For most crew races, it’s a race against the clock, but this weekend, it proved to be a fight against the course as well.
At the Head of the Charles regatta in Boston — which is known for its difficult turns and numerous bridges — the women’s crew team had another solid performance, with second place finishes from the freshman boat and the varsity boat in the collegiate eights. On the men’s side, the lightweight team improved upon last year’s finishes, and the heavyweights had mixed results.
But the most exciting part of the weekend was the heavyweight Club Eight boat’s two collisions with a Dartmouth shell, which resulted in a snapped oar and forced a rower to jump boat.
Up to the second checkpoint, the Club Eight boat was doing well, hanging only a few seconds behind the eventual winner Harvard, captain Jack Vogelsang ’08 said. But between the second and third checkpoints, the Bulldogs attempted to pass the Dartmouth boat under a bridge, and the two boats crashed, resulting in a broken oar in the Eli boat.
Unable to help move the boat forward without an oar, one of the boat’s rowers jumped into the river in order to avoid being dead weight in the boat. Later on the course, the same Club Eight shell collided with the Dartmouth boat again, resulting in more penalties that contributed to a 60th place finish.
“Looking at the times from the first checkpoints, we would have won or got the silver medal had we not collided,” Vogelsang said. “It just goes to show how wild the Head of the Charles can be — there’s always collisions going on because there’s so many boats and tight turns.”
Vogelsang stressed the importance of the coxswain’s role in guiding rowers through the buoys, boats and bridges of the Charles. He said coxswain Michael Ciccoti ’08 of the varsity boat, which finished eighth, steered the course well and hit all the bridges dead-on. Because of the coxswain’s performance, the crew members were able to focus better on their rowing, he said.
“We were moving well together and the rhythm felt really smooth, calm and patient, which we didn’t have last year,” he said. “But in the incredibly competitive field, we weren’t as flat out aggressive as we needed to be.”
The Head of the Charles is three miles long — about twice as long as sprint races.
In addition to the turns and bridges, the distance and format of the race proved to be a challenge for the lightweights, captain Pete Reiser ’08 said. The race was conducted like a time trial, with crews starting one at a time, about 20 seconds apart, as opposed to all together across the starting line as in spring races, which posed a mental challenge for the team.
“You go through the entire race not knowing how you’re doing in comparison to the lead crew because you can’t see the entire field,” he said. “It requires a different mental approach where people need to be more level-headed because consistency over the distance is going to win the race.”
Reiser said the team was focused on what is called “racing up” — building on previous finishes in order to improve starting order, which is determined by the team’s performance in the event from the previous year. The lightweight Club Eight boat started in the 13th position and finished fourth, and their first eight boat started 12th and finished eighth overall and fourth of the collegiate entries.
But it was the second lightweight eight boat that deserved special praise, Reiser said. The boat, made up entirely of freshmen, started in the 23rd position and finished 15th.
“We want our athletes to be a little bit precocious in terms of getting in the midst of the competition and performing above expectations,” he said. “Those guys did a nice job proving they could be competitive in that context.”
On the women’s side, the team had a solid performance, with second place finishes from the freshman boat and the varsity boat in the collegiate eights. With the tricks and turns of the Charles, captain Jennie Hansen ’08 stressed the importance of focusing inward and said the team did a good job of not getting distracted by the surroundings.
“It definitely raised the necessary level of performance, and everyone needs to bring their A-game,” she said. “Everyone stepped it up, so it was really pleasing to see everyone do well, especially our freshman, who had a great performance.”
Hansen said the Bulldogs were expecting stiff competition from the other teams there, and their competitors definitely met those expectations. Because so many boats were in the thick of the competition, she said the race made it clear to the Bulldogs that they will have their work cut out for them in order to stay ahead.
“Next weekend is our last race, so we’re looking to put up our best performance yet since it’s our last chance under performance condition this fall,” she said. “We’re looking to put all the pieces together — what we really want are good races from start to finish.”
The women’s team and both the men’s heavyweight and lightweight teams will be heading to the Princeton Chase next weekend, where they will face many of the same Ivy League competitors from this weekend’s regatta.