they won the Regatta.

Amidst all of the controversy, it’s possible that the 10-second infraction would not have mattered had there not been an incident involving Washington only a few hundred meters up river from Belmont Hill.

As the Huskies rowed towards Eliott Bridge, they quickly gained on the United States rowing team. As Labrum called for the US team to yield, the two boats became entangled. With their chemistry, the Huskies instinctively went to 38 ½ strokes per minute after the entanglement, helping them recover to claim the best time on the course.

“We had a pretty strong clash with US Rowing and stopped,” said Callahan. “I don’t know how much time that cost us, but I know it took a lot to start the boat up again.”

As Washington heads back to Seattle with title in hand, they have one more fall race, November 4th at the Head of the Lake Regatta on the Montlake Cut to Lake Washington. But Callahan recognizes that a win at the Head of the Charles, even amid controversy, is something to be proud of.

“This is an important regatta for us,” said Callahan. “You have these things in your mind like you don’t have your full speed [in the fall], but in the end, we’re rowing to win and we prepare to win.

“This is an important result for us, regardless of the buoy or the not buoy or the clash. We had a good boat speed, and this [win] is important to us.”

 

Olympic Sweepers Edge Olympic Scullers in Women’s Champ Eights

By Hannah Becker

HOCR

After waiting nearly an hour for the official results of the Championship Women’s Eight’s race, the US Women’s National team cheered as they found out they had claimed first place.

U.S. Rowing won by just over eight seconds, after the Great Eight boat, comprised of Olympic scullers, took a 10 second penalty for missing a buoy. The team contested the penalty, which held up the event’s results.

“It was exciting, just to be a part of all these women’s boats,” said Mary Whipple, who was the coxswain in the US Eight’s Gold Medal boat at the London 2012 Olympics. “The field was stacked.”

The event was stacked with great college teams and Olympic champions. The University of Virginia was bow one after winning the event last year. They held their place in the row up the river, but finished third. Also in the field was Rowing Canada Aviron with their complete silver medal team, the Dutch National team and the London Rowing Club, comprised of Olympic athletes from both Great Britain and New Zealand.

The London Rowing club took fourth at 16:48:24. KNRB, the Dutch National Team, rounded out the medalists.

The United States National team rowed out of bow position five, but quickly made up the interval on the Radcliffe and Michigan crews that had started ahead of them.

“We knew it was going to be a gutsy race. A lot of us have stayed fit after the Olympics,” Whipple said. “Rowing is a humbling sport, so if you don’t practice, it definitely shows up in the middle mile.”

“We love racing here,” said Whipple. “We hear the ‘U-S-A’ chants while we race, and it’s such a good community to race in the states and in Boston and everyone is supporting you.”

Watch an interview with U.S. coxswain Mary Whipple and teammate Adrienne Martelli here.

 

A Video Postcard from the HOCR

Few sports are as visually arresting as rowing, and few Regattas as visually arresting as the Head Of The Charles. The fluid motion of the shell on the water, belying the punishing effort it takes to move it fluidly. The muted russets and gold of the autumn leaves, the primary colors of the oars, team uniforms and crowd on the shore. The glistening sparkles of the low-angled sun on the water.

Journalist Hannah Becker spent Sunday morning capturing a piece of the visual splendor that is the Charles River on the third weekend in October, and sends along this video postcard. Click here for Video

 

Three in a Row for Gevvie Stone

By Madelyn Stone

HOCR

The number on the bow, the graffiti on the bridge, and the woman in the boat - all #1.

The cheers that broke out at the Cambridge Boat Club 15 minutes into the Women’s Championship Singles were deafening. Newton’s own Gevvie Stone, bow number one in the race, was speeding around the bend, sustaining the marked interval between her and bow number three Kim Crow.

Four minutes later – four minutes, six seconds and 88 hundredths of a second, to be precise – Stone crossed the finish line in a personal-best time of 19:06.88, to win her fourth Head Of The Charles title, leaving two Olympic medalist in her wake. Double London medalist Kim Crow of Austrialia was second, a little over 13 seconds back, and 2009 Championship Singles winner Ursula Grobler of South Africa took third with a time of 19:31.34. Olympic gold medalist Miraslava Knapkova was fifth.

After accepting her fourth Cambridge Boat Club Plate at Saturday night’s awards ceremony, Stone said the cheering she heard along the way was invigorating.

“There was a lot of noise out there and it was awesome. I’m lucky to have that support,” she said. “And the cheers make me conscious. Like, ‘OK, people know me. I’d better look good. Better look like I’m pulling hard.’”

Rowing her home course gave Stone a great advantage, she acknowledged. Along with the support of her boat club, a familiarity with the Charles’s nuances boosted her confidence on the water.

“I steered maybe my best race ever,” she said. “That helped me a lot. I just went out there to try to have fun and try to haul on it and yeah, go as hard as I could.”

But Stone has faced some disadvantages too. Despite her experience with the course, her schedule in medical school has left her with minimal practice time.

“I started med school eight weeks ago and I’ve been in the hospital about 12 hours a day, five days a week and a few weekend days,” she explained. “I mean I was training a lot through the end of August. So I think I had that base that fortunately I was able to do a little bit of leaning back on.”

Stone will join forces with Crow and Knapkova Sunday as the Women’s Great Eight team in the Championship Eights.

“It was fun to have Kim and Mirka row and we get to row again tomorrow,” Stone said. “The girls are amazing. We’ve had a lot of fun practicing and during team dinners. So we expect to have a lot of fun tomorrow too.”

With the cheers, the familiarity and the friendships, the race was a highlight of the Regatta that, for Stone, is among the most fun events of the year.

“Being on your home course, with so much support and knowing the turns is an incredible experience,” she said. “It’s always one of my favorite weekends of the year, if not my favorite weekend of the year.”

 

Norwegian Kjetil Borch Surprises Field in Men’s Champ Singles

By Maggie Quick

HOCR

Kjetil Borch

This year’s Championship Men’s Singles did not go according to plan for the winner, Norwegian Olympian Kjetil Borch, or for his main competitor, five-time world champion and Olympic gold-medalist Mahe Drysdale. After arriving in Boston late Wednesday night and missing a workout, Borch was left boat-less and homeless as the result of a misunderstanding. In a twist of fate, he ended up staying with Drysdale and the rest of the Tideway Scullers at the Lenox Hotel.

