Friday, October 17, 2008

Head of the Charles Spectator Tips

This weekend is one of the best on the Boston sporting calendar. The 45th Head of the Charles Regatta is this Saturday and Sunday, and the weather is supposed to be sunny, if not a little crisp, but that will make it feel like the great fall tradition that it is. More than 8,000 rowers will be competing in the world's largest two-day regatta. So if you're putting on your fleece and heading on out, here are a few tips:

Parking is much easier on Sunday than Saturday. If you're driving in, free parking is much easier to find on Sunday since you'll be allowed to park on the side streets in Cambridge without a permit. The streets around Harvard Square are good areas to park. Be aware that the parking lots along Soldiers Field Road are closed to the public and that Harvard football is playing on Saturday so parking on the first day of the regatta will be at even more of a premium. If you can take the T, do so. You can walk to the river from the Central and Harvard stops on the Red Line and the BU Central stop on the Green Line's B Branch. 

Bring a draw and schedule with you. There are 57 different race events, some with as many as 69 competitors, so it's tough to keep track of who's who. Each boat has a number on its bow, so if you have the draw with you, you'll be able to identify competitors and teams. There is a draw on the Head of the Charles web site, but you'll have to print reams of paper. Better option is to get a copy of the Friday Boston Globe. It has the complete schedule and list of competitors, which you can easily tear out, fold up, and take with you. 

Watch the clock. Rowers start at 15-second intervals near the BU Boathouse, so they compete against the clock and not each other. You won't be able to follow a race from start to finish or even get a good sense of who is winning at any given point in time. One clue of how the boats are doing is, if you're watching down the course, if you see a bow with a higher number in front of one with a lower number. That means they are racing at least 15 seconds faster through that point on the course. You'll need to catch a glimpse of one of the race results board to see who has won a particular race. 

Take a shuttle. If you want to watch the action along the winding three-mile course from the starting line to the finish line, and don't want to walk, there is a shuttle bus that runs between 7 am and 7 pm on Saturday and Sunday. Print out this course map, which has the shuttle stops marked on it. 

Stake out a bridge. There are seven bridges that span the Charles River along the race course. They are great places from which to catch the action. If you get there early enough, you should be able to stake out a spot from on top of the bridge and see the competitors as they row underneath. I actually like seeing the action from the banks right next to the bridge. On occasion teams have trouble negotiating underneath the bridges, particularly if more than one team at once is going through. You will see the occasional crash, and there are times where some boats have taken on water and gone underneath. If you're up on the bridge, you won't have a view of the commotion. The Eliot Bridge is my favorite spot from which to watch. You'll see the competitors having to negotiate the hairpin turn and straighten out to get through the bridge. Plus, you can listen to the commentary being broadcast from the deck of the Cambridge Boat Club, which is the race headquarters. 

Need some food? There are concession stands located at the Cambridge Boat Club, the Rowing and Fitness Expo (which also sells workout and rowing gear) near the finish line, the north bank of the Charles right outside of Harvard Square near the Weld Boathouse, and at Magazine Beach near the launch. Think fair food: lots of kettle corn, hot chocolate, chowder, hot cider, burgers, hot dogs, fried dough. There's also food and drink at the Reunion Village (see below). Sometimes the exhibitors near the Weld Boathouse will be giving out free samples of food and drink products; you might be able to get all the Kashi and Monster Energy drinks you'll ever want to have. Check the map for concession locations. 

Reunited and it feels so good. Many colleges and prep schools, mostly ones with teams racing in the regatta, have alumni reunion events at the Regatta. Most of these schools have tents set up inside the Reunion Village, which is on the south bank of the Charles near Harvard Square, between the Weeks and Anderson bridges. Even if you're not an alumni member, the Reunion Village is open to everyone for a $1 admission. Breakfast and lunch are served in the dining tent, and the Reunion Village is the only place along the route where you can legally get a beer or other alcohol. Click here for a list of schools participating in the village. 

Bring your camera. If you're a shutterbug, you'll get some great action shots, particularly around Harvard where you can get the rowers in front of the campus' traditional brick buildings. There should be a splash of color among the trees, as well. 

Bring a blanket or chair. There are plenty of spots along the banks of the Charles to watch the action, but bring a blanket or lawn chair and you'll be a lot more comfortable. 

Have fun!

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