PCBC: ‘On Tour’ at the Head of the Charles!
PCBC would like to thank our main trip sponsor, Michael Keeley (1987, stroke of the Mays M1 in 1988 and 1989) for his extremely generous donation. We would also like to thank Paul Lyristis (1980) for his donation towards the entry fees and, of course, our main club sponsor Mayer Brown.
Pembroke College Boat Club has recently completed its first major international trip to the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR) in Boston, USA. Held over the weekend of October 22nd/23rd 2011, this international head race attracted over 9000 competitors and 300,000 spectators, with PCBC forming part of a contingent of small, but competitive, international rowers who made the long trip to the banks of the Charles. PCBC entered two boats; a Men’s 8+ and a Women’s 4+, both of which yielded respectable results in the competitive Club division. The Women’s 4+ posted a particularly good result, finishing 14 out of 45 crews in their division and thus earning a guaranteed entry for PCBC in that event next year. The Men also posted a respectable result, finishing 29 out of 39 but within 11% of the winning time, indicating the strength of the competition in that particular division. Racing aside, PCBC also had the opportunity to catch up with several Boston based alums at the Oxford/Cambridge Society of New England tent as well as mix with the Harvard rowing team at their Annual Fall Dinner. All in all, it was a great weekend that has hopefully set PCBC up for a year of excellent racing on the Cam and beyond!
Thursday: Planes, minibuses and the wrong passport….
Thursday dawned bright and early with a giddy group of rowers gathered uncharacteristically early for the minibus journey down to Heathrow. On went the PCBC ‘trip gilet’ and off we went to pose for the first of many trip photos in front of the Old Library. Shortly after, the minibus arrived, passports were checked and we were underway, all fired up by trough coffee.
Upon arriving at the Virgin Atlantic check-in desk, a disturbing discovery unfolded. Rosamund had grabbed a blue passport but failed to check if it was hers or not and had the unpleasant surprise of realizing that it was in fact her infant son’s passport (a cruel twist of fate considering the fact that she had insisted on seeing everyone else’s passports prior to boarding the minibus). Schadenfreude rippled through the ranks at this surprise development but one very expensive taxi courier later, she was on the flight (albeit much poorer).
After that, things improved. Virgin Atlantic swapped from a Boeing 737 to a 747 and as a result the plane was half-full, leaving PCBC to stretch their legs. All was quiet until another unusual event intervened to spice up the journey. Against all the odds, Verity Bennett (bow, W4+) managed to hit her head on the airplane toilet sink and give herself a black eye. The Virgin air steward said he had never seen anything like it and it was clear that everyone on that plane believed him. Six hours, one incident report, and a bag of ice later, we landed at Logan, cleared immigration and made our way to our hostel.
Samantha Bennett (stroke, W4+) assumed the role of trusted tour guide at this point. An MIT alum who had often graced the leafy streets of the Back Bay, her route to the 40 Berkeley Hostel ensured that everyone got a complete tour of the neighbourhood.
Hunger pains were setting in at this point, and after a quick check-in, the crews trouped off to Fire and Ice, a famed Boston eatery. After indulging in some fine fare, the crews went off to bed, tired and looking forward to their first row on the Charles.
Friday: Wind, waves and whining
Friday morning was bright and brisk with a sharp New England breeze blowing across the Charles Basin in gusts of up to 30mph. Undeterred, everyone made their way to the MIT Pierce Boathouse where Samantha’s connections as a former ‘Beaver’ had secured the loan of a Men’s 8+, Women’s 4+ and accompanying sets of blades. Showing up at the Pierce, the men were directed to a solid black Vespoli whereas the women were shown to a brand new (unraced) bowloading Vespoli lightweight 4+! As the beautiful black boats slid off the rack, the whitecapped waves on the basin of the Charles seemed to increase in size, slightly reminiscent of the PCBC 2010 tour to Galway when they had to battle the waves on the mighty Lough Derg. The stakes were slightly higher this time though with the sleek Vespolis on the line but the coxswains took it in stride, and after a brief ‘settings’ outing, a few necessary adjustments were made before the main pre-race afternoon outing.
Following the morning outing, in homage to the Head of the Charles’ reputation as the ‘ultimate coxswains race,’ Moses Hoyt (Men’s cox) and Alexander Whiscombe (Women’s cox) travelled up to the Harvard sports ground with Rosamund to attend a coxing clinic held by Yaz Farooq, a former US National team coxswain. Both Moses and Alex said that the clinic was brilliant and very useful, and with this clinic under their belts, the coxswains emerged ready to do battle with the mighty Charles and all of its bridges.
