How to watch the Head of the Charles


by Coach Dale

If you have the time and inclination, use your bike and travel the entire course. Begin on the Mass. Ave. bridge. It’s quite a sight to see all of the crews warming up in the basin. Check the HOCR website for times on Saturday when fours and eights will be getting ready to race.

Follow along the Cambridge shore. Stop at the BU boathouse and you can hear the starter. They don’t say much. They will call you up to the starting line with a simple ‘Cambridge…paddle’ it’s the responsibility of the coxswain to bring the crew up to full pressure before getting to the starting line without getting to close or to far behind the boat in front of them. When the bow of the boat gets to the starting line It’s usually something simple like ‘Cambridge…row’. Very low key. Quite the antithesis to the excitement the rowers are feeling and the prestige of the regatta.

After the BU bridge it’s a long swinging row around Magazine beach and the crews get very close to the shore as they come by the Magazine Beach Swimming Pool. You can often hear the coxswains and it’s a good place to take close up pictures. Then you can hear the first announcers at the Riverside Boat Club.

The crews move out into the middle of the river as they line up, and then go through, the center arches on the River St. and Western Ave. Bridges. This is a long straight stretch and a good place to take photos looking straight down on a crew. It’s a unique perspective. Look for parallel oars. You can also hear coxswains making their calls. Cross over the bridge you’re on and follow the race on the Boston side.

Next is the 90 degree turn to the left at the Weeks Footbridge. This is a tough turn and the site of a lot of collisions. Listen for crews swearing about getting tangled up with each other, and then, swearing when they remember the new rules and time penalties they’ll get for swearing! There are about 120 umpire stations along the 3 mile course looking for crews interfering with one another, missed bouys, etc.

On the Boston side of the river is the Reunion Village. Check to see if your college has reserved a space and stop back in for drink. On the Cambridge side are lots of vendors and fee stuff being passed out.

The Anderson/ JFK St. bridge has a 90 degree turn to the right. Most people who got tangled up at Weeks tend to play it safe here.

Follow along the river and you’re now entering the Dead Zone. It’s the beginning of the last mile and a wide and quiet stretch of the course. This is where a lot of rowers make the decision to call it quits. The excitement and crowd noise has worn off and it’s the first time they’ve had a chance to come to grips with how tired they are and how much they’re suffering. Winning crews go faster here because they focus on rowing well and look ahead to the finish line. You won’t actually see anyone stop rowing, but look for subtle changes such as slumped shoulders, looking around a lot, and not a lot of white water generated by the oar during the drive.

At the end of the Dead Zone is Dead Man’s Curve. Tired rowers, hoarse coxswains, a big, tight, turn and you must be at the Eliot Bridge. The US National Team Men’s 8 was headed for its 6th consecutive victory in 2007 until they got here. Overestimating their ability to turn, their starboard oars hit the inside of the bridge arch and they finished out of the medals. If you’re standing on the CBC and BB&N docks watch out – crews have ended up rowing right up onto them in an effort to avoid hitting other crews and the bridge.

Follow the last half mile to the finish on the Boston shore. You’ll pass through the Athlete Expo area. This is where most of the visiting crews are stationed. Lots of vendors, food and people.

Shortly after the expo area is the finish line. As simple as the start line is, the finish is even less dramatic. No announcers here. All the action is on the water and in the finish line officials trailer. Who won? How’d our team do? You can check results online at or go to one of the results tents or boards to find out!

See you at the river!

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