• Members of the Cambridge '99 rowing club, from Cambridge, England, carry the MIT boat they will use to the river from MIT's Pierce Boathouse to practice for their race Sunday during the Head of the Charles Regatta.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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  • Cambridge '99 rowing club members head for the course they will race on Sunday.

    Photo / Donna Coveney

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MIT boathouse plays central role in Head of the Charles Regatta


The World Series is not the only sporting event in town this weekend.

Long before the Red Sox and Cardinals hit at Fenway Park, rowers will hit the river for the Head of the Charles Regatta which begins at 9 a.m. Saturday morning, Oct. 23. The annual rowing competition runs through Sunday evening.

Now in its 40th year, the regatta is the largest multi-day rowing regatta in the world. More than 7,000 athletes travel to Boston and Cambridge from many countries to compete in 24 different race events during the weekend, sometimes sharing rooms on campuses.

At the center of the chaos sits the MIT boathouse on the Memorial Drive side of the Charles River. This year, approximately 30 visiting crews from all over the world will be launching out of the boathouse in boats borrowed from the MIT crew teams. "We make rowing in the Head of the Charles possible for approximately 200 rowers," said Ian Hutton, who coaches MIT's men's varsity lightweight rowers.

For Gordon Hamilton, coach of the men's heavyweight team, providing boats to visiting teams is a good opportunity to see old friends. Hamilton studied at Cambridge University in England where he made many friends; some of them will be among the borrowers this weekend. In addition to the Cambridge University team, boats will be lent to a Dutch team, a team from Seattle and many others.

Sharing its boats during the regatta is a longstanding tradition for MIT's crew teams, according to former head rowing coach Stuart Schmill who will be rowing this weekend out of the MIT boathouse in an alumni boat. Schmill, who is director of the Educational Council and associate director of admissions at MIT, remembers the craziness at the boathouse fondly.

"We are a popular stop for boats with last-minute repairs to make, and for the last-minute bathroom break--the frantic mad dash from the dock to the locker room, panicking when they get to the locker room and don't know the combination to get in," recalled Schmill.

Schmill's team this year is an international one with an alumnus from Norway aboard. Last year, Schmill and his teammates won their event. "We were in the last starting position and made our way through quite a few boats to win the event," he said.

This year, the MIT boathouse will also serve as headquarters for safety and medical personnel. "We have a good central location," said Hamilton. Though the actual racecourse is generally pretty safe, the practice area that runs right past MIT has been the site of a few accidents in the past.

"Two years ago, there were a few really bad collisions right alongside our boathouse in which a few competitors were seriously injured," said Hutton. Now there is stricter enforcement of the safety regulations and a more comprehensive policy of river control.

The Head of the Charles is one of the largest spectator events in the world, attracting an average of 300,000 people to the banks of the Charles on both days of the competition.

Because of the size, not every rower on the MIT team will be able to race. "There will be a lot of boats from all over the country," said Veronica Andrews, a senior majoring in chemical engineering and member of the MIT women's lightweight crew. Though she will not be racing, she will watch and cheer, she said.

With fans, spectators, alumni, borrowers and medics all converging, the space will be crowded. But the team--and the space--is well-prepared, said Hamilton.

"It's business, not chaos," he said.


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