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Boston Weather: 41.0°F | Partly Cloudy

Bad Weather Cancels Head of the Charles

By Erik S. Balsley
associate sports editor

For the first time in its 32-year history, the annual Head of the Charles Regatta was canceled Sunday because of the strong winds accompanying this weekend's storm.

The regatta will not be rescheduled, although plans are underway to organize a smaller regatta in the near future on the same course with schools from the Boston area.

"It was not so much that the course wasn't rowable but that accidents were more likely to happen," said Director of Crew Stu Schmill '86. "Rescue operations in the event of an accident would be more difficult, and also it was cold and wet, increasing the risk of hypothermia."

There are also normally collisions during the regatta, but the winds would have increased their likelihood, Schmill said.

The storm had been closely tracked Saturday by the trustees of the Cambridge Boat Club, the organizers of the regatta. As the storm arrived, wind conditions became much worse than anticipated by the organizers and were accompanied by a steady, driving, cold rain.

By 7:30 a.m., all events up until noon were canceled, and at about 10 a.m., after consultations over safety issues with the head coaches of schools that row on the river, the organizers of the regatta made the decision to cancel all races for the day.

"We were worried most about inexperienced rowers. Hypothermia was a big issue, but we also were concerned about our ability to rescue people" in the event of an accident, said Co-Chairman of the Regatta K.C. King in an interview with The Boston Globe.

Rowers let down by cancelation

The cancelation, while mentioned as a possibility throughout the day Saturday, was a major letdown to rowers in the regatta, some of whom traveled from as far away as the Netherlands and Japan to compete in the world's largest single-day rowing event.

For MIT rowers the regatta is the highlight of the fall racing season and is generally seen as the focus for fall training.

"We were really disappointed, considering this was the focus of the fall season," said Christopher M. Liu '98, captain of the varsity lightweight team, who would have been rowing in the lightweight eight event. "We were willing to race in this weather, but we're not the ones who decide."

"The main reason I was looking forward to the Head was because it's a famous regatta with rowers from all over the world," said Sarah D. Folscroft '97, a member of the varsity women's team, who would have raced in the club fours event. "It would have been neat to compete at the same level with them."

"While crews were here from all over the world and we all wanted to race and are disappointed that we couldn't race, I think it was the right decision to cancel the regatta," Schmill said.

The cancelation "is understandable, but the disappointment is still there," Folscroft said.

Race course originally shortened

By midday Saturday as the storm approached and wind conditions on the Charles worsened, regatta organizers announced a shortened race course for Sunday's events.

The shortened race course would have started at the Riverside Boathouse about a mile upriver from the traditional starting line at the Boston University Boathouse. The finish line would have been in the same location past the Eliot Bridge near the Northeastern University Boathouse, which would have shortened the normal three-mile course to 2.3 miles.

Although there were strong winds, conditions on the shortened course for the most part were pretty rowable, Schmill said.

Persistent winds can turn otherwise flat and calm waters very choppy, and the waves have the possibility of coming into the boat the over its bow and sides, Folscroft said.

If the amount of water coming into the boat it great it not only makes the boat heavier, but there is a "threat of swamping the boat," said Joe B. Irineo '98, a varsity lightweight coxswain. "Swamping" would bring the boat down to the level of the water and make it more likely to sink, he said.

The wind creates difficult rowing conditions that affect the set of a boat, make it tougher to row, and make it difficult for the coxswain to steer, Folscroft said. The strong winds would have made it much harder to steer a good course, Irineo said.

By moving the finish line up, crews participating in the regatta would have avoided rowing downstream of the Boston University Bridge, where the water was unrowable because of the height of the waves, Schmill said.

Although the MIT boathouse lies in this area, if the regatta had taken place, "we were ready with the trailer to move the boats upstream," Schmill said.