Monday, October 22, 2012

I am hoarse

Johnny's Freshman boat. He's the one on the right.
Every year I go to watch crew races at the Head of the Charles Regatta. I don’t really care who wins, but I bring a megaphone and yell at lots of boats just because I enjoy it. I generally cheer for the local teams, and for whatever team seems to be doing better than expected. And I always cheer for Princeton. Long ago, my cousin’s son rowed for Princeton and his boats tended to win lots of races. He even got invited to join the U.S. National Team, but he moved on to “real life” after he wasn’t selected for the Olympic team. I still watch rowing, as I have since long before Johnny rowed his first Head of the Charles.

Yesterday Alla and I focused on the social aspects of the regatta. We watched a few races, but spent considerable amounts of time testing free food samples and hob-nobbing with some of the many visitors this event brings to the Boston area every year. Alla was excited to pose with a model Lufthansa plane in her hands, and the stewardess sent her home with a rubber ducky dressed in a Lufthansa uniform. I was excited to dig through the bargain bins at JL Racing, a manufacturer of sport clothing. Rowers tend to be tall and lanky, and this is a pretty good way for me to find athletic clothes that fit (or almost fit.)

Today I came back to the river straightaway after church. I stopped at the Radcliffe boat house and bought a bagel for a dollar, and received a big dollop of cream cheese for free. Then I looked for a free salad from Olivia’s, but they’d already run out so I finished my lunch with some new sports recovery drink and a couple of sample Lara Bars. Fortified, I sat down on the bank of the river and got out my megaphone, binoculars and program. I yelled at lots of boats and made friends with a couple of grandparents waiting for their granddaughter. The grandparents didn’t know anything about crew races, so suddenly I was an “expert.”

I’m not an expert, however, and this year I had been puzzling over why it appeared to be so hard for the coxswains in the long boats (8’s) to steer. Nobody near me knew much more about the sport than I do, so I felt free to leave when I finally got tired of sitting in one spot on the ground. I walked back to my favorite viewing spot, on the Anderson Bridge near Harvard’s Weld Boathouse. Soon I discovered that the tiny woman beside me has had considerable experience as a coxswain, including on the Charles River. She explained to me the ideal route from the Weeks Footbridge to our bridge, optimizing a short course and the fact that you really-really want to be pointed in the right direction when you get between the bridge piers. When some boats got congested between the piers I asked her if she’d slow a boat down in order to avoid contention in a tight spot like that. “Oh yeah,” she replied. “In a race, the rowers are a lot like animals. If you get them spooked it can throw off the rest of the race.” Needless to say, she was a wonderful conversationalist.

Crew people tend to make great company anyway. There’s something about getting up super-early in the morning to sit in a boat with the same people day after day that sorts out folks who can’t get along with others. It makes for a very pleasant spectator environment too. You end up with a lot of gregarious people egging each other on. In the end we scream and yell a lot and we tend to come home hoarse. It’s lots of fun.

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