Crunchy leaves, bright sun, and warm temps— the 2013 Head of the Charles started perfectly. With the erratic New England weather constantly threatening the regatta—rain, snow, sleet….we've seen it all - it's refreshing and enjoyable to race on a gorgeous day.
The crowds swarmed in, filling in on the banks of the river quite early this morning. We've heard that as early as 9am, the results page was getting the heavy traffic expected for the later afternoon races. The combination of good weather, Red Sox playoffs and a stream of Boston-area media coverage for this year's regatta drew in crowds that may break records.
Speaking of records, it was a day for the books as 17 (yes, you read that right) course records were broken—and some quite significantly, by over 30 seconds. Slow river flow and a clipping tailwind for much of the course guided the crews quickly to the finish line. This was exciting for most—some crews landed to find out they broke the record, but their opponents broke it further still. And though with each shattered time, the day grew more exciting, it was the championship men's and women's singles times that were truly remarkable. Both records were from 1982-- before either of this year's winners had been born.
Kjetil Borch, the men's single champion won last year's race from bow 27; this Norwegian sculler is no dark horse these days. Borch and double partner Nils Hoff won the Men's Double at World Championships this past summer. Not only will Borch be retaining bow 1, but he's also number one on Megan Kalmoe's "The List" of the 20 best looking male rowers in 2013. He likely won't be 27th again soon—on either list. His time of 17:12.31 beat Biglow's 1982 run by 17.5 seconds.
In the women's championship single, local favorite Gevvie Stone, 2012 Olympian raced down the course as bow 1. She's won the event a number of times, and has an advantage most of the opponents do not—she knows the course like the back of her hand. As Stone rowed by Cambridge Boat Club, her own club, the crowds went wild; it felt as if she had a decent lead on the field. It wasn't until Kate Bertko rolled around the Eliot turn sporting the bow 4 placard that everyone realized this might be a different race than they had anticipated. Bertko had managed to pass both World Champion Emma Twigg and Ursula Grobler, and was closing in on Stone. In the end, Bertko's winning time of 18:33.01 was 2.5 seconds ahead of Stone, and beat Gilder's 1982 time by 12.59 seconds.
"I honestly don't remember where I passed the other boats," said Bertko "I remember getting a bit tangled with Emma around Weeks bridge, but we were both fine and I just kept on."
Though the single can be a lonely boat, Bertko doesn't go at it alone all the time. She and double partner Kristin Hedstrom (who together won silver in the lightweight 2x at Worlds this year) are so much a team that Hedstrom's family was there to congratulate Bertko at the award ceremony.
"I miss my bow seat!" laughed Bertko, "It's been so great racing the single here together, because normally you are by yourself, and here we warmed up together and helped each other rig boats—it's great to be able to it together. But seriously, I missed my bow seat."
Women's Champ Double
If you start rowing in a lineup on Friday, and win the Charles on Sunday, you might be pretty good; Dutch sculler Inge Janssen and Austrian Magdalena Lobnig are pretty good. Both raced at this year's World Championships in the single, finishing sixth and fourth respectively.
Lobnig was bowing the course for the first time—not an easy feat, even for an accomplished rower.
"I was a bit afraid at the beginning," she said, "but during the race it went quite well. I missed one buoy, and I'm quite pissed about that—but we won so I'm happy."
They are two of the few competitors who will race more than once this weekend, and they'll join an international team in the Great Eight tomorrow.
Janssen added, "We're just going to go crazy and crush the Americans…hopefully."
Men's Club 8
Men's Brown Freshman 8+ broke yet another course record in the Men's Club 8+; the men wore camouflage shirts with "Saving Private Bruno" on the front and "No Freshman Left Behind" on the back; perhaps a statement about the fading frosh events in collegiate rowing?
"We started out pretty solid and we tried to maintain it," said 2-seat Eli Brown "It felt fast, but we didn’t know what to expect. A lot of us are switching back and forth on sides—I was a starboard at the Housatonic and a port today. Coach likes to keep us on our toes."
Men's Club 4
Defending their 2012 title, Union Boat Club walked away from the field early on in the Men's Club 4+ to a 34 second victory over bow 18, Holy Cross.
"We strided into an awesome base and were walking away the whole time," said bow seat Quincy Darbyshire. "We were really confident; the guys who got us bow number one last year were really great to that for us—it felt like they were with us the whole way. I love the guys I race with—we all come from different clubs and college programs.
"We raced the Head of the Charles piece two weeks ago, it was the first real race piece we had done—we broke the course record then, and it was 7pm, it was dark, we were the only ones on the river—we definitely felt it in that moment that we had what it takes."
The last races of the day were the mixed and parent-child Director's Double races—the boats came-by with bow-lights as the sun began to set.
Riverside Boat Club's Lynn Osborn raced with her daughter Sarah, a junior in high school. Though this is Lynn's third parent-child race, it's Sarah's first; her two older sisters Katie and Ellen got first dibs at mom for this race, Sarah started rowing with her this summer, and her twin brother Nicky will race in 2014.
"That was so much fun," said Sarah, excitedly after her race, "people were joking with each other at the start—really enjoying themselves. It was really special being able to row with my mom."
Whether crews were shattering records, or just racing with a good friend today—all the rowers found a little fun; even in the most serious race-mode it's hard not to smile when you run into an old friend, see your first coach or notice how three miles of a river is transformed into the greatest reunion of people; people who understand why you have so much spandex and funny tan lines.
Notes from the course:
The previous record holders of the men's and women's champ singles were John Biglow and Ginny Gilder. John, a 1984 Olympian, is now an HOCR umpire; Gilder was one of the women that joined Chris Ernst at Yale to protest the school's violation of Title IX, nude. Gilder is now part-owner of WNBA team, Seattle Storm. What Kjetil and Kate will be doing in 30 years?
A winning crew starting at Bow 2 in a master's race gave a big margin of water at the start, and then was understood to have been getting texts from the shore about the margin to the crew ahead at each bridge. Seems a bit much, eh?
The coxswain of a crew in 2007 that somewhat famously went through the right arch at Eliot lost all his photos of the event in a hard drive crash, and wrote row2k this past week to ask if we could "identify the photographer on the bottom right of THIS PHOTO." Sure enough, we sought for and found him today on the same dock; paydirt! Good deed for the day done.
The weather for most of the day was borderline epic; not very hot, very little wind, and flat water. Tomorrow might not be so nice, mainly with respect to wind; a couple people were already overheard to be talking "short course..."