Always a heavily spectated event, this year’s Head of the Charles Regatta proved no exception.

Despite the chilly weather and morning showers, crowds gathered along the banks of the Charles River in Boston to watch the biggest crew race of the fall. Supporters came to cheer on the diverse field as they stroked upstream through the three-mile course. Entrants included the Royal Dutch Rowing Federation and the London Training Center as well as many of the top collegiate teams and clubs in the country.

But it was probably the Bulldogs’ fans who had the most to cheer about. Coming off of a two-week break from competition, the Eli rowers came back with a flourish. The men’s lightweight team, continuing a string of impressive finishes, clocked a time of 15:37.192, good for third place overall and first among college teams. This was their second collegiate win in the event since 2003, the last time lightweights were given the honorary title of “Head of the Charles.”

The women’s team and the men’s heavyweight team also had good results. The women, starting second in the women’s championship eight heat, finished with the sixth place time, 17:05.374, third among college teams. Meanwhile, the steadily- improving men’s heavyweight team placed 11th out of 40 in a highly competitive men’s championship eight round, only eight seconds behind Circolo Canottieri Aniene of Italy. The heavyweight Bulldogs were sixth among collegiate teams.

Although satisfied with his team’s result, heavyweight captain John Petersen ’06 said he expected the team to be faster.

“It was an okay result, but not exactly where we wanted to be,” he said. “I thought we rowed the piece pretty tough — we were stroking it pretty high.”

After the Head of the Housatonic two weekends ago, the heavyweights set out to improve their technique and synchronization. The team that raced in that event had only been practicing together for a handful of days. Petersen said his team made some progress during the break.

“I think rowing together for another week definitely helped us out,” he said. “We definitely got faster last week.”

Like the Head of the Housatonic, the Head of the Charles is a head race. Boats start staggered 10 seconds apart and race against the clock to the finish. The course for the Head of the Charles begins at the Boston University boathouse near the Massachusetts Avenue bridge and winds three miles upstream to the Northeastern boathouse, flanked by brick Harvard dormitories on one side and the flashing Fenway Park Citgo sign on the other.

Passing another boat in this type of race is rare, and it is often difficult for crews to gauge if they are gaining or losing on other teams because they are directly in front of and behind them.

The women’s team started in a difficult position — right in front of the U.S. Women’s National Team, which started third. Although the Bulldogs battled, they were eventually overtaken.

Rachel Jeffers ’07 said the women viewed the challenge in a positive light.

“They walked through us within the first 1,500 meters, which is normally kind of discouraging,” she said. “But because it was the national team, it was cool to have a boat next to us for the competition.”

Jeffers said the national team’s charge from behind pushed the Elis to work harder and may have actually helped them to a better finish.

“We were pretty happy with our finish,” Jeffers said. “We were focusing on our own piece and boat speed — it was an exciting regatta.”

On the other hand, lightweight captain Joseph Fallon ’06 said that although the team is pleased with its finish, it has its eyes set on the championship spring season.

“In the general scheme of things, the fall results aren’t indicative of speed come May and June, when we have our championship races,” Fallon wrote in an e-mail.