The 51st HOCR brought the usual mix of charm, emotion, and speed today, but the Charles itself was a bit mean on the day. A stern headwind, wind shear at the bridges, a messy basin, and cooler temps definitely reminded folks that this is a Fall Classic.
The Head of the Charles remains a regatta of superlatives, and there was a lot of great racing today. We'll run down a few of the best ones here.
With the addition and enhancement of Para-rowing events, which will run tomorrow, the regatta continues to broaden its scope; but even so, the HOCR is really almost an all-comers event (if you can get in, of course).
Who needs the "Great Eights" when you have the Masters Events? Between a full-scale "British Invasion" (see our interview with Matthew Pinsent here) in the 40+/50+ events, and a true overload of Olympians and ex-National teamers in the big boats, there was no shortage of big guns on the course today. The Molesey Boat Club showed up to the Head of the Charles to some serious purpose today, winning the Men's and Women's 40+ Masters Eights, the Men's 50+ Eight, and the Men's 40+ Four, while the Tyrian Boat Club of the GB took the Men's 50+ Four.
The "Olympian Dividend" was also fully in evidence in the Men's and Women's Alumni Eights, where Northeastern (Men) and Michigan (Women) repeated their wins from 2014, sporting stacked crews all around, whew. This is getting serious!
Cowles and Stitt won the Champ 2x by 0.8 seconds
The closest margin of the day was the 8/10s of a second spread between PBC's Willie Cowles and Sam Stitt and Peter and Tom Graves in the Men's Championship 2x. The Graves actually would have won the event on raw time, but a 5-second penalty nudged them just heartbreakingly behind the PBC duo.
Depending on how you look at it, for the Graves rowing family, today was either a case of "almost enough" or "not quite," with youngest brother John Graves also coming in 2nd this afternoon, in John's case in the Men's Championship Singles, behind Mahe Drysdale.
After a few times down the course now, Drysdale seems to be overcoming the built-in advantage that the locals have, but took care to pour it on in the straightaway Powerhouse stretch today, where he picked up most of his 10-second winning margin. Scary to think about the Olympic champ knowing the Charles really well, whew.
Gevvie Stone left no doubts in the Women's Champ Single, winning the event by 42 seconds. The announcers at the finish line turn paid Stone a compliment (of sorts), noting that Stone would have an advantage over her lightweight competitors in today's headwind, but you also have to take into account that Stone is not all that much bigger than most lightweights.
Stone shows the form that got her 42 seconds on the field
In terms of overall (and we're talking, epic, decades long) efficiency, there probably are not many crews that can do what Dan Gorriarian and Michael Smith seem to do with such ease. Gorriarian and Smith row together just two days a year, once to practice, and once to race the Head of the Charles.
"You know, they say that doubles are born and not made," said Smith. "It just clicked. The first time we rowed together, in 2001, I felt like I was rowing in my single."
Since that first row in 2001, Gorrarian and Smith have won the Charles 11 out of the last 13 years, taking another win today in the Senior Master (50+) Doubles.
Former national teamers and friends C.B. Sands-Bohrer and Linda Muri also repeated their win in the Senior Master (50+) Doubles today, and against the backdrop of Muri's recent battle with cancer, it's not an understatement to say that these were wins of resilience (and friendship) and not merely athletic prowess. We'll post a longer conversation with Linda Muri later this week.
The regatta's oldest and youngest competitors took to the water today, and both rowed in the last event of the day, the parent/child double. Finn Crawford, age 12, represented CRI today, just about alongside Long Beach RA's Earl Johnson, aged 86.
Father and son Schoch rowed as well today; for more on the experience of the Parent/Child double, see our feature on the Father/Son combo of Eduardo and Marco Palomo.
Amongst the older competitors, it seems to be about both longevity and grace. Rivanna's Kit Collins took home his 11th win at the Charles, this time in the Grand Veteran event, at 83 years of age.
"I'm told that if I had a longer stroke, I would look better," Collins mused after the event. "But it does seem to work for me." Collins also acknowledged that the competition amongst the athletes his age is one of mutual respect. "Modesty is very important."
For the innovative rig of the day, the MIT entry in the Men's Alumni Eights takes the prize, braving the windy course in a full "battleship" rig: two port oars in stern pair, middle four all on starboard, and bow pair back on port. The crew didn't look bad at all, to boot. When asked whether this was planned or an engineering experiment, the MIT coaches responded, "it was not an experiment - it was a shameless bid for attention."
Notes from the Course:
- In the Men's 50+ Masters Eights in the morning, the '87 Gold Crew wore vinyl stickers that spelled out "MARRY ME," a proposal from six-seat Mike Still to his girlfriend Brooke. Luckily, she said yes! Is that worthy of a HOCR "special" Special Medal?
- Watching the racing from Cambridge Boat Club, you can definitely see that the Eliot turn past CBC is for real; if you come off the gas for just a couple of strokes during the turn, you're almost headed straight for the abutment on the bridge (or the wrong arch, in the worst case). Worse yet, if you give the turn TOO much gas early on and start threading buoys, if you have to correct from there it's really tough to get the end of the turn right. Spending a little time studying the course map printout is definitely worth it, especially in the smaller boats.
- The finish line side of the Anderson Bridge is closed for construction, denying regatta goers one of the better spots to watch, um, crews without enough water between them. This year's Youth Eights carnage may go largely unseen (although we did see the pack of former US team guys in a masters four tangle it up there today...)
- The best two stories that came out of the Head of the Charles 50th anniversary book that was recently released:
First, despite limited attendance at the first HOCR regatta in 1965, regatta founder D'Arcy MacMahon, writing up the event for USRowing, started his article with the words "Countless thousands lined the shores," and a legendary regatta was born! These days, it's true.
Countless thousands lined the shores
Next, another "living" legend is the ubiquitous "Charles Attager," who graces the regatta program, gives his name to "Team Attager," and is in many ways part of the fabric of the race. He's also a total fabrication, invented by the regatta's founders to take any heat and any incoming complaints. "The phone would ring and someone [picking up on the HOCR end] would say, 'Is Charles Attager here?' and I would say, 'Take a message, '" MacMahon is quoted in the book. (If you haven't figured it out yet, try reversing "Attager.")
- Serious rivals Stanford and Cal were on the same west coast flight out to Boston; apparently, everyone behaved.
- About one hour into the Saturday racing for about four years running, a huge flock of geese has come to have a gander at the proceedings by paddling right into the first few strokes of the racecourse. Are they checking the schedule on the World Wide Web-footed internet?
- Comment by a senior masters rower when asked how the race went: "I got my exercise for today." You can interpret that however you like.
- Was that snow on the windshield at 6:30am this morning? Yes it was (the snow clouds resulted in an epic sunrise at least) - and we might be in for an even colder day tomorrow; bundle up!!!