Arriving back at the Pierce boathouse for the second outing of the day, it was clear that jet lag and dehydration was plaguing the crews, as the level of whining about the coxes being 30 minutes late had reached a fever pitch (the 4 mile walk back to the boathouse took longer than anticipated, you see). Undeterred, the coxes took command of the outing and got everyone back into the right frame of mind again for their practice row up the course.
The men’s 8+ took a settling paddle down the first mile of the course, picking out their landmarks and ‘push points’ on the way. Nielsen-Kellerman (coxbox maker) had the last laugh as the Women’s coxbox died 20 minutes into their spin, despite not being used that much. Notes were taken to charge the coxboxes within an inch of their life, quick tactical crew chats followed, and the crews made their way back to 40 Berkeley St to prepare themselves for the Annual Harvard Crew Dinner, held at the Harvard Club that night.
In another stroke of good fortune, Elihu Reynolds, a Harvard heavyweight rower and prospective Pembroke graduate had invited PCBC to attend the Annual Harvard Crew Dinner at the Harvard Club. The Reynolds family generously hosted our dinners there and we all had a brilliant night mixing with the Harvard rowers and Harvard alums. Luckily the dinner was not a long one and by 10pm, everyone was saying their goodbyes and thanks at the Harvard Club. On a humorous note, whilst on the walk back to the hostel, our boat club blazers (particularly Aliastair Chappelle’s CULRC blazer) caught the eyes of a few Bostonians who mistook PCBC for a glee club. Rather than correct this mistake, everyone broke out into song and dance and livened up the Boston night. With that interlude over, PCBC went off to bed, excited and looking forward to the racing the next day.
Saturday: Racing, Bridges, Crowds-for the Martlet!!
Race Day! The morning was bright, the wind was down and the tension and excitement was palpable in the ranks. PCBC indulged in some nervous chitchat over the hostel waffle makers while considering whether maple syrup was an asset or liability to rowing performance. These issues aside, water bottles were filled, lycra was donned and the crews headed off to do the Martlet proud.
The women were the first to race and they arrived at the Pierce at 11am for their race at 12:41pm. After a focused warm-up on the MIT ergs and a brief pre-race prep talk from Rosamund, Alex was soon calling ‘Hands On’ to the beautiful black Vespoli and before they knew it , the 4+ was in the basin doing some warm-up laps and getting marshaled for the race. The women’s 4+ powered through the start shortly after 12:50pm, rowing across it at about a 34 spm before settling to their race pace of around a 29spm.
Quickly passing under the BU Bridge and then on to the Powerhouse stretch, the women strode out to a good rhythm set down by Samantha. With Verity (bow) communicating essentials to Alex (as it was a bowloaded boat) the PCBC 4+ made its way up the Charles on a smart and clean course. Trailing the women the whole time was a very fast Riverside Boat Club (Boston) 4+ and while the Riverside boat eventually overtook PCBC just before the Weeks bridge, pushing off this crew (which eventually finished 4th overall) meant that PCBC had a very good boat to pace against. 5k later with a time of 20:48, the crew crossed the finish line with the coxbox literally dying on the last stroke of the race! Undeterred, Alex got the crew and the boat back safely to the Pierce, where the mood was high and everyone was delighted with the racing. This good mood was further sustained when the provisional results were posted (and then confirmed): the Women’s 4+ had finished 14th out of 45 and within a minute of the winning time! This is an excellent result for PCBC and one that guarantees them entry into this event at next year’s Head of the Charles.
After a couple of laps around the very orderly ‘warmup square’ in the Charles Basin, the men’s 8+ were similarly fired up as they funneled through a very efficient circulation procedure and up the start. Composed and focused after that inspirational coxing talk, Moses brought the men under control and switched the eight into race-mode. The men powered through the start at 35-36spm, and maintained strong momentum throughout the opening section of the race through the BU Bridge. The eagerly chasing Brown Alumni crew were kept behind and acted as the perfect motivation to keep the strokes powerful and together as the crew passed the 1 mile waypoint.
Confident and capable, Moses singled out the ‘steering tree’ on the right bank as we approached the Weeks Bridge, and with his eyes on the gold-capped steeple in the near distance, steered a perfect line under the middle arch and through the tight turn that followed.
It was then time for bowside to commit. Big time. It’s clear from the course map that the final bend is a monster – 2 miles in, on a new river and in a new boat, the men maintained their focus as they passed the Cambridge Boat Club and the gigantic crowds in the finish enclosure. With both the Brown Alums and a crew decked in fluorescent orange in hot pursuit, PCBC were pushed to come together and finish the job down the finish straight. I’m pleased to report that both crews were kept well at bay, as PCBC crossed the line having maintained order against the strong crews on their tail.