Borch’s preparation for his only race in the regatta obviously was not going as planned, but his luck turned when he finally got a boat here.

“I think I was lucky getting that boat. It was similar to the Empacher I have in Norway,” Borch said. “I had a good feeling when I got in the boat.”

Borch won the Championship Men’s Single from bow number 27 in a time of 17:56:53. Stephen Whelpley, bow seven, of the Pennsylvania A.C. Rowing Association, took second, two seconds behind Borch. Tom Paradiso of the New York Athletic Club was third; Swedish Olympian Lassi Karonen fourth.

Drysdale, the popular Kiwi, and defending champion, rowing out of bow one, finished ninth. Drysdale said he

Mahe Drysdale

enjoyed the race given his current situation. He had said on Friday that he had been on the water only four times since the Olympics, and two of those had been this week.

“I’m fairly happy with my race since I haven’t been training since the Olympics,” he said. “I had fun and that’s what is important,” he said. “[The Head of the Charles] is a completely different race from the Olympics, [but] it is a very beautiful course…[and] I love coming to Boston.”

Drysdale said that Borch “must have been doing some training to perform like that.” He also said it’s been nice having Borch stay with the Great Eight.

While Borch acknowledged it is “great” to beat Drysdale, he only plans on celebrating his victory by “taking it easy.”

 

Nothing on the River Has Gotten as Much Attention as This

By Selena Burke

HOCR

Northeastern University rower Julienne Koehler is getting something of a sense of what it feels like to be a Hollywood star on the Red Carpet.

“I literally think I am probably the most photographed person in the world today. There’s been a lot of photographs. It looks awesome though,” said Koehler.

Koehler, a Regatta volunteer, was the Saturday pilot for the Regatta’s most talked-about sponsor promotion, a full-sized, fiberglass replica of a 2004 Mini Cooper convertible, attached to a completely-below-the-waterline boat, which has spent the weekend traveling slowly between Harvard’s Weld Boathouse and Weeks Bridge, beguiling the photo-snapping crowd along the riverbank.

“We wanted to make a big statement,” said Laura Towey, regional business manager for MINI USA, in their first year as a Regatta sponsor. “We do a lot of big executions. We did a rocket–a life size rocket in downtown Manhattan. We’ve done a huge 20 foot snow globe with a Mini in it in Herald Square in New York City, so we’re known to do big outdoor spectacular events and we just thought this would compliment that.”

Many of the pieces are actual Mini Cooper parts, like the headlights and taillights, said Towey. There are mirrors on the side and the windshield is easy to see through. There is a handle on what looks like it would be a door, but it does not open. It says “mini” on the wheels, although this might be hard for spectators to see from the shore.

Towey said the boat is meant to hold up to 170 pounds, although it can hold more than that without sinking or flooding.

It is powered by an outboard motor, which Koehler steered with one hand behind her holding the handle and her eyes generally focused ahead or on the crowd.

“You can spin it side to side for direction and you can roll the handle for speed,” said Koehler. She had an emergency paddle, to make certain she didn’t drift into the race course. “The worst thing would be to drift out into the current where people are racing because the last thing you want to do is end up ruining someone’s race,” said Koehler.

Koehler also interacted with the crowd. Sometimes she’d wave and people would wave back. Other times she was greeted with cameras, questions or jokes.

One spectator asked her to move the boat closer and she carefully steered it so that people could see better while the boat was still at a safe distance from the shore and rocks.

The car attracted a lot of glances and pictures.

“I say it’s cool and really original. It doesn’t look like it’s fake,” said Ivonne Victoria, an exchange student from Mexico studying at Pine Manor College.

This promotion ties into MINI USA’s October “Not Normal” campaign.

“It’s about Mini being not like other car companies,” said Towey. “It’s not like other vehicle buying experiences so our dealerships are doing not-normal events throughout the month. So if you go to a dealership they’ll do something—we have a dealership here in town that is taking in items like toasters or rice cookers in trade for a Mini. We have another dealership that’s staying open ‘till midnight. Doing things that are just not normal.”

Paralympians Bring Celebrity and Real Eagerness to Get Started to HOCR

By Christina Bivona

HOCR

The morning did not get off to the most promising start. Paralympians Oksana Masters and Rob Jones arrived early to the start line, and jumped their start by some six minutes in the Trunk and Arms Doubles event Sunday morning, surprising start marshals, timing officials and announcers with their premature beginning. They were a mile up the course before officials stopped them, sent them back and allowed them a restart at the end of the field.

Despite the start miscue, and rowing the extra mile, the Paralympians had little trouble with the field, winning by nearly seven minutes, moving up from second a year ago.

“It’s always good to end [the season] on a win,” remarked Jones. “The good thing about this race was that a lot of the people that worked with us over the past year were here, so we got to see everybody and have some sentimental moments.”

The pair was virtually unknowns when they finished second a year ago. This year they come in as national figures, due to their Paralympic bronze medal, and a flock of national magazine articles.

With both legs amputated due to birth defects from radiation, Masters would not be considered your typical rower. After growing up in a Ukrainian orphanage and later being adopted by her mother, Gay Masters, this Louisville, Ky. resident has never let life’s struggles stop her from reaching her full potential.

“When someone would tell me I couldn’t do it, I would always be like, “Watch me.” It definitely fuels me a lot. My mom swears I was born with it, a resilient, feistiness,” said Masters.  

Within the sport of adaptive rowing, there are several variations when it comes to styles of stroking. Some participants are able to use their arms, trunks and legs, while others, like Masters, use only their upper bodies.

For the London 2012 Paralympics, Masters teamed up with Jones, a former US Marine stationed in Afghanistan, who lost both of his legs to an explosion in 2010. Although only rowing together a year, the pair remains a strong team and carries out a steady rhythm throughout all of their races. Rowing in the Paralympics has only brought them more experience.

“I think with everyday you row, just getting the extra hours – you learn something and take something away from that,” Masters explained.

Masters also accredited much of their success this summer to their coach, Bob Hurley.

