Head of the Charles: Personal

Head of the Charles. Photo by Bill Damon.

Head of the Charles. Photo by Bill Damon.

The annual Head of the Charles Regatta is this weekend, October 22nd to the 23rd. The course runs from just before the Boston University Bridge to just beyond the Eliot Bridge.

If you haven’t yet made plans for the weekend, or if your plans include actively avoiding anything even remotely close to the chaos of the regatta, I hope you reconsider attending a few races. Many parts of this country will never have an opportunity to attend anything similar to this, simply because the landscape doesn’t offer a proper body of water. And you have access to it right in your own backyard.

Why should you attend the Head of the Charles?

Rowing at the Head of the Charles. Photo by Christopher Schmidt.

Rowing at the Head of the Charles. Photo by Christopher Schmidt.

If nothing else, the regatta is an excuse to stand on one of the many bridges overlooking the Charles and watch the water flow beneath the skyline. You can sip coffee as world-class rowers compete on the water beneath you. The rhythmic click of their oars will float up to your ears, along with distant cheers from the crowd and guttural instructions from the coxswains’ microphone. Unlike most sporting events, this one offers the unique opportunity to watch elite athletes row the same course as young high school kids, many of whom have never even competed outside of their home state before. All the while, you stand idly above them as the boats maneuver around dangerous curves and past crowds bigger than they’ve ever seen. I was one such kid.

Head of the Charles: Personal Story

I rowed all four years of high school and finally, in my senior year, had the opportunity to race at the Head of the Charles. I had never been to Boston, never raced on such a curved river, and never witnessed a regatta as large or well loved. It’s been many years since that race, and my memories of the actual event have blurred into one chaotic stream. I remember how the chilly New England air kept us bundled up between races and how welcome the cold was after we finished rowing. I remember our coxswain worrying about making it around the bends without grazing the wall or another boat. I remember practicing the turns as much as possible on our straight river back home without really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. We all tried not to think about what might happen if overshot a turn or, more likely, if we chugged so slowly around the bends that those precious seconds cost us the race. I remember crying when that happened.

Rowers at the Head of the Charles. Photo by Christopher Schmidt.

Rowers at the Head of the Charles. Photo by Christopher Schmidt.

I remember vendors giving out samples of various products to both athletes and spectators, and the glee we felt at being handed free stuff simply for being there. The girls in my boat kept going back for free coffee and Frisbees and stress balls in the shape of the world. I remember the intense camaraderie we experienced as we marched all over a new city in our team jackets. Just the nine of us and our coach. We were so proud to walk around in our uniforms and take pictures in front of monuments, street signs, and storefronts. We took pictures of everything. We rode the subway just to say we did it. We watched other races with teams we’d never heard of and teams we wished to someday be on. We ogled the many boathouses along the river that seemed so much grander than our own.

I remember feeling at home here, like I could happily live forever in this historic city by the water. For the next five years, I kept that regatta in the back of my mind, always waiting until a point in my life when I could move out of the Midwest. The Head of the Charles is the reason I moved to the Boston area. Even now, there are places along the river that call out to me in familiarity, as if I’m old friends with the banks of the river.

Spectator Viewing

This weekend, these experiences are going to be happening to athletes, young and old, as they converge on the city to row. You don’t have to be a rower to experience all of this for yourself. All you have to do is take a stroll by the river. You never know, the tiny kid in bow seat with a paper number pinned to her back might end up falling in love the city.

I know I’ll be there. Will you?

Getting to the Head of the Charles

There are many places for spectators to watch the races, but the start line is at the Boston University Bridge. The MBTA Green lines B or C will both get you very near the start of the race. From there, you can meander along the river until you find your favorite viewing area.

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– Elizabeth Coyle, Content Writer