The final result showed a respectable 29th place finish; whilst not quite the race we’d dreamed of, the men were proud of their efforts and particular congratulations went to their coxswain, Moses, for an exemplary race showing an impressive command of one of the toughest head courses in the world.
After the racing was done, relief and exhaustion set in, with the need for food and a few celebratory drinks being on the cards. The crews ended up back at the 40 Berkeley before disappearing to the depths of Boston guided by Siri – Apple’s latest ‘genius’ iPhone personal assistant. Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before Siri was abandoned and plan B (following one’s nose) led us to a handy little Irish bar in the Back Bay to round off the evening.
Sunday was another beautiful New England autumn day and with the racing over, it was time for PCBC to really enjoy the Regatta and all of the activities that surrounded it. Everyone met at the Reunion Village enclosure, where the Oxford and Cambridge Society of New England had a tent and had kindly invited PCBC to watch of the racing from their hospitality area.
Settling down with some coffees and sandwiches, PCBC watched the boys’ and girls junior 8+s take some ambitious (if not dangerous) lines through the Weeks and Anderson bridges – it was rowing entertainment of the Cambridge bumping variety and much enjoyed by all! PCBC also got to catch up with several alums at the Reunion Village, with Anthony Marcus getting the prize for coming the farthest (from Washington DC) to watch the race!
After a bit of time at the Reunion Village, PCBC piled into the ‘shuttle bus’ which took us all down to the Finish line launching and expo area. The shuttle bus was in fact a large yellow American school bus and the novelty of this experience provided a high point of excitement for the day. Upon disembarking from the school bus at the finish line launching area, PCBC was greeted by the sight of a sea of trailers, shells and trucks stretching (almost) as far as the eye could see.
Further wonders were to be had in the expo area where brave PCBC-ers tried out new rowing technology such as the ‘Swingulator’ and the Concept II ‘dynamic ergs’ whilst munching down on complimentary granola bars and wondering how much lycra is too much lyrca for one person to own.
Watching the Championship Eights barrel down the course at the end really finished off the day and our dinner hosts from the Friday night (Harvard) took pride of place, winning the Championship Eights in convincing style, pipping the US National Team by over five seconds for the win.
Laden down with lycra and with heads full of new ideas, the crews got back onto the school bus and made their way back to the trusty 40 Berkeley before embarking on the next adventure-a trip to the North End, the Italian section of Boston in order to sample some cannollis and fine Italian fare.
Monday was a free day with everyone being given the instruction that they had to be present in body (if not mind) at Logan Airport at 5pm for the flight home. Various people went to various places, with two of the party getting to drive a Duck Boat (Will & Samantha), while others learned about the Great Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919 (Verity). Others indulged in their penchant for shopping for dodgy neon clothing (Moses), while Will Deacon (5 seat, 8+) managed to get mistaken for a glee club member again.
Arriving promptly at Logan Airport at 5pm a very tired and low key group boarded the plane, looking forward to getting back to Cambridge and good old Pembroke. A few token doughnuts were bought and consumed for old times sake and a mere 6 hrs later, we were all back in the UK with some people making it back in time for their Tuesday lectures.
All in all, this was a fabulous experience both for the individuals who raced and travelled, but also for PCBC. Sending two crews to a race of this caliber and prestige has set the bar high for the upcoming year and we hope that this has motivated younger or less experienced people within the club to keep on training, developing and learning so that someday they can find themselves at a similar (or the same!) event. We are, of course, very grateful Michael Keeley, our main trip sponsor, as well as the multitude of people (listed below) that helped get us to Boston and we hope someday to be in a position to do the same for future generations of PCBCers.
With many thanks…
- Michael Keeley (1987), our main trip sponsor
- Paul Lyristis (1980) our entry sponsor
- William Charnley and Mayer Brown, our main corporate sponsors
- Sir Richard Dearlove, President of PCBC and staunch advocate of this trip
- Matthew Mellor, Director of the Pembroke Development Office for helping to arrange the sponsorship
- Our coaches: Matthew Stallard, Paul Meadows, Chris Covey and Sidney Richards
- Elizabeth Diamond, Head of the Charles Regatta Secretary for facilitating the entry
- Tony Kilbridge, the MIT Director of Rowing for lending us boats and blades and Jeff, the MIT boatman for helping us set-up the boats
- Richard Mansfield and the Oxford and Cambridge Society of New England for hosting us at their hospitality tent
- The Reynolds Family and Elihu Reynolds for hosting us at the Harvard Annual Crew Dinner