“Bobby gave me a really great base to start from and technique to learn from,” said Masters. “When Rob and I were rowing in Virginia, we also connected with [former Olympian] Brad Lewis and he really helped with the intense level of rowing and what it would feel like at the Olympic level. I learned a lot.”

Rowing in a tough race at the Paralympics, Masters and Jones came in a close third after France and China. Earning the bronze medal in London is a memory that Masters will always carry with her.

“It was really cool winning a medal and being on the podium, making it up there,” said Masters. “It felt really amazing, reaching the dream for sure.”

Since their second place finish in the 2011 Head Of The Charles Trunk and Arms Double, Masters and Jones have become media darlings, particularly Masters.

“People are coming up and asking for autographs, which is really weird because I don’t know why. I’m not like a Jenifer Lopez or anything. Ill be walking and people will be like, “You’re that girl, that rower” or some people will recognize me and it’s a little weird,” said Masters.

Within the past year Masters has been featured in Sports Illustrated and ESPN’s body issue where she posed nude with other 2012 Olympic athletes.

“For the most part it was really positive feedback, which was really cool. The reason I did that was for females who maybe have a physical difference that’s more noticeable than one on the inside. It’s to show that beauty does come in all shapes forms and sizes and it’s how you interpret it, look at it and break that mold of the stereotype,” explained Masters.

Throughout this journey, Masters has quickly become a leader and a role model to not only other adaptive athletes, but to many Americans.

“The thought that someone is looking up to me is crazy, honestly, because I don’t feel like I am at any caliber to be looked up to or be a role model,” said Masters. “But it’s very honoring to have that and I hope that I’m making people proud as I’m doing it.”

Masters’ achievements haven’t stopped there, as she slowly changes the rowing world for the better through all the hard work she puts into her sport.

“One of the best things for me was getting the award from US Rowing, The Female Athlete of the Year. It’s just amazing to me and I feel so honored. It’s really cool to be the first adaptive athlete to ever get it since 1985, when that award was [first] given out,” said Masters. “It just means this sport is growing in the adaptive field, so that’s the thing that has really changed my life, but more so changed rowing.”

Coming back to the Charles for a second time gave Masters and Jones a greater comfort level with the river’s winding turns and bridges.

“I had never done a course like this – that’s really twisty and windy, but I think they say if you can row [The Charles], you can row anything,” Masters said with a chuckle.

As for the future, these rowers aren’t opposed to the thought of another Paralympic Games.

“It’s Rio, of course,” Masters exclaimed. “This is not the end for me for the Paralympics! I loved it. The first little taste of it I’ve had, I want more of it.”

 

The Eliot Turn and Bridge: Where Rowing Shells Come to (Sometimes) Collide

By Emily McCarthy & Miharu Sugie

HOCR

Cole Wirth Coxswain Cole Wirth of the Milwaukee Rowing Club, a 14-year-old high school freshman, who began rowing this fall has never been in a Regatta anywhere near as big as Head of the Charles Regatta. But he’s going in with a lot of confidence.

“This course is especially new to me, but it’s not a challenge that I can’t take,” Wirth said.

It is a challenge he would be wise to take a little more seriously, according to Christopher Boit, who’s been coxing on the Charles since his days at Harvard in 1974.

“It’s really valuable actually to have experienced coxswains coxing this race,” said Boit. “It would be good for coxswains to perhaps steer other races beforehand, especially if they’re inexperienced. It’s useful because there’s a lot more traffic on this river and a lot more boats.”

And a lot more turns. Olympic rower Stephen Kasprzyk, who rowed with US Rowing in Sunday’s Championship Eights race, agrees with Boit.  “I think having a coxswain that’s done the race before helps,” he said.  “As a rower, we just row.  We do what they tell us.”

The nastiest section of the Head Of The Charles course, and the biggest challenge for a novice coxswain, and the place were more HOCRs have been won and lost than any other, is the near-horseshoe turn just before the Eliot Bridge. Boit also explained the significance of anticipating the Eliot Bridge turn.  “It’s not an even turn,” he said. “So you have to think about your turn before you get to the corner.”

According to Boit, it is critical to steer a tight turn and understand the mechanics of the turn.

“You want to run the buoys underneath the riggers, because that’s going to be the shortest line, the shortest course possible. [It is] important to understand that the boat actually shifts sideways, [so there is] a delay between the time you actually start to steer and the boat starts to move,” he described. “The other thing that’s important, especially for an eight, [is that] you want to have your rowers who are on the outside of the turn, so in this case the rowers on the starboard side, pulling harder to try to help bring the bow around the turn because otherwise, you’ll steer wide.”

Nathaniel Liu, the coxswain for the Georgetown University Men’s Championship Fours crew, echoed Boit’s advice

Nathaniel Liu

for maneuvering the turn. You’ve got to keep the buoys right off your port side and there’s a slight turn to starboard [after the bridge],” Liu explained, “so you want to cut it close and you want to keep your blades close to Belmont Hill as much as you can.  Keep it tight.”  Liu is confident about this turn even though this year is only his second time competing in the Regatta. He said, “It really helped to walk the turns, but you can’t really practice for them,. You just have to assess the situation.  It happens very quickly.”

For coxswain Sharon Lin of the New Haven Rowing Club, the Eliot Bridge turn was a “very, very familiar turn” despite being a “deceptively challenging one”. She competed in the Senior-Master Men’s Eights on Saturday.

Lin, who started rowing at Winsor School in Boston in 1993 and coxing for New Haven Rowing Club in 2005, said that the Eliot Bridge turn is different from the other turns in the course.

“First of all, everyone’s always worried about the Weeks turn and that’s all everyone talks about. This is a hard one too,” Lin said. “Also, you know it’s the

Sharon Lin and half her New Haven Rowing crew

last one and you know a lot of accidents happen here.”

Lin referred to the accident in the 2006 Head of the Charles Regatta. That year, the Peking University Men’s Eights boat sank under the bridge.

Hitting the Eliot Bridge is every coxswain’s nightmare, but hitting the bridge puts a boat in good company.

