The Head of the Charles Turns 54

Though The Head of the Charles Regatta has a relatively short history in the world of collegiate crew, its history is a storied one for Harvard's crew program.
Newell Boathouse, constructed in 1900 as a gift from the Harvard Club of New York, is the home of Harvard men's crew.By Kathryn S. Kuhar
By Tahmid Ahmed

The cool air briskly brushes the rowers’ faces. The frigid river water splashes onto the coxswain. Thousands of people fill the banks of the Charles River as they attentively watch the rowers swift by. Along with The Game between Harvard and Yale, the Head of the Charles Regatta is one of the top annual sporting events on Harvard’s campus.

Dating back to 1965, The Head of the Charles (HOCR) was the creation of Cambridge Boat Club members D'Arcy MacMahon, Howard McIntyre, and Jack Vincent. As a way to build enthusiasm for rowers from long hours of training, MacMahon and his squad thought a regatta would be a fun way to entertain the athletes. While the club members had low expectations for spectator turnout, it was not until they received advice from famed Harvard sculling instructor, Ernest Arlett, that they gained the confidence to implement the event.

Although the Cambridge Boat Club members had their doubts, they were confident that the event would be a triumph for Cambridge. In fact, in an interview with New York Times, MacMahon and Olrich knew the event was “destined to become a classic.”

Beginning in 1997, the event began to span two days and has since been held on a weekend in October.

The 4,800-meter race starts at Boston University DeWolfe Boathouse and ends at Christian Herter Park. The event includes singles, doubles, fours, and eights, and participants from all age groups compete at the event. The course is a head race with a rolling start, meaning crews not only face each other but also have to have the fastest time to come out on top in their respective race.

However, while the event will enter its 54th year, many in the rowing community find the event to be relatively young.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s really cool — especially [with] Harvard right in the middle of it and being probably the biggest rowing event in the world — but 54 years doesn’t really count as historical in the world of rowing,” freshman rower Paddy Adams said. “It’s probably more special to be part of Harvard rowing, which is much older, but even then it’s all relative.”

A main reason the event continues to find such success is the amount of detailed preparation in the week leading up to the regatta. The Head of the Charles consists of a 15-member Board of Directors — six of the members are in charge of race management and supervising an 11-member race committee. The committee meets all year, discussing procedural details and logistics for the upcoming event. In addition to the race committee, there are 115 volunteers from 30 distinct committees that meet weekly during the fall. A total of 1,700 devoted volunteers also help the event continue be a highlight for the community. There is also a full-time professional staff of four, headquartered in the Cambridge Boat Club, that works year-round to plan for the weekend by collecting sponsorships and interacting with rowing members in the community.

In 1991, Frederick V. Schoch was appointed Executive Director of the Regatta and continues to lead the event to this day. Schoch coached multiple years at Princeton, the U.S. Naval Academy, and Georgetown. Schoch also founded another Regatta in New York, called the Hudson Regatta, and has also been an active member of the US Rowing National Team Coaching Staff. In addition to serving as the director of HOCR, Schoch also serves on the National Rowing Foundation Board of Directors.

The event continues to surge in popularity with more than 11,000 athletes all over the world competing in 55 different race events and an expected attraction of hundreds of thousands of visitors. The event has also generated an abundance for its official charities, including Cambridge Community Foundation and Community Rowing. The Head of the Charles Regatta Charity Program allows competitors to gain entry into competition for donating $1,500 for singles, $2,500 for doubles, $3,000 for fours, and $5,000 for eights.

The Crimson’s crew teams have been especially excited for this year’s event, as they look to take the top seed in each event.

“Harvard is very excited about this year’s The Head of the Charles and have the same expectations as always,” said Ian Accomando, assistant coach of lightweight crew. “The team has been practicing diligently.”

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