Before this weekend, the top varsity women’s crew team had not been accustomed to two things in particular — away courses and close calls in competition.

But on Saturday morning, the squad got a taste of both, as the varsity eight boat eked past Boston University by less than a second in its race on the Charles River, the first race away from Gilder Boathouse since the fall. The Elis’ perfect spring season was also upheld this weekend in Boston, as the squad as a whole knocked off BU, Iowa and Dartmouth to claim the four-squad Yale Class of 1985 Cup.

“As a team we had a great weekend of racing on the Charles,” head coach Will Porter said. “Any time we can sweep a team from the EAWRC — the fastest league in the country — and the NCAA New England region we are happy.”

The performances from the remaining varsity boats and the freshmen were superb. In races spaced well throughout the day on a crowded Charles, the second and third Eli varsity boats both easily subdued the Terriers and Big Green by well over ten seconds, while the freshman eight had a thrilling finish over Dartmouth.

The varsity eight boat, despite seamlessly coasting to victory in its first two races this spring, did not assume that its task would be easy in the first return to Boston since the prestigious Head of the Charles last October.

“The team expected BU and Dartmouth to be fast, as they become more competitive teams every year,” captain Dinah Dimalanta said. “However, we knew that if we raced to our abilities we would come out successful.”

The Bulldog varsity eight had a very strong start and pulled ahead in the early portion of the piece, but BU gradually closed ground through the second 1,000 meters. The Terriers were on the verge of passing Yale as the two teams crossed the finish line.

“We were able to start well and get up in the first third of the race,” rower Joanna Hess ’06 said. “BU then started regaining seats over the rest of the course and we just didn’t answer their moves.”

Despite an ultimate victory, questions were raised about the caliber of the varsity’s performance. Yale cleared the finish at a time of 6:32.94, less than nine-tenths of a second ahead of Boston University, though safely ahead of Iowa’s 6:41.73 and Dartmouth’s 6:47.84. Both within the team and to onlookers, the close margin at the finish line was both surprising and disappointing.

“The boat got off the line well, but was not able to execute or race to the full potential of the nine people in the boat. BU’s varsity had a strong piece and put up a great fight,” Dimalanta said. “There is a high standard on this team, so that even though it was a win for the varsity, there was a sense of disappointment in the execution of the race.”

The reactions to Saturday’s race were indicative of the great expectations for a nationally-powerful program as it heads towards EAWRC Sprints in May.

“I guess we are lucky to have a bad race and still come away with a win, as that is a reflection of how strong this varsity is,” Porter said. “BU was celebrating as if they won. Other teams and other coaches have high expectations for Yale.”

Porter feels the best is still yet to come.

“The varsity eight has yet to show their speed, it has come in bits but not for a full 2K,” he said. “It is coming, but on Saturday we were disappointed in our race.”

While the team leaves the blustery Charles River basin for the relative comfort of the Housatonic, many agreed next weekend might prove to be the Bulldogs’ most formidable challenge of the spring.

“As we look forward to next week, Princeton is coming to visit us and they are the number one team in the country,” Porter said. “They are really good — boy, they are good — they have a ton of talent. We are just hoping to do our best and give them a good run.”