Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of Course It's Good....It's Beer HOCR 2007

So this past weekend I traveled along with 8,200 other rowers and their 1,700 shells to the Head of the Charles Regatta. As the numbers might indicate, its the largest two day rowing event in the world. Throw in the Red Sox in the playoffs the same weekend and Harvard playing Princeton in their old, but looking oh so retro these days, football stadium next to the Charles and you have one happening weekend in Beantown.

I left from Dulles on Friday morning around 9:00. At the airport I ran into three women from my club who were traveling on the same flight. We chatted away while munching on bagels while we waited for our flight to board. Once in Boston, I was picked up by the bowman of my boat and whisked down to the race course. The last time I traveled to Boston to race in the HOCR (2005), it was cold and I froze my ass off. This weekend, the temperatures were in the upper 60s/lower 70s. Quite pleasant actually. Once at the race course, there wasn't much to do. We wanted to get in a practice run, but our coxswain, Katie, was at the coxswain clinic and wouldn't be finished until early afternoon. Our club had two entries for the men - Senior Masters 8+, which is the boat I would be in and a Club 8+. The Club 8+ had all their crew together so they headed out for their practice. Since we were sharing a boat with the Club 8+ and Katie wouldn't be back for a while, I took the opportunity to walk through the vendor tents, although most were still setting up their booths. It also started to drizzle so I found an empty chair in the Pocock Boat tent where several members of our team, both men and women, had taken refuge and took a nap. One thing you learn quickly about rowing at regattas is that there is a lot of downtime with not much to do. Eventually Katie returned from her clinic all the wiser on steering on the Charles and the Club 8+ were back with our boat and soaked from the rain. As we launched, it seemed every other boat had the same idea and the river was very crowded. It took us forever to get up to the start. The row up was just horrible. We couldn't set the boat properly consequently our oars were dragging on the water on the recovery and our reach was short. Once at the start, we rowed back at about half pressure so not to wear ourselves out. We had stretches that felt good, but overall it was a disappointing practice. It did not bode well for tomorrow's race. After we returned to the dock and placed the boat on slings, we headed back to the hotel. The hotel sits right on the Charles and looking out my window, i could see the boats practicing for tomorrow. i was sharing a room with the coxswain of the Club 8+. A nice kid, but since he's all of 18, if that, we didn't have a lot in common. Its not like we could have a beer or two and botch about how bad we rowed that day. We had no set dinner plans and trying to find a place that could handle 14 people turned out to be a task. We finally settled for a Thai restaurant after our first two choices, A Bertucci's and an Uno's both had waits of over an hour. Now nothing against Thai food, but its certainly not my food of choice when I have to race the following day. I ended up getting a meal of duck, broccoli and rice. And two Kirins. From that came the title of this entry. As I was drinking my first beer, which is brewed in Thailand, the stroke for our boat asked what I was drinking and was it any good. My reply was "Of course its good. Its beer." My teammates found this reply somewhat cute, I guess and it became the catch phrase for the weekend. I'm so proud. This is the view from my hotel room overlooking the Charles.

Saturday dawned warm, but overcast and windy. After snagging the free hotel breakfast and grabbing a bagel to eat later on after our race, we loaded up and headed down to the race course. We were not using our regular shell for this race. Our usual shell is made by WinTech and they graciously agreed to let us use one of their demo shells that they were displaying at the regatta. Its rows much better than our slightly older WinTech. The boat was ready to go when we got there so all we had to do was wait for our start time. When it came for our time to launch, we headed out and rowed up to the start. There were 45 boats in our event. Our bow number was 41 so we were toward the tail end of the pack. Its quite a rush to see that many boats assembled in one area waiting to head off. We could hear the other boats being called to the start line and started off in a single file procession. Soon enough our number was called and we headed off to the start line. Our star,t as we approach the line, is to row by stern 6 using the bow pair to provide a stable platform. This allows the stern 6 to get the stroke rate and power where they want it and not worry about the set. About 10 strokes from the start line the bow pair joins in. Its really a rush when you hear them call your name: "Prince William you're now on the course". We had a good start and within a minute we were under the first bridge by the Boston University boathouse. Almost immediately after going under the bridge, Katie told us we had almost caught our first boat. That were only about 10 meters behind them. We settled into our race pace of 30 to 31 strokes per minute. I figured we'd run that first boat down soon enough. Halfway through the race we were still 10 meters behind, but we finally overtook them. Turns out it was a crew from Ireland that had made the trip over. We fought with them for almost 2 miles before we got a clear lead. As we approached the final bridge, the Elliot Street Bridge, we were passed by another boat. As they approached, i thought it strange they had Bow Number 2. I guess they had gotten up to the start late and had started at the back of the pack. We finished with a time of 18:18 good initially for 28th place out of 45. However, two boats ahead of us were given time 1:00 minute time penalties for various infractions and that allowed us to move up two places to 26th. The oat in 25th place finished less than a second ahead of us and the 24th boat a mere 1.5 seconds. We were pleased with the result. Our Women's Senior Masters 8+ did even better placing 7th and earning an automatic invite for next year. Our men's Club 8+ finished 63rd and the Women's Club 8+ finished 39th. Overall a good result for our Club.

As rowers we try to stay hydrated. The downside is you spend a lot of time waiting in line to use the porta potties. The closer to race time, the more you have to go.

For us non-Boston types, one of the highlights post race is enjoying a bowl of "Chowda" from a bread bowl. Here Daughter#1 waits while her bf buys a bowl.

My teammates enjoy the same.

Our Club 8+ poses for a group photo before they launch.
After launching, our Club 8+ heads up to the start line.

The Club 8+ racing approximately 500 meter from the finish line.

After we finished our race, I changed into some dry clothes and just in time to meet up with Daughter#1 and her boyfriend. She was up from CT to cox for her rowing club. She wasn't racing until 3:30 so it gave us a chance to hang out and buy t-shirts and food. She had been on the Elliot Street bridge cheering for our boat as we passed underneath. I could hear her yelling and i kept telling myself, Don't look up...Don't look up, but of course I did. When it was her time to race, we watched her launched and headed off to the bridge and cheered her as she came through. her boat finished 4th. so she did the best of us all. Its nice to be able to share this sport with her and getting to see her at the various regattas. Because she's young and therefore poor, she and the boyfriend were headed back to CT after she raced and had put her boat back on their boat trailer.
Here's an example of what can happen when your coxswain steers the boat to close to one of the bridges. These guys are from England and their 7 seat holds his damaged oar. I'm sure this will make for some grand stories at the pub when they return home.
Daughter#1's Women's master 4+ from the Saugatuck Rowing Club carry their shell down to the launch dock.

Stepping into their shell. Their coach is on the far left. She rowed on the Romanian Junior National Team and then coached their National Team at the Olympics at Barcelona

Getting ready to push of the dock. This 4+ is known as a bow loader, which means the coxswain is in front of her rowers rather than behind them in the rear of the boat.

Bow seat strokes the shell away from the dock.

Rowing upstream to the start.

Cambridge Boat House as seen from the Elliot Street Bridge.

Daughter#1's 4+ coming around the turn leading to the Elliot Street Bridge.

On their way to a 4th place finish.

I headed back to our hotel and got cleaned up and a large group of us, about 34, headed to the Mount Vernon restaurant for lobsters, other assorted seafood and prime rib and plenty of drinks. We all got to bond and swap stories and drink too much, but it was a load of fun.

Sunday it was home and a long nap. You can see a clip of my race here at the 1:46.25 mark. Click on the link for the races on 10/20/2007.

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