Charles River Rises to the Occasion: Flooding Forecasted for Regatta’s Second Day

Filed in Local Events by on October 18, 2009 0 Comments
Rowers stroke their way upstream

As if it weren’t already bad enough to have to float around in the dangerously toxic Charles River all day, rowers at this weekend’s Head of the Charles Regatta are now also being threatened by water from the air. With a forecast of heavy rain and gusting winds throughout the city today, crews will shake and shiver as they stroke their way upstream; they may even row record times, if only to get out of the water sooner.

I can’t think of more undesirable weather for a boat race than today’s near-freezing temperatures and pouring rain pelting, palm-sized snowflakes.

Below-freezing temperatures would be worse, I suppose, not just for the cold but because rowing through solid ice sounds tough, if not utterly impossible. Tornadoes would also make for more daunting race conditions, especially if those tornadoes developed cognizance and launched a coordinated, boat-flipping assault.

Then there’s the apocalypse. Flaming, sulfurous rain would surely sink some vessels outright, while lighting many more on fire. Furthermore, a rowing victory would hardly be meaningful when placed beside the world’s sudden and complete annihilation.

So the weather conditions could be worse for the rowers—though not by much—as they traverse the approximately three mile course from the Boston University boathouse to Herter Park in Allston.

Now in its 44th year, the Head of the Charles bills itself as the world’s largest two-day rowing event. Over 8,000 athletes from University and professional rowing teams compete in the different races, which are divided by age, sex, and crew type. For example, among the races are both men’s and women’s singles, doubles, fours, and eights at varying age levels.

In addition to the races, the event also serves as a sort of open-air showroom for rowing products and innovations. A tent for Shimano, a bike parts manufacturer which recently expanded its business into the rowing market, showcased their new cleat-soled rowing shoes. Another tent featured a stationary rowing machine that used large fans to simulate water resistance; in place of paddles, users pulled back on cords to turn the fan blades, as if trying to start an enormous, elongated lawnmower.

The diverse crowd in attendance for Saturday’s events belied the connotation of rowing as a stodgy, elitist sport akin to golf or croquet. While paisley ties, thick-striped scarves, and navy blazers might be expected in abundance on the shore, such clothes were far outnumbered by the casual dress of curious pedestrians eager to participate in the excitement.

Perhaps due to the crowd’s foreignness to rowing, spectators seemed more swept up in the events on land than on the water. Crews rowed in staggered starts which, while necessary to ensure a safe, smooth race, made for dull viewing; there was no way to tell if a team was doing well (no boats capsized or exploded, which would have been a surefire sign that something was amiss) so results could not be determined until every boat had completed the course and times could be made official. Even the families and classmates of racers, easily identifiable by their team attire, showed a fleeting interest in the races once their team had passed and their words of encouragement had been shouted.

Still, the event has something just about everyone can enjoy, whether it be the races themselves, the myriad concessions, or the general sense of community fostered by such a large event.

For me, the highlight of the weekend was the apt and hilarious title of a clinic for steersmen, also called coxswains. The clinic: How to Cox the Perfect Head Race.

That title alone is proof that the world of rowing, despite its stuffy, exclusive appearance, at least has a good sense of humor.

Photo Credit: Paul Keleher

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