52nd Head of the Charles Brings Bean Boots and Blistering Wind

The Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) came to a close this Sunday after two days of celebrating athletic prowess—and preppy fashion. The three-mile race, the largest two-day regatta in the world, has drawn thousands of spectators to the shores of the Charles River annually since its inception in 1965. In the spring, HOCR appointed Kathy Kirk as its new chairperson. She oversees a regatta with close to 11,000 competitors and an estimated 400,000 spectators.

On Saturday, BC placed 21st in the women’s club eights, just .002 seconds behind Canisius College, and 25th in men’s club eights.

Though watching the boats dart by, gliding down the river with impeccable grace, is an  exhilarating experience, the races themselves are just a small part of what draws those spectators every year.

Rowing fanatics are treated upon arrival to a festival of all things rowing. White tents, stocked with oars, boats, sunglasses, and, of course, the sport’s iconic neon spandex––called “trou”––line the Charles River Walkway, inviting spectators to join in on the festivities of the weekend. The largest of the tents––a massive Brooks Brothers pop-up shop, complete with mannequins sporting earth-colored vests and bright, collared shirts––is a hit with HOCR patrons. The shop, which is the only tent propped up on a platform, is packed with proud moms holding “Head of the Charles”-embroidered quarter-zip jackets up to their sons’ shoulders, and enthusiastic competitors in trou, making hurried purchases before running off to their races.

In addition to being a celebration of rowing, part of what makes the Head of the Charles so enjoyable, even to non-rowers, is the fact that it is also a celebration of fall. Spectators of the event can be seen donning long scarves and hunching over steaming cups of cider, in an attempt to beat out the cool, October air.

“I love the fall feel of it all,” Juli Ozmeral, MCAS ’19, said. “Everyone gets all dressed up in their boots and vests.”

The athletes, however, are used to the cool temperatures from their countless mornings spent training on the water. Boston College’s Division I women’s rowing team and men’s club rowing team train year-round, both on the water and off. A typical week consists of about 25 hours of training, according to Michaela Karrash, CSOM ’18.  

This weekend was what they had been training for. Torrential downpours and a strong headwind affected the men’s performance, said Jake Catania, MCAS ’20.

“We were past shivering,” he said. “Some of us were violently shaking because we were so cold.”

Tough conditions tested even the most accomplished of rowers on Saturday, including the much-anticipated “dream team” boat, composed of two Olympic gold medalists. New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale and Norway’s Olaf Tufte set their rivalry aside to compete in the men’s championship doubles race, coming in third place behind the Philadelphia-based Penn Athletic Club and the Boucherville Club out of Canada.

Strong headwinds proved an issue for competitors all weekend, due to the layout of the course. The three-mile-long race is known as a “coxswain’s race” due to its three tight turns, one through Weeks Bridge, notorious among Boston rowers as the “Weeks turn,” one through the Anderson Memorial Bridge, and one just before the Eliot Bridge. Both require precise steering from the boat’s coxswain in order to avoid making wide turns that can prove detrimental to a boat’s finish time. A strong headwind can blow a boat off course and prevent tight turning.

BC’s men’s team learned this the hard way in the collegiate eight on Sunday. After a strong start, BC’s boat got stuck between boats from Wesleyan and Holy Cross around the one-mile mark approaching the River Street Bridge. While under the bridge, BC and Holy Cross collided, resulting in a damaged steering mechanism for BC. Without proper steering the team was forced to row with only six people while two used their oars to steer, according to one of the rowers in the boat, Daniel Reilly, MCAS ’18.

“Yeah, it wasn’t what we were hoping for, but this happens all the time at the Head of the Charles, as it is a very hectic regatta.” he said. “We are proud to represent Boston College at such a prestigious event and are headed in the right direction with our training.”

Bad weather, however, seems to be a defining characteristic of the Head of the Charles.

“No matter what, the Head of the Charles always has crazy weather,” Karrash said. “[Winning] is a matter of who can put forth the best race under the conditions.”

Despite the intensity of the races and weather, what was most striking was the overwhelming positivity of the fans cheering on shore. Fans at the Head of the Charles do not hurl insults at the opposing competitors, as is customary in other sports, but rather cheer on almost every boat that goes by, regardless of affiliation.

“Everyone is there in support and wants to see everyone do well,” Karrash said. “It’s a really positive atmosphere.”

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett/ Heights Staff