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Head of the Charles Regatta Brings Tens of Thousands of Spectators to Cambridge

By Brendan J. Chapuis
By Stephanie H. Ashkar and Taylor C. Peterman, Contributing Writers

Rowing enthusiasts and casual spectators of all ages streamed through Harvard’s campus to watch more than 70 races at the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta on Saturday and Sunday.

More than 11,000 rowers participated in the Head of the Charles — the world’s largest two-day rowing competition. Tens of thousands of onlookers, many clad in sunglasses and college sweatshirts, came to root for their competing friends and family members.

Roxanne Ferreiro, a volunteer at the regatta, said she thinks the Saturday races were an overall success.

“It is the perfect day for the Head of the Charles. All the boats seem to be on target, doing well,” she said. “Everybody on the course, spectators, also seem to be in a festive mood. The weather is perfect. It continues to be a great tradition.”

The Head of the Charles — which began in 1965 — draws thousands of people, including both teenage competitors and elderly spectators, to Cambridge each year.

Competitors arrived from around the world, with some hailing from Australia and others from Japan. Attendees included professionals and amateurs alike, though Williams College rower Will C. Foote, said he thinks the event has a universal appeal.

“Having an understanding of the sport, the teams that are there, the technique that goes into it, you know, definitely plays into it,” he said. “But I feel like anyone can sort of appreciate it. It’s sort of a pretty poetic sport.”

While the Head of the Charles is one of many annual regattas around the world, some attendees said the location sets it apart from other competitions.

“I think it’s the beauty of the river. And seeing people,” Kate Andres, a volunteer at the regatta, said.

Other attendees said the enthusiastic crowds set the Head of the Charles apart.

“I love seeing people who rowed growing up and come back here,” Bob J. O’Malley, owner of a Boston rowing studio. “Their eyes light up and they’re just so excited about being back here. The sport — rowing — it has a part in their soul and you can tell. Especially if their kids are rowing and they used to row.”

Some students who attended the event said they think the Head of Charles brings a lively atmosphere to campus.

“It’s pretty exciting. There are a lot of people on campus,” Audrey Y. Chin ’23 said. “I’m excited to meet some people from all over the world. It’s just a really nice energy.”

While cheering on the rowers, many spectators indulged in tacos, sweet potato fries, and even fall-themed pumpkin spice lattes sold at stands along the river.

In addition to the vendors, local non-profits also staffed booths at the regatta to raise money. The Amigos School held a bake sale, while staffers from the Cambridge Community Foundation talked to attendees and handed out flyers.

Several members of Divest Harvard, an on-campus group that has called for the University to divest its endowment from fossil fuels, briefly held banners calling for divestment over the John W. Weeks Footbridge during a race on Sunday.

University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain did not comment on Sunday’s demonstration and referred to previous statements from University President Lawrence S. Bacow. Bacow has repeatedly rejected the idea of divestment, arguing that it would be impractical and ineffective.

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