“I’ve definitely hit [the Eliot] bridge before,” said Olympic rower Ross James, “but this year we’ve got a pretty good coxswain. So I’m not worried at all.”

So how critical is experience is successfully navigating the Eliot turn and bridge. On Sunday afternoon, U.S. Rowing found itself entangled with the University of Washington in the Men’s Championship Eights just before the Eliot Bridge, incurring four minutes in penalties and dropping them to last in the race. The women’s Great Eight lost by nine seconds after incurring a 10-second penalty for missing a buoy coming out of the Bridge.

And Cole Wirth, the 14-year-old coming through the turn and bridge in a race for the first time? He took his Milwaukee Rowing Club Youth Eights crew through cleanly.

 

Boat # 1, Before, During and Especially After the Race

By Tessa Ganassi

HOCR

Greg Benning

The honor of starting off the 2012 edition of the Head Of The Charles fell to a much-honored rower. Greg Benning of the Cambridge Boat was Bow Number 1 in Race 1, and at the end of the race was also in place number 1. Benning won the Grand Master Men’s Singles on Saturday morning by four seconds over two-time winner Peter McGowan of Canada in a time of 19 minutes and 21.9 seconds. On the matter of leading the Regatta up the river, he was concerned more with the competitive advantage it gave him than any honor it may have held. “It’s definitely an advantage starting first because you can pick your own course,” he said.

Benning was racing in his 24th Head Of The Charles. He has won in team boats, and he is the course record holder in the Senior Master’s Singles (40 plus), setting the record of 18:19.75 in 2007.

In his first year in the Grand Master’s, Benning had to battle back issues as well as runner-up McGowan, a former Canadian Olympian, and third-place finisher John Tunnicliffe of Upper Valley. “The last thousand meters were pretty tough”, he said of his back injury. But the first mile was perhaps the key to the win. “Usually what happens when you have a guy like that start right behind you, you know the first mile is going to be tough” he said about MacGowan.

Turning 50 is not generally something an athlete welcomes, but Benning is happy to have joined the Grand Master’s. He said there is a big difference in the 50-59 age group. In his opinion, the 40-49 bracket is one of the toughest races at the Head Of The Charles. Moving up is something he looked forward to and he happily anticipated his first race in the 50s age group since last year.

Watch an interview with Grand Master’s Singles champion Greg Benning here.

 

Palm Beach Ends Attager Run in Senior Master Eights

By Brittany Everett and Nigil Lee

HOCR

 

A strong Palm Beach Rowing Association crew won the Senior Master’s Eights (average age 50 plus), putting an end to the six-year reign of Team Attager in the event. The Palm Beach time of 15:59.78 was less than a second faster than the Marin Rowing Association. Attager was third in their quest for a “Lucky 7th,” just under three second behind Palm Beach.

Palm Beach had been second in each of the last two HOCR’s, and clearly relished everything about the win. “The Charles is always fun and you can’t beat the weather, said Colin Redhead.  “But winning is always fun.”

Despite rowing out of a boathouse that’s some 1500 miles from the Charles, the Palm Beach boat did have a local knowledge in abundance. Coxswain Alden Zecha, 47, and team member Adam Balogh, 49, are both members of the Cambridge Boat Club–where five of the Attager rowers are members–and their presence in the Palm Beach boat did not go unnoticed in the Cambridge boathouse. “Balogh’s membership has been suspended,” joked one Cambridge member, “there’s a boat rack space available.”

Attager, who gave away seven years in average age to both Palm Beach and Marin, was disappointed but stoic. “We didn’t leave anything on the course,” said Chuck Pieper. “Maybe it’s time to move up to the 60-and-over bracket, and start acting our age,” said Fred Schoch, but his teammates are not thinking along the same lines.

“ We’re no where close to throwing in the towel,” said Pieper, and suggested they would not move up to the next age bracket just yet.

 

Friday Night Rain Dampens Grounds, Not Spirits

By Nigil Lee

HOCR

Puddles deep enough and wide enough to row a single in dotted the finish line area.

Many of us have long suspected that the Head Of The Charles is rowing’s Camelot. Now we have further evidence.

The rain may never fall ‘till after sundown,

But eight the morning fog must disappear…

Despite dire forecasts, threatening skies and a couple of passing showers, Friday’s practice went largely unaffected by the weather. And while the rains fell heavily overnight, and some three a.m. thunderclaps no doubt disrupted some pre-race sleep, Saturday morning dawned dry and warm, if a little gray.

The overnight rains did leave a good deal of cleaning up to do, however, particularly in the finish line area, at the Rowing and Fitness Expo and around the trailers at the Finish and Launch Site.

It was a squishy walk to the launch for some boats early Saturday morning.

“Pretty much the worst way to wake up in the morning”, says Tom Jennings, an employee with Boathouse Sports located within the main Expo tent. Tom woke up this morning to a call from US Rowing telling him that his tent was flooded.

The main tent was completely flooded forcing many vendors to relocate the booths to other locations. Vendors inside the tent were told that a pump would be operated to clear the water, but the only pump currently operating was  working first to drain the parking lot. It may be a while before the pump gets to the Expo tent; workers say it could take until tonight before the parking lot is dry. Volunteers have begun distributing hay to teams and vendors in an effort to help absorb the water.

“If you are around rowing long enough, you get accustomed to the weather, its a water sport”, explains Frank Sandias of Resolute Racing Shells. “The only people who will be affected by the mud are the spectators” says Bill. Bruce Beall of JL Racing said his sales have remained steady, which he attributes to fans knowing that at an outdoor sport they are going to get a little dirty.

As the temperature climbed—reaching a Regatta record high of 70 shortly after 11 a.m.—and the clouds began to thin, spirits began to rise, even among the waterlogged. “Everybody is trying to stay lighthearted; and its such a great event, it can’t be ruined [by the mud]” says Tom Jennings.

 

Getting By With a Little Help from Their Friends

By Andrew MacDougall

HOCR

Rob Wettach's basement is home this week to the Notre Dame crew.

Twenty-nine Walden Road is a picturesque New England home on a quiet, unassuming street in a suburb north of Boston, just a couple of blocks off the town center. Tied to the banister just outside the front door on Head Of The Charles weekend are two balloons, navy blue and gold, held down by string of the same colors. The balloons are the homeowners’ way of signaling to the outside world that on this weekend, this home is headquarters for the University of Notre Dame crew.

