By Sam Williams’24
Boston’s Head of the Charles Regatta is the largest rowing regatta in the world drawing 11,000 rowers from all over. Since 1965, the race has only been cancelled twice: in 1996 due to heavy winds and also in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent years, the regatta has grown from a two-day event to a three-day event to accommodate more rowers. The Head of the Charles consists of 65 unique categories, ranging from a youth category for rowers 17 and younger to a Senior Veteran category for rowers aged 70 and older. In addition to the high school and collegiate races, there are events for college alumni, events for disabled rowers and for parents and children. This year, 2,231 total boats competed in front of tens of thousands of spectators who lined the banks of the Charles River and watched from the seven bridges that boats must pass under during the race on the windy and clear weekend of October 22-24th.
Distinctly different from the more controlled, sprint-style races of 1,500 to 2,000 meters that take place during the spring season for high schools, colleges and international competitions, a head race is a race against the clock. Each crew crosses the starting line alone, at full speed, only to be chased by the next crew, starting about 15 seconds later. Many factors beyond the control of the crew, such as the curvy river, turns under bridges, when a crew may pass or be overtaken by another crew, all combine to make the Head of the Charles infamous for collisions. This race is all about steering, which is done by a coxswain in some boats or by the bow seat rower in others.
The importance of this race is clear by its list of competitors. This year, as in most, races included multiple boats from Brown, Cornell, Harvard, Yale, the University of Washington, and many other colleges with famous rowing teams; as well as boats filled with recent Olympic rowers. Some international teams were unable to travel to the U.S. for the race this year because of ongoing COVID-19 travel restrictions.
In order to secure a spot for the next year’s race, a team must finish in the top 50% of their category. If they are unable to finish in the top half, however, there is a random draw for the other half of the category that could still allow the school or club to be included. This year, the fastest boat down the course was a University of Washington Men’s8 with a time of 13:59.
On October 22nd, the Frederick Gunn School boys’ first boat traveled to Boston and practiced on the Charles River in preparation for this very important day in the world of a high school crew. On Sunday the 24th, at 11:28 am, the Men’s Youth Fours race set off. It included 84 boats from across the country, including our own FGS crew, stroked by Jack Nettleton ’24, with Taji Duncan ‘23 in three seat, Iñigo Escudero ’22 in two seat, and Michael Burns ‘22 in bow. Aria Trotta ’23 coxed the crew down the complicated course. FGS finished 61st out of 84 boats, a strong showing after a lost season in 2020 and limited racing in 2021. The team plans to return to the Head of the Charles next year if the draw allows it.