Whilst in the UK the Autumn and Winter months are primarily for grinding out long sessions in small boats or staying locked in the erg room for hours on end, across the Atlantic, October means only one thing for rowers – the Head of the Charles Regatta. In spite of the slightly oxymoronic name, the event is the largest two-day rowing event in the world, and this year the numbers are staggering: 2,263 entries, 9,999 athletes and 763 clubs racing across 71 events. Truly racing on an industrial scale, it may lack the class and exclusivity of Henley Royal Regatta but makes up for it with sheer excitement. Simply type “Head of the Charles Crashes” into Youtube and you’ll see why the Elliot Turn has its reputation.
A relatively recent inception compared to most events of it’s scale, HOCR was established in 1965, making this year its 55th iteration. The race itself is raced along 3 miles on the Charles River between Boston University’s boathouse and between the iconic Elliot Bridge and Northeastern University’s boathouse. The race takes competitors out of Boston and into Cambridge, which is where the race has its heritage. Cambridge Boat Club members D'Arcy MacMahon, Howard McIntyre, and Jack Vincent are responsible for the original idea, and encouraged by the then Harvard University sculling coach Ernest Arlett, a rower who hailed from Henley-on-Thames, and supposedly sought after a large competitive regatta such as Royal without the strict entry requirements and the classist prejudices which were present at the time. The regatta proved to be a hit, and in 1997 expended to the two-day format it is now. The regatta maintains to this day its ease of entry and inclusivity, but carries a hefty price tag to race – entering an eight will set you back $570 excluding transport and accommodation. To help mitigate this cost and to emphasise the regattas charity focus, up to forty crews can gain guaranteed entry by pledging to raise a certain amount for one of the charities the event champions like Community Rowing Inc. and Cambridge Community Foundation. This is still a huge amount of money: $1500 for a single to $5000 for an eight, but provides a method for crews lacking the direct entry funds or charity-based clubs to enter. The regatta provides an incredible $72 million to the local economy, and requires an army of 1,800 volunteers to run.
The regatta invites some of the best rowers and crews from around the world to have a go at breaking the course records and showing the locals how it’s done – St Paul’s School took the youth eights record in 2017. We see a few regular crews each year head over for some competitive racing, so here are (some of) the British crews racing this weekend:
ASL often make the journey over due to their school’s heritage and with men’s and women’s entries in youth quads, as well as a club single sculler, they will no doubt delight in seeing many of their successful alumni racing for the American universities heading down on Sunday. Sir William Borlase and their alumni 1921 Boat Club have entered a few fours and quads including a rarely-seen coxed quad making the most of the different categories. Joining them in that category is Henley Rowing Club, and fresh off their Fawley final last year and retaining some class athletes like Joe Long, we should see a top 10 finish from Henley.
King’s School Chester and King’s College School Wimbledon are two of the higher-profile junior entries, and seeing how both their fours stack up against each other will be interesting. Putney High School have probably the fastest UK junior women’s eight at the event, so for them it’ll be a case of enjoying the racing and climbing their way up the rankings as much as possible. Radley will enjoy coming into this as one of the fastest UK schoolboy crew and the status that brings with it, but it also weighs down some expectation to perform in their eight and fours. I imagine the foreign crews will be nothing but a distraction while they hunt down St Pauls. St Paul’s took the record of 14:12.127 in Youth Eights two years ago, and were just bested last year by RowAmerica Rye. Starting between two giants of American Junior Rowing; RowAmerica and Sarasota, at least they shouldn’t run into any congestion issues.
Auriol Kensington in their distinctive green and pink are one of very few tideway clubs to head over, looking for some competitive head racing with their fours and eights ahead of Fours Head and the upcoming tideway races. AK are on the rise after having the squad depth to send two eights to Henley qualifiers and comfortably qualify one, so they could place higher than you may initially imagine. Alongside AK from the Tideway with smaller entries are Fulham Reach with but a lone masters sculler, and Quintin. Cambridge ’99 are sending a small selection of their squad over, and their experience with bumps will probably not go amiss when trying to go 3 abreast round a 90° corner – it always happens.
City of Oxford junior women are showing up their men with their entries as are Lea Rowing Club with a single entry into Women’s Championship Eights – not an easy category to compete in against the likes of Princeton, Nereus, Tideway Scullers and Stanford. Molesey have the largest number of entries of all the UK clubs with six crews over and their masters looking to retain the eights title and snatch it from London Rowing Club. The Tideway Scullers women are retaining their crown at the top of women’s rowing and their entries into Championship Eights and Doubles will no doubt reinforce this to all the Americans curious about why some scullers are beating them in an eight. It's refreshing to see more women's entries than men's, and is a testament to the UK club scene.
Cambridge University have sent two eights to race amongst some of the thirty fastest eights in the world. Their almost inverted year of training, peaking in March, could see them having the edge over the other crews. However, their priority is always the Boat Race, so they may not be coming into this with the same hunger as the Ivy League universities. While Newcastle, one of the premier rowing universities in the country, haven’t placed an entry their alumni club Blue Star has entered two men’s and one women’s crew into the Alumni Eights category – an event scarcely seen in the UK. The only brits in the women’s event, they carry the flag, and will no doubt carry it very close to the podium, but the men will have competition from Crabtree Boat Club – Cambridge University Alumni.
The UK crew all eyes will be on is the Oxford Brookes 1st VIII looking to get as close as they can to the Ivy League giants in Championship Eights on their own turf. The race doesn’t fit into the traditional UK racing calendar, but Brookes will be foaming at the mouth with the prospect of possibly beating universities like Washington and Harvard. Reading have split their EUSA quad into two doubles and in the relatively small field of Men’s Championship Doubles they should perform well if their programme is anything to go by.
Alongside the rugby this is a big weekend of sport, but all of the racing across the two days is livestreamed here, so make sure at some point you give your support to all the UK crews racing on the livestream and social media. The small boats race on Saturday with the Championship crew boats racing from 1:45 EDT (5 hours behind).