Since the late 1990s, Rob Wettach – a 1979 graduate of Notre Dame who rowed for the Irish – and his wife, Gayle, have happily opened their home to members of the Notre Dame rowing community. Today, along with the Bourneuf and Catella families of Jamaica Plain, the Wettachs house the entire men’s club rowing team, a group of 20 men who are by no means small of frame.

“I’m happy to give back,” said Wettach. “I like talking to the kids and seeing the energy they have. You see them come in as sophomore, then senior year they’re talking about getting jobs and stuff. It’s fun seeing their evolution. You get to know them.”

As a club sport, the men’s rowing team is not eligible to receive the same financing as varsity programs at Notre Dame. Instead, it’s a self-reliant, resilient group of kids who have just fallen in love with the sport.

It’s a scene repeated hundreds of times around Greater Boston during Regatta week, as alumni, family and friends host rowers from high school and college crews, and sometimes from European national teams. Among the many traits shared by crews the world over, a shortage of money is chief among them.

Every member on the Notre Dame team pays annual dues of $2,000 that help keep the team going. They fundraise and ask alumni for donations, but still, they’re forced to cut corners. They dig for cheap hotel rates, and are often forced to pick and choose which races they covet most.

“Rowing is an expensive sport,” said junior Matt Rhodes, who has been on the team for three years. “Eights cost upwards of $30,000. It’s a financial issue both on the individual level in the sense that we all have to pay dues every season to participate, but then also on the team scale in terms of providing hotels for these guys or meals at the Regattas we go to.”

The Irish take a bus to many events, including the 18-hour drive to Boston. They head to houses with welcoming alumni, and graciously take up floor space in basements, living rooms, and bedrooms.

On Head of the Charles weekend, that home is the Wettach’s, and they Wettach’s don’t just offer up floor space and blankets. They make sure the men are fed and hydrated to their heart’s content.

After their days on the Charles, the crew returned from the city – whether by bus, train, or cab – to a dinner that might have fed the Fighting Irish football team. Before dinner, there were cheese platters, vegetables, dip, trail mix, and a large bowl of chips and salsa to keep the men satisfied.

Dinner, however, was a carbohydrate after carbohydrate. There were trays of deep-dish lasagna and chicken broccoli ziti accompanied a large sheet of cheese pizza, two bowls of salad, and four loaves of bread.

As if that wasn’t enough, there was also dessert, and very little of it went to waste.

Even with their limited means, the Irish have been a force on the Charles River over the past couple of years. In 2010, they medaled in the Collegiate Eights Men, a group that included future national team oarsman Greg Flood. Last fall, the Eights came within a second of medaling once again, but fell just short of the Top-5.

The team’s grit and determination has certainly caught the eye of many, including Princeton oarsman Brian Wettach, son of Rob and Gayle, who will miss this year’s Regatta with a back injury, but won’t miss the time his family shares with the Irish rowers.

“What I like best is that even though these guys don’t have the fancy boathouses, they don’t have the recruiting money, that the passion for the sport is the same [as it s at Princeton],” said Brian. “Basically they’re sleeping on our carpet – and they’re going to show up to the course and try to win.”

For a former rower and Notre Dame alum, Rob Wettach is more than happy to keep up the tradition. The men will be back on his floor next fall, and as the Wettach’s tradition grows, there are signs the generosity and love for Notre Dame rowing will be a tradition that grows beyond the Head Of The Charles.

“The experiences you have in a boat through your four years are special,” said Rhodes, the junior team member. “For a Notre Dame oarsman, it just intensifies your love of the university and of your team.

“Alumni are so excited when we come to their houses and are more than willing to open their homes and give us food and share what they have. We love [staying with alumni], and hopefully we’ll be able to replicate it as we move forward into the world.”

 

The Heaviest Traffic Can Be Getting to the River

By Selena Burke

HOCR

Waiting to get on the river on Friday afternoon.

In any given Head Of The Charles, one half of the boats race on Saturday, the other half on Sunday. But they all practice on Friday, which makes the day before the Regatta the busiest day for the folks at FALS (Finish and Launch Site) Dock Operations.

The purpose of FALS ops traffic cops is to ensure that safety regulations are followed and to try to get boats on and off the water as quickly as possible, said Co-Chair Chris Stepanian.

There are six co-chairs for FALS who each spend about 80 hours preparing in advance for the Regatta, said Van Der Lugt. On race weekend they are aided by 130 volunteers. The volunteers can fill one of four roles: a launch master, a dock master, a lot master or an oar carrier, said Stepanian. Although, sometimes these roles aren’t so strict and volunteers complete multiple tasks. Volunteers for these positions complete two one-hour training sessions, and many have previous rowing experience, according to committee co-chair Chris Van Der Lugt.

A launch master’s main task is to greet the rowers as they get ready to launch and to do a safety check of the boat, according to Stepanian.

“There’s a plastic ball at the end of the bow of the boat,” said Camilla Sutter, a rower for Community Rowing who will race on Saturday, but is spending her Friday checking bow balls. “I make sure it’s on securely because if the boat’s going strike another boat or hit something it actually buffers it–makes it not so dangerous. Without the bow ball people have actually been hurt, impaled and killed.”

When the bow ball is checked, the launch master wraps their palm around the ball and squeezes their hand around it to ensure that it doesn’t move.

The other most important check ensures that the shoes are tied down properly.

“There are shoes inside the boat and the heels are a little bit loose so that it allows the rower flexibility to bend their legs all the way up,” said Sutter, who’s been rowing for 30 years. “But the heels need to be secured down so that there’s only three inches—three fingers worth of movement of the heel so if the boat were to tip the rower can pry their feet out quickly and get out from under the boat, or they get hurt or drowned.”

The launch master will ask the rowers to turn their boat side ways in the air so that the shoes are easily accessible. Then, they will pull on every pair of shoes to make sure they they’re tied down appropriately.

Other checks include making sure that the oarlocks are open so that the boat can be launched faster and on Saturday and Sunday there will be checks to ensure that the bow person and coxswain are wearing the same number.

