(Sat am note: check out today's racing on the Head Of The Charles Webcast.)
A sturdy rain squall plagued Friday dampened the opening of the 2006 Head Of The Charles on Friday night; after a damp and cloudy but largely windless afternoon of trailer-parking, boat-rigging, and practice rows, the river was closed at 6pm in anticipation of the Virgin Atlantic 350 meter sprint under the light at 7:30pm. Unfortunately, a patience-testing cold front arrived in the intervening 90 minutes, with rain soaking those attendees that had not opted to head for the hotels, and a stiff headwind arriving just in time for the racing.
The men’s crews in particular made the best of it, with a very well-contested race between Cambridge, Oxford, Harvard and Northeastern going to a slick Cambridge crew, which blasted out to an early lead and then held on late to nip a charging Oxford crew at the finish line. The women’s race was anything but slick, when Radcliffe jumped out to an early lead only to have an open gate in the Cambridge crew cause the crew to stop rowing and the race to be restarted. Radcliffe lost the element of surprise on the next start, and Cambridge pushed out to a lead for most of the way. As the crews reached the finish line, however, the crews had converged to the extent that they endured a full clash, complete with a lost oar, swerving hulls, and boats taking on water.
Cambridge women's stroke Kat Lange said "The wind was quite terrible. It's not as rough as I would have expected it, but the winds picked up quite a bit. And riders were caught in the rain as well, so we were all drenched and cold."
On the other hand, Cambridge four-seat Kip McDaniel appeared to enjoy the ride. "Actually, it was much calmer (than the Thames)," McDaniel said of the Charles. "You wouldn't believe it, but it can get pretty rough over there.
"This was my first true night race," McDaniel said. "It was really good. You feel like you're going much, much faster. You feel like your just flying. It was a really good experience to have it lit up."
That said, the spirit of the event was beginning to show nonetheless, with crews peacocking on the square all eight right in front of the launching areas, coxswains practicing critical turns at full bore, high school kids and masters alike shopping for tons of rowing gear, crews painting their toenails in team colors, and a new sight at the Charles, people actually practicing in quads.
Think I’m kidding? The quad, which was strictly a fundraising second run down the course last year, with the emphasis on fun, has become a fairly serious event at the HOCR.
“Yeah, we’ve been doing three-four rows a week for the past month or so,” said one oarsman from one of the mixed quad entries. “It’s been really fun.”
Running the Charles in a boogieing boat like the quad can be a true thrill ride.
“I’m used to the single, and I’ll tell you, those bridges come up really fast in the quad,” said one Charles river local, who is bowing and towing a women’s quad. “I was going to call the race as well, but the first time we did any full power, I said I’m not saying anything! I just want to keep us off the bridges.”
It’s been a long day, so that will have to be it for tonight; as row2k logs off for the evening the rain is gone and stars are shining; see you at a sunny starting line Saturday morning!