Boston, special envoy
Behind the leaves, a passing boat. Then another, and another, and another … In the middle of oaks, maples and sycamores, the Charles River has just hosted, this weekend, on the east coast of the United States, the largest gathering of rowing to the world. For its fiftieth edition, the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) welcomed an endless stream of boats on the river that separates the cities of Boston and Cambridge.
” I took a vacation just for that. It’s fascinating, this race that brings together teenagers and rowers of grandparent age ”, says Cynthia Espeseth, 50, in the exhibitors’ village, as she prepares to compete in one of the races on the program. Around her, 2,266 boats, 10,476 rowers, and 61 races throughout the weekend. ” I know I could never make the Olympics, but at least I would have made the Head of the Charles “, adds the one who traveled from Seattle where she is a priest in an episcopal church, totally at the other end of the country.
In the car parks that border the river, numerous license plates from all over the United States are topped by a boat. “To be here, we drove eighteen hours in a vansays Austin Burris, a 21-year-old student from Michigan in the North. And before, to collect the money for the trip, we worked in the previous months by cleaning the American football stadium of our university after the games, or by clearing snow-covered roads. “
Speakers and folding chairs
In 1965, two members of the Cambridge Rowing Club decided to create the regatta to extend their season until the fall. Today, the old wooden premises of this club still house the headquarters of the Head of the Charles Regatta. On the roof, around thirty foreign flags. Like so many winks to all the countries represented by at least one athlete in a crew: Romania, Croatia, Turkey, Israel, England, Germany …
France is also represented, and in a rather advantageous way. The tri-color selection of rowing eight made the trip specially to align with one of the races. “This is not the main goal of the season, but it is a legendary rowing race”, said national coach Yannick Schulte. In the crosshairs, the group already has the 2015 world championships which it will compete in Aiguebelette (Savoie), and the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.
Binoculars, folding chairs, or a camera with a telephoto lens, each spectator has their own technique for observing the winding course of the Blues and their competitors. Here, it’s better to listen and listen to the speakers that line the route. Each crew takes turns ten seconds apart. ” Normally, points out Cédric Berrest, also a member of the French 8, oHe is used to practicing the Olympic format, with 2-kilometer line races in pools that almost resemble swimming pools. However, there it is a time trial with different navigation rules, a much longer course. “
“Often, with these crowded black banks, I have the impression that it is an arena more than 4 kilometers long”, completes his teammate Benjamin Lang. According to the figures of the organizers, this fall event was to bring together some 400,000 spectators in the space of these two days. Crowds difficult to verify. As if nothing had happened, on the sidewalks, joggers and cyclists made their way among the many strollers pushed by spectators.
During competition, on the Cambridge side, motorists are prohibited from using the road along the course. While on the Boston shore, yellow school buses are turning into shuttles to take spectators from one point to another in the race. “I come every year to see the race, the river is part of our daily life, even on other days, there are often pleasure boats on it”, recalls Barbara Evans, 62-year-old nanny born and raised in Cambridge, a city of 100,000 inhabitants that only bridges separate from Boston, a metropolis six times more populated.
“Beers with a rope “
Bridges, the route of the Head of the Charles Regatta has five. Rather confusing, for rowers not familiar with this type of obstacle: “If they do not know each other well, they sometimes collide with their oars at the foundations of the bridges, so the spectators cry out to warn them. In the past, some spectators placed on a bridge above them also offered them beers, using a rope, during the competition “, says John Powers, journalist who has been covering the event since the 1970s for the Boston globe.
In its Sunday edition, the daily devoted the “front page” of its sports pages to the event. An exhibition window more than appreciable for rowing enthusiasts. “Even in the United States, rowing is an almost invisible sport, except every year during this weekend in Boston”, says Bruce Smith, executive director of Community Rowing Inc (CRI), a huge club that welcomes more than 1,000 rowers every day along the Charles River. “This sport also has a reputation as an elitist sport and we are trying to remedy it by organizing introductory sessions in public schools in Boston or by offering free registration to soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan”, adds this French Canadian.
Harvard on the podium
For the time being, rowing in the United States is the preserve of the country’s prestigious universities, proud of their tradition. Witness the caps, sweatshirts or K-ways bearing the image of this or that establishment. In fact, the Head of the Charles Regatta owes a large part of its success to establishments in Boston and its surroundings, the country’s main university hub (Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University …) Then to the involvement of other university sections spread across the country. “Of the 10,000 participants, around 60% are students”, says Fred Schoch, the race’s executive director.
No coincidence, from this point of view, that the French team had to settle for 6th place out of 36 during their race. The tri-color crew of eight oarsmen completed their time trial in 14 min 37 s 94. Besides two American clubs, Craftsbury Sculling Center (1st) and the Taurus Boat Club (2nd), and the national selection of United States (4th), two universities in the country managed to place themselves ahead of the French eight: those of Washington (5th) and Harvard (3rd). For the last quoted, the performance will surely have been celebrated as it should be in its “ boathouse ”in red wood which shelters dozens of oars, facing the Charles river.