Sometimes the launch master also watches the water. Sutter was able to yell out “behind you,” to a single rower who seemed as if he was going to back into a docking four.

Watch Out!

A dock master’s primary role is to direct multiple boats trying to launch and dock while ducking to avoid getting hit by boats rowers are moving. They have to keep their eye on the water to let rowers know if they can dock. They also greet the rowers and ask about their rowing experience or tell them to have a good row.

“Come on down, welcome to our dock, best dock, just saying,” Marran Linsky greeted two rowers. This is her first year volunteering, although she has had rowing experience in the past.

A lot master is in charge of the parking lot to the beginning of the line to launch. They have to watch out for possible collisions between people walking and rowers carrying boats on their shoulders and above their heads that could possibly hit someone if they’re not paying attention.

“The crews have been very well behaved; they’ve been listening very well which is great. And the pedestrians have actually been pretty good,” said Dennis Hickey who is in his 21st year of volunteering.

The dock master, launch master and lot master volunteer positions generally require some familiarity with rowing or past rowing volunteer experience, said Sepanian. The oar carrier position is open to people with or without rowing experience, said Stepanian.

An oar carrier carries oars from the grass to the boats launching and from the boats docking to the grass. Sometimes they might carry only one in each hand and other times they’ll team up with another oar carrier and carry an entire eight’s worth of Drehers or Concept 2s.

Volunteers are usually rowers or former rowers or people with a general interest and love for rowing. They are compensated for their one or two six hour shifts with a jacket, hat and free lunch, said Stepanian. And, of course, by the experience.

“I enjoy seeing people that I knew from my college days and all the rowers from around the world because they’re always so interesting,” said Jennifer Steinhardt, a launch master who use to row for Penn State.

“Of course you also get an awesome jacket which is good when it’s raining,” she added.

When everything doesn’t run smoothly, things can get exciting.

“There were these girls in an eight on the dock and they all opened their oar locks at the same time while walking down the dock which unbalances the boat so they tipped over in the water and all ended up standing there and we had to get a bunch of people help them half logged boat out of the water,” said Steinhardt.

Talking to the different rowers is one of the main attractions for volunteers.

“I’ve been told that there have been Olympians on my dock and that is the coolest thing in the world,” said Linsky.

With the benefits come challenges. Talking to rowers can be a highlight, but also a struggle for volunteers.

“They get frustrated when they have to wait and frustrated when you make them wait and tie their shoes down even though it’s in the rules that they have to be tied before they go on the water,” said Steinhardt. “But overall they tend to be a fair weather bunch.”

Despite the traffic on the docks, boat launches don’t tend to take longer than a minute, according to Van Der Lugt.

“We strive to get boats on and off the water in about 30 seconds,” said Van Der Lugt.

Still, there generally are lines, and sometimes they can get long. Some rowers bring slings to set their boats down on while they wait, while others continue to hold their boat on their shoulder or above their head for the duration of the line. And rowers get impatient.

“Seems kind of long for 30 seconds for each boat. Doesn’t feel like the 30 second rule’s being followed,” said Mike Dorus, who rows for Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).

Brett Freeman thinks that if they had an extension dock things might move quicker.

“It seems to be taking quite a bit longer than I think any of us expected. Hoping it’s not going to be like this tomorrow,” said Freeman, who rows for D.C. Strokes.

To try to keep rowers in good spirits when the line lengthens, volunteers talk to them during the wait. They also keep track of the rowers launching and docking in their head to try to make sure nobody’s turn is skipped over.

“I’m trying to talk to them, make it pleasant to wait because we have to keep everybody safe at the same time so that’s the hardest balance,” said Sutter.

 

Rowing Products for Rowers: The Head Of The Charles Marketplace

By Nigil Lee

HOCR

Rowers trying out Rowing Innovation's off-water trainer.

A group of high school rowers were giving Rowing Innovation’s Swingulator a try at the Rowing and Fitness Expo on Sunday afternoon. After playing on the machine for a while the rowers seem intrigued by the product, a new entry in the off-the-water training market, though they won’t be the ones making the decision to buy.

This scene is repeated up and down vendor row during Head Of The Charles weekend as over 40 vendors of rowing and rowing-related products meet their customers.  The Regatta occurs right as the United States fall outdoor season is reaching a climax and the European training season is ending explained John Schweizer; a marketer for Rowing Innovations. This confluence of calendars along with the large scale of the HOCR means that the event is filled with people from around the world looking to buy products.

“This is the best regatta in the United States and the world to show products,” said Schweizer. The company’s booth allows its customers to directly experience a product that’s hard to get a feel for from a brochure. This hands-on product demo Schweizer says leads to sales.

Alison Browning of JL Racing explained that while all regattas are important for attracting customers the size and diversity at the Head Of The Charles makes it a very important tool for showcasing the newest products and for gaining customer feedback.

“Its monumental” exclaims Trevon Bender of boatmaker Fluidesign. The event allows vendors to have direct interaction with customers that would not be possible without booths. “Eighty percent of customers who come by show genuine interest and about half of those customers end up buying a product,” says Trevon. Fluidesign has come to the Regatta for a number of years to show off the unique design of their boats directly to potential customers. Vespoli is another boat shell manufacturer with a big presence along the Charles. Many crews are rowing Vespoli shells at the Head, so in addition to using their presence for sales exposure, they also support teams with boat maintenance and rigging.

Sperry Top Sider has a large beach style tent, which was full of spectators and athletes alike shopping. While rowing shells are not the boats most commonly associated with Sperry’s popular boat shoes, they do feel a connection to the market. Nick Travelyn of Sperry said that word-of-mouth advertising has been a great factor in driving people to the store. As a result people all around the Boston area have come out to visit the store. The tent by midday had exceeded its sales expectations for the day. Sperry, like many of the rowing-specific vendors, uses the event to promote new products. Travelyn, like his colleagues in other booths, credited the size of the regatta to the great amount of buzz and excellent performance surrounding the booth.

The vendors have a good time at the regatta. “It’s just fun,” explains Bender of Fluidesign, “It’s a homecoming for enthusiasts.” With most vendors being rowers themselves there is a great amount of excitement to see old friends or former competitors. The vendors are an integral part of the rowing community.

