Head of the Charles on tap for crew

by Jennifer Chen | 10/22/93 6:00am

Some go for the races, some go for the free apple cider and some for the thrill of being part of a crowd larger than any ever found in Hanover.

Every October about 100 Dartmouth students make the two-hour trek to Cambridge, Mass. to see the Head of the Charles regatta, the biggest rowing event of the season.

Dartmouth's men's lightweight, men's heavyweight and women's squads compete annually with other national, college and high school teams.

This year, Dartmouth students can get a round-trip bus ticket to Cambridge for $22. Courtney Murphy '95, who is chartering two buses, said the buses are almost filled to capacity.

The regatta is a big social event for students from colleges and high schools across the nation, Murphy said.

Each year, the Friday and Saturday nights before the regatta, students gather at Harvard Square for massive parties, according to Chris White '96, a member of the lightweight crew team.

Sunday morning around 8:30 a.m., students and other visitors crowd the banks and the six bridges over the three-mile race course on the Charles River to cheer on their teams.

"The river is lined on one side with spectators," White said. "All the roads are shut off for the day and the bridges are just packed."

Alumni clubs of the colleges represented in the regatta hand out free food from hospitality tents along the river. The Dartmouth Alumni Club of Greater Boston usually hands out free apple cider and donuts at the regatta.

Families and other groups also hold picnics and cookouts along the river banks.

Men's varsity heavyweight crew Coach Scott Armstrong said a few years ago the regatta was a much larger event than it is today.

"Five years ago they banned alcohol from the Charles and now [the regatta] is a much smaller, tamer event," he said. "But the mystique lives on."

Lightweight crew member David Shaff '94 also noted the dramatic decrease in drinking at the regatta, though he said a lot of alcohol is still consumed during the weekend.

"They used to have kegs up and down the river," he said. "The Boston and Cambridge police have been trying to cut down the free drinking, but it's still there."

The drop-off in drinking has made the regatta a more popular event for families in the last few years, Shaff said, though the nighttime parties in Harvard Square are frequented only by students.

The number of Dartmouth students who go down to the Charles for the regatta each year has not noticeably decreased the last few years despite a scuffle that occurred between Dartmouth students and Cambridge residents three years ago.

In October of 1990, several Dartmouth students were singing the alma mater at the Harvard Square subway station when local residents began throwing debris at them. Some students left the square with black eyes and bloody noses.

"The people who got attacked provoked it," Brian Crounse '94, captain of the men's lightweight team, said. "They were trying to mock Harvard while congregating in the Pit, the second home of Cambridge's discontented teenage youth. The Dartmouth people were acting like really clueless 'shmen."

While many of the Dartmouth students are going to Cambridge this weekend solely to visit friends at Boston-area colleges, many are going to see the regatta.

Jen Jolicoeur '97, a coxswain for the novice women's crew team, said she is going to see the regatta to get an idea of how a race works.

Jay Lavender '97 said many of his friends highly recommended he see it.

"The guys from my high school who rode in it said it was a blast," he said.

Jolicoeur and many of the students going to Cambridge will stay overnight in dorm rooms and houses of friends at colleges in the Boston area.

Both Shaff and lightweight crew member Chris Schmidt '96 said the team is excited for the races this weekend.

"We've got the fast eight going down, so we're hoping to do well," Schmidt said.

Shaff said the seniors on the lightweight team are hoping to make their last trip to the Charles a successful one.

"We're all psyched to put in a last good effort," he said.

Both Armstrong and head women's crew coach Barb Kirsh said they are confident the Dartmouth crew teams will make a strong showing this weekend.

"This is an event that has national team level oarsmen at it," Armstrong said. "We're going to stack up against the best crews in the country, of which we are one."

"We're going to kick some Crimson butt," he added.