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Friday Racing Debuts

By Marta Hill - HOCR
Posted on October 22, 2021
Friday Racing Debuts

For the first time in 734 days, rowers took to the Charles River for the historic Head of the Charles Regatta. But the opening of the Regatta was different this year. For the first time in 56 years, it happened on a Friday. The Regatta had long discussed adding a third day of racing to accommodate demand, and, with a nudge from COVID-19, it has finally happened.

Nine events were on the Friday calendar, singles and doubles in the men’s and women’s 50-plus, 60-plus and 70-plus divisions, as well as a para inclusion doubles race. Racing began at 8 and was over by 11, when the usually busy Friday practice day began. The expansion of the Regatta generally went over well with racers.

After participating in the men’s Grand Master (50-plus) singles race, James Dundon of Minneapolis and 612 Endurance Rowing, said moving the senior races to Friday worked really well for him.

“I love the idea [of Friday racing], I’m done racing now, so I can eat whatever I want, I can walk around and enjoy the spectacle of everything and all the great racing,” Dundon said. “Normally if I’m racing on Sunday, I’m tempering my energy the whole weekend and nervous the whole time. Now I can just celebrate.”

While Dundon already had a scheduled day off on Friday, other rowers had to take more time off this year than in other years. Dawn Eringis of Philadelphia said taking the extra time off for the race was difficult as she is in the middle of a big project at work. Eringis raced in the Grand Masters women’s single race for the University Barge Club.

“[There are] definitely pros and cons — having to take the extra day off of work is actually really tough, the expense isn’t wonderful — although the less traffic almost makes up for it,” Eringis said.

The Regatta had something of a learning curve in getting ready for Friday racing. The course, usually set on Friday morning, had to be set on Thursday afternoon. It was not fully set up at 2:30 p.m. when Eringis went to practice, which she said was less than ideal because part of practicing a route involves getting a sense for where the buoys are.

“At first we thought we were not going to be allowed to practice on Thursday and that was horrendous. And then they said you can practice but it’s at your own risk, and so that was fine,” Eringis said. She even found Thursday practice had its benefits. “Normally when we’re going out to practice on Friday afternoon you’re getting run over by eights and all that kind of stuff … The real big pro is not getting run over by all the eights.”

The Head of the Charles has long struggled with a capacity problem. Its popularity is also its greatest challenge; every year hundreds of boats must be turned away. Rowing on Friday morning or afternoon seemed a logical solution to the capacity problem, but the Regatta resisted for years, wary of the strain it would be on volunteers.

“From the rowers perspective, the demand for Friday racing or expanded racing has been there for a long time,” said Blair Crawford, chairman of the HOCR board of directors. The reason we haven’t has been the strain that that will put on our volunteers.”

Even though the regatta asked volunteers for more days of work this year, Crawford said they were able to shorten the days making them easier on the volunteers.

“By having some racing on Friday we were able to end at a good time on Saturday and Sunday and minimize the strain on our volunteers,” Crawford said. “It’s a test. And I hope we’ll repeat it, but we’ll have to see how it goes.”

Kim Elting, a rower from Dallas, said “the old people’s day,” as she and fellow racers are calling Friday, was a nice mellow way to start the weekend. Elting rows with the Dallas Rowing Club.

“There were even still some crowds on the bridges — I thought it was gonna be just desolate, like running a marathon in Dallas with no spectators, but there were people out, so it was nice. A little bit of a different vibe, but nice,” Elting said.

The expansion into a three-day event, so long discussed and so long delayed, is happening now in part because of COVID-19. A third day allows organizers to spread out competitors a little, which is helpful in mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission. The Regatta, worked with Massachusetts General Hospital to establish COVID-19 protocols.

“At the time of trying to set in place the schedule for the year COVID was prime in our minds — as it still is — and this was an opportunity to space out competitors and provide a little bit more of an easy run through the regatta,” Crawford said.

The return to the river this weekend marks a reunion with friends and competitors for many rowers. Dundon, Elting and Eringis were all looking forward to spending the weekend enjoying the New England fall, watching the elite races and connecting with friends.

“I just feel so happy to [have] the return to normalcy. I think it’s a great idea to make this a three-day event,” Dundon said. “The last couple years, things felt really crowded and now it’s like, well the masters can row early Friday and then all the collegiates can go and practice in the afternoon, and I know people appreciate that.”





By Marta Hill - HOCR
Posted on October 22, 2021