Head of the Charles, winners of the men's eight, the composite sculling eight.
Winners of the men's eight, the composite sculling eight © Joseph Provenzane

In Boston, rowing was already a popular sport, dominated by local universities, with club houses lining the river. When three members of the Cambridge Boat Club decided to hold the 4.8 km Head of the Charles, it did not take too much prompting to secure a sizeable entry of 100 crews. Attended by university crews and members of a few local clubs, there were barely any spectators and racing was over in two hours.

Fifty years later nearly 10,500 athletes competed, making up 2,200 crews and about 400,000 spectators lined the banks over the two days of racing. The race course and distance has remained the same using the Charles’s winding, five-bridge, technical course with boats starting one at a time.  It now attracts entries from around the world, with 32 countries attending this year.

It also attracted some of the competitors from that 1965 beginning. One of the three original creators, and sole survivor, D’Arcy MacMahon, 75, not only turned up at the event, but he also raced it in a single that was used in the event 50 years ago.

Also coming back after racing in ’65 was a men’s four from Penn AC Rowing Association in Philadelphia. In the 1965 race they beat local crew, Harvard University to win the first ever Head of the Charles elite men’s four. After competing as teenagers in 1965, they are all now in their late 60s but have kept in touch over time. Phil Jonik travelled from California, John Campbell from Montana and Jerry Dudley and Greg Stefan came from Pennsylvania. 

Over the years, a considerable increase in the size of the event has seen a shift from a purely volunteer organisation to paid staff including a full-time executive director. In 1991 Fred Schoch was hired as the executive director and 24 years later he knows the Head of the Charles inside out.

“In that time, I’ve taken the lead in developing the HOCR brand and all the corporate partnerships which are so important to keeping our event running smoothly.  At the same time, I’ve enjoyed influencing the race programme and adding events like the parent/child double and directors’ challenge quad race,” says Schoch.

Planning for the 50th anniversary began more than a year ago with an extra staff member employed in anticipation of the event. “We had a smashing 50th Gala Dinner for 850 people on Saturday night. We had a gorgeous 50th Exhibition Tent for spectators to see a timeline of the HOCR.  And (to be released early next year) a book and a film,” says Schoch.

Adding to the excitement of this year’s regatta was a race against two composite crews in the championship men’s eight. One was made up of some of the best scullers in the world (John Graves (USA), Mahe Drysdale (NZL), Ondrej Synek (CZE), Olaf Tufte (NOR), Martin and Valent Sinkovic (CRO), Roel Braas (NED) and Julien Bahain (CAN) ) and the other made up of some of the best sweep rowers (Josh Dunkley-Smith (AUS), Olivier Siegelaar (NED), Hamish Bond (NZL), Henrik Rummel (USA), Richard Schmidt (GER), Conlin McCabe (CAN), Francesco Fossi (ITA) and Jacob Barsoe (DEN).

The scullers proved to be the better boat, beating the sweep boat by three seconds. Harvard University finished third just a fraction ahead of the United States national team boat. Most of the sculling crew competed the day prior with the Sinkovic brothers winning the men’s championship doubles race with Synek and Tufte teaming up to finish down the rankings following a time penalty.

For the men’s championship single Bahain was third, just ahead of Drysdale in fourth. This race was won by Under-23 World Champion in the lightweight single, Andrew Campbell of the United States. From Boston, Campbell had the home course advantage, but this didn’t stop him from hitting a goose while racing and still finishing with a new course record.

In the women’s championship eight, a composite crew of some of the best international scullers – Gevvie Stone (USA), Kim Crow (AUS), Mirka Knapkova (CZE), Carling Zeeman (CAN), Chantal Achterberg (NED), Sanita Puspure (IRL), Magdalena Lobnig (AUT) and Donata Vistartaite (LTU) – easily won ahead of the United States national team with the University of Virginia in third.

Bow seat of the eight, Stone also won the women’s championship single. A Boston local, Stone admitted that knowing the river well was an advantage. Lightweight medallist from the World Rowing Championships, Kate Bertko (USA) was second, with Crow in third. Vistartaite and Knapkova teamed up to finish second in the women’s championship double behind the Dutch crew of Inge Janssen and Elisabeth Hogerwerf.

For full results: http://www.hocr.org/