Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A Fan’s Guide to the 2009 Head of the Charles Regatta

This weekend brings with it one of the highlights of the Boston sporting calendar: the Head of the Charles Regatta. The 45th edition of the race is this Saturday and Sunday (October 17-18), and a trip to this autumnal tradition is definitely one of the top 10 things that all Boston fans must do before the fat lady sings. If you’re interesting in watching the armada of 8,000 rowers navigate the snaking course, headwinds, and bridges, here are a few spectator tips to the 2009 Head of the Charles:

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.

Parking is much easier on Sunday. If you're driving to the regatta, free parking is much easier to find on Sunday since you'll be allowed to park for free on the side streets in Cambridge without a permit. 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.

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 free shuttle bus with stops at the Singles and Doubles Launch Site, Lars Andersen Bridge (Boston-side), Cambridge Boat Club, and the Finish Area Launch Site.

Bring a draw and schedule with you. There are more than 50 different race events, some with as many as 60 or more 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. You can purchase a program at one of the vendor areas along the river, but a cheaper 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.

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. Much like Boston rush hour, traffic on the river can be treacherous, and fender benders and close-quarter collisions worthy of NASCAR are common as boats try to pass each other and squeeze through the narrow arches of the bridges. If you're on the banks, you can have a good 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.

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 $3 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.

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.

You’ll find many more tips—along with a map of the course—in The Die-Hard Sports Fan’s Guide to Boston. The 270-page spectator handbook is packed with history and the only comprehensive guide to the incredible range of spectator sporting events in metropolitan Boston. Click here for more information or to purchase a copy.

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