 

Showing a Sense of Style on the River

By Maggie Quick

HOCR

Picking their socks is "the biggest decision we make" says the Tallahassee Rowing Club

In the sea of 2,031 boats that are running up the Charles this weekend, a few teams manage to stick out with the help of creative wardrobe choices. Pam Raila and Sue Padilla of Weston, Conn., bow number eight in the Senior Master Women’s Doubles (50 plus), dress for the regatta not only to be seen but also to impress.

Pam Raila, left, and Sue Padilla of Weston, Conn.

“We went as bright as we could go. We love the animal theme–we’re animals!” Padilla said of their lime green tank tops with teal, black and green cheetah print shorts. The pair is rowing unaffiliated in the doubles race, so they are not restricted by team uniforms. Padilla gets the credit for the team’s colorful apparel.

“I’m an aquatics director; I’m in sweats all day. It’s all her. She’s the fashionista,” Raila said of Padilla. Padilla has 350 pairs of shoes, not counting tennis shoes, while Raila has only five pairs. Padilla has even designed a black and white uniform incorporating cheetah print for the Saugatuck Rowing Club from Westport, Conn. The pair has competed in the Head Of The Charles every year since 1997.

“We’re just as nervous in 2012 as we were in 1997,” Raila said.

So far today’s outfit is the team’s favorite, but they will have a second chance to flaunt their fashion know-how tomorrow when they compete with the SmackDown Sistas in the Director’s Challenge Women’s Quadruple, the outfits to be revealed at racetime.

“[We’ll be] the most obnoxious team [on the water],” SmackDown teammate Valerie Leinfelder said.

Raila and Padilla are used to catching people’s attention. At last year’s regatta, they were called over by a vendor with “the perfect socks” for them: bright teal and lime green, to match their shorts for this year.

 

The women of the Tallahassee Rowing Club understands the importance of the right pair of socks on race day.

“We pick socks for the Head of the Charles every year,” member Jennifer Fitzwater said.

The team, consisting of Mary Kay Falconer, Fitzwater, Andrea Jones, Sylvia Smith and Liesl Voges, sported black socks with green, red, orange, light pink and hot pink diamonds as they competed in this year’s Senior Master Women’s Fours race. The women had strong competitors this year, so the socks helped keep things light.

“[Choosing our socks] is part of the pre-race bonding…When you’re training really hard, it’s fun to have something fun to do,” Smith said.

“If [the race] was easy, we wouldn’t do it,” Jones said. “The competition was really stiff…[but] we feel good about our performance.”

The Club tries to come to the regatta every year. In past years, they have sported socks decorated with everything from peace signs to purple polka dots. They voted on five different pairs this year before making their final decision.

“It’s the biggest decision we have to make for the regatta,” Voges joked.

“We have to match our shirts to the socks, too,” Fitzwater said. They settled on hot pink shirts for this weekend.

In reality, the socks do “draw a lot of comments,” according to Jones. They often catch the attention of the regatta’s furrier spectators.

“Dogs like the socks. A pug actually attacked me this morning on the Eliot bridge,” Jones said.

 

Ageless Team Attager Aims for Seven Straight

by Brittany Everett

HOCR

Sitting in The Breakfast Club in Allston, around bowls of oatmeal, plates of eggs and toast, and continually refilled mugs of coffee, three members of Team Attager discussed their morning practice.

“The boat just wasn’t moving right this morning,” Roger Borggaard said.

And the three old friends start to break down why. This is not just idle conversation about daily exercise. A lot of 60-somethings row, but not many row like these guys, who are going for their seventh straight win in the Head Of The Charles Regatta Senior Master’s (average age 50 plus) Eights. The men of Team Attager have rowed in Olympic Games, and in world and national championships over four decades, but the race that is always most on their minds is the next one.

Charlie Hamlin, 65, Fred Schoch, 63, Chuck Pieper, 66, Roger Borggaard, 67, and Nik Kurmakov, 61, all members of the Cambridge Boat Club, make up the nucleus of Team Attager. It’s tough to give away 10 and 15 years to your competition, so Attager has filled the other three seats in their boat with some “young blood” teammates, bringing the average age of the boat down a bit, and bringing power to lineup—“our Yamaha engines,” Pieper called them.

The young blood is John Moore, 48, Dan Johnson, 49, and Peter Sharis, 42. Still, Team Attager’s boat averages 57.5 years of age this year, and they worry about a strong Palm Beach crew that averages exactly 50 years of age.

Pieper said the team is an “accident of place” and that most of their connections were made through Fred Schoch, who rowed for the University of Washington and is the executive director of the HOCR. Because the three out-of-town teammates are not members of the Cambridge Boat Club, the boat couldn’t represent Cambridge in the Head Of The Charles. So they elected to compete under the banner of Team Attager, the team name honoring Charles Attager, a mythic and mysterious Regatta figure since the event’s earliest days.

The Cambridge members all met in different ways. Borggaard—who rowed in the very first HOCR in 1965 as a member of the Northeastern University varsity—and Hamlin met in tryouts for the 1968 Olympics. Pieper played hockey for Harvard and didn’t start rowing until age 50. He and Hamlin were friends at Harvard Business School in the late 1970s, and met up again years later working in England, where Hamlin began training Pieper.

Schoch brought them Nik Kurmakov, a former Soviet Union National Champion, and is also the bridge to the younger teammates. “Fred is the key to a lot of the connections, he’s the glue that holds us together,” Hamlin said.

And they are certainly held together—by a desire to win, a special camaraderie, an intense physical dedication to the sport. Perhaps the team’s uniqueness is why they can recruit some of the best 40-year-old athletes for the HOCR.

Pieper makes phone calls in March to find out if people are in for the HOCR. “They know they are not saying yes to a buddy boat, they are saying yes to win.” It’s a commitment to row, and a commitment to win.

“We’ve won it so many times, people want to be in our boat,” said Hamlin.

“People don’t really want to be in our boat,” Borggaard contradicted. “If you cough before the race, you’re out.”

