With packed trailers and full hearts, the Bowdoin crew team departed Friday morning for the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) in Boston. The regatta, one of the largest and most prestigious in the world, marks the climax of the team’s fall racing season, which has thus far been defined by early-season success at both the novice and varsity levels.
Eight varsity crews—four men’s and four women’s—will compete alongside 2,254 other crews in the regatta, which spans Saturday to Sunday. A boat composed of recent Bowdoin alumni will also race on Saturday.
The eight crews competing in this weekend’s regatta represent a two-fold increase from last year in the number of Bowdoin boats entered in the event, said head coach Doug Welling.
Teams earn entries based on their performance in the previous year’s regatta and through a lottery system. In 2018, the women’s first varsity boat finished 19th out of 40 boats in the Women’s Collegiate 4+ event, and men’s first varsity boat finished 14th out of 40 boats in the Men’s Collegiate 4+.
“We are very excited to have a higher percentage of the team racing and gaining world-class race experience,” said Welling.
Bowdoin crews have been competitive at HOCR in years past. In 2012, the first women’s varsity boat won the Collegiate Women’s 4+ category, beating 38 college programs down the three-mile course. The same year, the Bowdoin men came in fifth out of 46 crews.
The team has raced in two regattas this fall to prepare for the HOCR: the Cow Island Classic on the Androscoggin River in Brunswick on September 21 and the Textile River Regatta in Lowell, Massachusetts on October 6.
The men’s first varsity boat claimed gold at the Textile Regatta, while the women’s first varsity boat came in second.
The learn-to-row program, which prepares rowers with no formal experience to compete in novice events during the team’s spring season, had a record-high 30 participants this fall. Despite having only a few weeks experience on the water, the novice crews have shown early promise, with the top men’s and women’s novice crews placing first in their events at the Textile Regatta.
“The team has been incredibly supportive of one another, and each practice has been an opportunity to work against and with one another to help each boat race their fastest,” said Julie Scholes ’20, the women’s team captain.
All crews have been training since the first week of the semester, with boats getting out on the water five times a week for early morning practices. Crews competing in the HOCR stayed on campus over fall break for two practices each day. Although they faced dicey weather conditions on the water over fall break, it will only prepare them for the obstacles the HOCR—known for its winding and crowded course—might throw at them, said Welling.
“The Head of the Charles is impossible to predict due to the extreme number of variables that are beyond a crew’s control,” said Welling. “We will have to navigate the course better than other crews. We will have to row faster, and because it’s the Charles, you have to have a bit of luck.”
As they head to Boston, the crews have two goals for this weekend, said Scholes: to finish strong among the incredibly challenging competition, and to learn about the sport from watching some of the best crews in the world compete.
“One of the highlights [of the HOCR] is getting to see the ‘great eight’ row on the Charles, which is a composite boat of many countries’ best rowers. While we will only compete in races against other colleges, it is truly breathtaking to see rowing at such a high level,” said Scholes.
Because the rowing team also competes in the spring, crews will not be finished when they return to Bowdoin after the HOCR. The team has one final regatta during the fall season—a friendly scrimmage between Bowdoin, Bates and Colby on October 26—before they enter winter training in preparation for the spring season. As temperatures drop, the experiences that crews will gain at the HOCR will buoy the team through the long winter as it looks towards getting on the water once again in the spring.