This year, 300,000-plus spectators will flood Boston to watch 9,000 rowers compete for their chance to win the Head of the Charles title in the 50th edition of the annual race, October 18-19, 2014. The world’s largest two-day rowing event will attract competitors and fans from around the globe to this famed regatta, along with some curious students.
If you’re one of those students, this is the guide for you, covering everything from the break down of rowing terms for newcomers to making the most of the weekend without draining your bank account.
Get Your Bearings
If this is your first time attending the Head of the Charles, or any regatta, here are some basic facts you should know:
- A “head” race is a type of regatta that is normally 3 miles long; the Head of the Charles spans 3.2 miles from the Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse to Artesani Park in Brighton.
- Rowers come from high schools, colleges and clubs from all over the world. Members of the U.S. National Team often compete in the championship events.
- Boats compete against each other but also against the clock, leaving at about 15 seconds apart.
- There are 5 different types of boats (known as shells) used, varying in size and quantity of rowers, ranging from single rowers to pairs, doubles, quads and eights.
- As this year celebrates the HOCR’s 50th year, the Directors have invited athletes and crews from the first HOCR in 1965 to compete this year. Keep a lookout for the Reunion Crews and be sure to congratulate them!
Terms to Know Before You Arrive
From out of town or simply never watched a race before? Learn this lingo and seem like the expert from the shore.
- Sweep boats – Boats of eight or four rowers, each with one oar.
- Sculling boats – Boats of four, two, or single rowers, with two oars. These are the boats in the 4x, 2x, and 1x categories.
- Coxswain – The teammate who doesn’t row, but steers the boat from the front and is responsible for course strategy. They’re usually short and small so that they fit easily at the front: on average, 110 pounds for women and 125 for men.
- Washing out – When the oar is raised out of the water before the end of the stroke, causing slowed speed and off-kiltered balance.
- Catching a Crab – When an oar is not released cleanly from the water, and instead gets caught and is driven backwards by the boat’s momentum.
- Flip Catching – When a rower causes the boat to lose momentum by turning the oar blade while it’s still in the water.
Where To Watch
The HOCR offers viewing space from the Eliot Bridge Enclosure but admission can get pricey. There are 6 bridges along the race’s course that offer phenomenal views of the race and are free! Check out the race schedule to figure when and where you want to be. Here’s a list of the the bridges and their locations:
- BU Bridge: Accessible near University Road in Boston or Brookline Street in Cambridge, you can watch the boats line up according to their bow numbers and then take off, as well as follow the first mile of the race.
- River Street Bridge: Located near the Doubletree Suites Hotel on Cambridge Street (turns into River Street), this bridge surveys the second mile of the race, known by rowers as the “Powerhouse Stretch,” where they have the opportunity to catch up to or pass competitors.
Western Avenue Bridge: This location offers a clear view of the crews during the second mile.
- John W. Weeks Footbridge: A pedestrian-only zone, this bridge offers a key view of intense action at the 90 degree turn during the second mile, the location of many crashes during the HOCR.
- Anderson Memorial Bridge: Marking the halfway point and located halfway between Harvard’s Weld and Newell Boathouses, this location provides easy access to get snacks or drinks in Harvard Square afterward (also, see below for more foodie options).
- Eliot Bridge: This is the closest you’ll get to the rowers located at Belmont Hill and Windsor’s boathouse and is also the location of another dangerous turn during the third mile.
- And catch the finish at Christian Herter Park!
An alternative option, and still relatively cheap, would be to purchase admission ($10 day pass, $15 for the weekend) to Reunion Village. Located between the Weeks and Anderson bridges, and within walking distance to Harvard Square, its boasts some of the best views. Breakfast, lunch and refreshments are available for purchase in a concession tent, and it’s the only legal HOCR location that serves alcohol for purchase. You’re welcome to bring in your own food as well.
Once you’ve decided where you want to watch, getting there in the quickest and easiest way possible is essential. With the city crowded with spectators and racers, driving is definitely not an option. Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring a bike or make use of the shuttles provided by HOCR.
Events You Can’t Miss
Be sure to check out these events and ensure your HOCR experience has been the best it can be.
- Weld Exhibition: Official HOCR Sponsors (including New Balance, JL Racing, and US Rowing among others) are present offering information and loads of free samples.
- Rowing and Fitness Expo: Stop by and visit dozens of vendors offering rowing equipment, boat manufacturers, food vendors and much more.
- Awards Ceremonies: Located at the Rowing and Fitness Expo, watch the rowers you cheered on be congratulated and rewarded for their hard work. Saturday at 4:30 pm and 6pm and Sunday at 3:30pm and 5pm.
- Extra time to kill? Stop by any of the boathouses along the HOCR course and explore during any of their free open houses.
The HOCR weekend is enough to tire everyone out, be it spectators or racers. Stop by any of these restaurants for an affordable but delectable bite to eat, all within walking distance from several of the popular viewing areas.
- Near the BU Bridge: The George Sherman Union at BU hosts a food court eating area featuring a variety of cuisines with quick accessibility and low cost options. Open Saturday and Sunday 11am – 7 pm. 775 Commonwealth Ave, Boston.
- Near River Street Bridge: Alive and Kicking Lobsters. First time visiting New England? Don’t leave without trying a lobster roll! 269 Putnam Ave, Cambridge.
- Near Western Ave. Bridge: On an organic kick? Life Alive has “scrumptious, unprocessed, wholesome” meals! 765 Mass Ave, Cambridge.
- Near Weeks Footbridge: Stop and get an iconic Harvard Square Burger at Mr. Bartley’s, at 1246 Mass Ave, Cambridge. Explore Harvard Square while you’re at it, but tag along with a friend from Harvard if you want to see the Yard – students are required to show their ID to enter.
- Near Anderson Memorial Bridge: Visit The Red House at 98 Winthrop St. for some farm-to-table Boston area specialties as well as some Cambridge history.
- Near the finish line: Hungry before or during the races? Check out every Boston college student’s favorite at The Breakfast Club, located across from Christian Herter Park at 270 Western Ave, Allston.
Over 21 and craving a drink? Try out any of these popular watering holes to quench your thirst:
- Near the BU Bridge: Fenway bars are just a short walk down Commonweath Ave. and feature variety and endless Red Sox support, even in October. Or grab some friends from BU and head to the BU Pub in the famous BU Castle. BU students can choose from the vast selection and buy beer using their Terrier Cards (student IDs) to enjoy while looking over the Charles. Either of these options are good ways to escape the hectic crowd.
- Near Weeks Footbridge: Try Garden at the Cellar for cocktails, wine and draft beers at 991 Mass Ave, Cambridge.
- Near Anderson Memorial Bridge: Visit John Harvard’s Brew House or Russell House Tavern for microbrews and pub fare in Harvard Square.
Plan Ahead For:
- Added security — As with any outdoor event in Boston in the past year, security has been increased to ensure the event goes as planned while providing safety for all attending.
- Traffic — Again, this is the largest two-day race in the world; Boston streets are bound to be more crowded than usual.
You can visit the Head of the Charles site for more information as the weekend approaches. Enjoy Boston during one its most famous weekends!