Anything can happen to a teammate before a race. Because of this, The Breakfast Club is not just their social event of the day, where waitresses know the “usual” orders and welcome them warmly, but they use it to talk about “who is out there” said Borggaard. “We could lose a guy tomorrow.”

Roger Borggaard, Fred Schoch, Chuck Pieper and Charlie Hamlin, (L to R), at the Breakfast Club, with regular waitresses Edgie, (L) and Monica.

And they have. A year ago Borggaard opened a door into his shoulder and spent the next day in a three-mile race. After a five-hour drive home, with a shoulder wrapped in ice, he could not move it again for the next three days – it was two weeks away from the HOCR, and they had to replace him.

“What did Woody Allen say? Half the battle is showing up,” Pieper joked about Borggaard’s absence.

“And being in shape,” said Borggaard.

This intensity drives the team to victory. With individual practices six times a week, the Cambridge crew members row together as often as possible, and then race a “tune up race” at the Head of the Housatonic in Connecticut, where all eight row for the first time before the HOCR. All to prepare their no-longer-young bodies for the physical demands of the Head Of The Charles.  For a 15-minute race, they race at 95 percent of their maximum heart rate, an experience that Borggaard explained as “extraordinary pain” and Hamlin called “ pretty uncomfortable.”

But they have a simple strategy: “Five old guys in the best shape we can possibly be in our 60s,” Hamlin said.

So they practice year round in miserable weather. “Indoor rowing is a beautiful thing,” said Borggaard, who two years ago set an age-group world record at the CRASH-B, an indoor competition on ergs.

Beyond their physical commitment to the sport, the extraordinary confidence they have in each other is essential to their performance. Especially at the end of the race, when their bodies are begging them to stop, they know the rest of the team won’t give up.

“Something I’ve really come to appreciate is the enormous confidence in everyone else to [race] at the best of their ability,” Pieper said. “It keeps each of us going.” This confidence, Borggaard said, helps when they need a particularly heroic effort, as they did in making up a 13-second deficit in the final race of a three-race regatta in Amsterdam last March.

It’s not just confidence that they form. It’s a tremendous community, said Hamlin. They share everything, workouts, frustrations – and fun. “The sport is really great for people who still have the mentality of a 7th grader, we are just big kids,” Pieper added.

So when will they stop? Hamlin says they have a pact: “We’ll keep doing this until we lose.”

Rowing keeps them going. Hamlin summed up the team’s seemingly endless motivation by quoting from the poet Dylan Thomas: “rage, rage, against the dying of the light.”

And if they do lose? “Well, there is always the 60 and over bracket,” said Hamlin.

 

Celebrate Women’s Rowing and the 40th Anniversary of Title IX with the Official 2012 Race Program

HOCR

“In 1970, one in every 27 women played a high school sport. Today, roughly one in 2.5 play varsity sports in high school.”  From “A Women’s Place is on the Water”

The Head Of The Charles celebrates the 40th anniversary of Title IX, the landmark federal legislation that brought equality to women’s athletics, with a pair of program articles examining the rich history of women in the HOCR, and rowing’s pivotal role in Title IX.

In “A Woman’s Place is on the Water, writer Samantha Laine tells the story of 1976 Yale women’s crew and their dramatic protest of unequal facilities, which moved Title IX from the fine print to the headlines. In “Picking up the Oar,” Meg Heckman writes of the rich history of women in the Head Of The Charles, telling the story through the perspective of five generations of women competitors.

“The women who came ahead of me, what did they do? They didn’t just inspire me to row. They inspired me to be a better woman.” – Mary Mazzio, 1992 Olympian. From “Picking Up the Oar”

 

Regatta Preparation: Where Even the Mundane is Done on a Grand Scale

by Emily McCarthy

HOCR

On Sunday afternoon, six days before the first competitors in the 2012 Head of the Charles Regatta come thundering past the Cambridge Boat Club Regatta Headquarters, the Regatta has already arrived.

An individual registration envelope might seem like a simple item, but collectively the HOCR envelopes hold more than 50,000 items.

It’s the annual pre-Regatta stuffing party, where the registration envelopes that will be distributed on Regatta weekend get filled with bow cards, hull numbers, bib numbers with safety pins for bow rowers and coxswains, instructions on how to affix bow numbers, hull numbers, and bib numbers, a Regatta rule book, awards ceremony information, sponsor flyers, and a competitor sticker and a copy of Rowing Magazine for everyone in the boat.

That’s 20 to 30 items per envelope, depending on the number of rowers in the boat. Twenty to 30 items, times the more than 2000 boats in the race, means more than 50,000 items that need to be sorted, handled and placed, each in the correct envelope, each envelope unique to each boat.

The job falls to 35 volunteers stationed around five round tables. Each table is covered in stacks of the contents of the envelopes.  The process begins with a volunteer placing a label on the corner of an envelope that identifies which boat the envelope is for and which event that boat is racing in.  Then the envelope is passed around the table as each person contributes a few items.  The last person checks the envelope to make sure it contains all of the required materials and places it in a bin with other envelopes for boats competing in the same event.  There are sixty-one events in total during the two days of the Regatta, and there is a bin for every event.  All of the bins are organized at the back of the Boat Club.  They stretch the length of the room on the floor and cover the top of three long folding tables.

Like almost everything else connected with Regatta preparation, the process has been practiced and polished over the years and goes more smoothly every year.

“Overall this was probably the smoothest stuffing party to date,” said Catherine Truman, the co-chair of the Regatta’s registration committee and the organizer of the stuffing party.  “We have been refining the process for the past two or three years and its gotten faster and smoother each year.”  She credits this year’s smooth sailing to the return of numerous volunteers who are accustomed to the process and the careful checking of each race’s information before each bin of envelopes is immediately sealed.  This ensures that the bin only contains envelopes for boats competing in that race.  The other keys to success are “assigning one lead person at each table to be the contact with ‘management‘ (aka me),” says Truman, and “clearly labeling bins with race numbers and type (sculling, sweep, lightweight) so that they get to the right place.”

The checking and double-checking of the envelopes that occurs at the registration stuffing party ensures that the registration process is easy and quick for all the competitors.  They don’t need to thinks about the paperwork. That thinking and planning has been done for them.