Head of the Charles Notebook

Next year’s absences likely to make world of difference

By John Powers
Globe Staff / October 19, 2009

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With next year’s world regatta in New Zealand coming less than a week after the Head of the Charles regatta, the international presence here will be minimal, which means that the championship races likely will have an old-school feel.

“It’ll be an opportunity for the colleges to win the prize, which is great,’’ said regatta executive director Fred Schoch.

In the event’s first three decades, the Harvards, Northeasterns, Wisconsins, and Navys dominated the men’s eights, along with club crews like Philadelphia’s Vesper, Boston’s Union, and Canada’s Ridley Graduates, with university entries winning 14 times between 1966 and 1983.

Full speed ahead
Despite the stormy weather, regatta management decided that conditions were good enough to run a full contingent of races on the entire 3-mile course. By midday, according to Schoch, all the younger and less-experienced rowers had raced, leaving the afternoon to veteran racers.

Winds of 21 knots, a couple of hours of snow in the afternoon, and a northeast chop was not enough to slow the racing, but regatta directors were happy to receive a donation of 2,000 tinfoil thermal blankets - called Heatsheets - from the Boston Athletic Association, which gives them to marathon runners. By midday, just one boat of youth eights had pulled off the course with rowers complaining of mild hypothermia.

The only alterations caused by weather were shortened warm-up loops so that rowers would spend less time on the water.

“If that’s the worst of our problems today,’’ said Schoch, referring to the week of dire weather forecasts, “we’re doing pretty well.’’

Money talk
In the down economy, the regatta has had to struggle for sponsorship, said Schoch, who describes the patchwork of sponsors carrying the event as a “Joseph coat of many colors, financially,’’ adding “we had lots of little deals going.’’

The only six-figure sponsor this year was EMC Corporation, the software and IT services company based in Hopkinton.

“EMC came through in a heroic manner in the 59th hour,’’ said Schoch. “They made the difference between a really difficult financial year and success. Kudos to them for seeing the value of partnering with this great tradition.’’

Retail business was brisk in some quarters around the riverbanks. The blustery weather kept shoppers in a big top-style tent, also new this year. Rather than merchandise stands broken up in several tents, a large single tent remained full of shoppers throughout the day.

“It’s a shopping frenzy over there,’’ said Schoch. “Like New Hampshire on a holiday. We do over a million dollars in sales over the weekend. It’s a rowing apparel shopper’s paradise.’’

Back to school?
The new event for alumni eights on Saturday was a successful, if somewhat unsightly event. “Some fairly rusty oarsmanship, to put it mildly,’’ observed Schoch, who rowed for Team Attager, which won its fourth straight senior master eights title. “It was obvious even to the uninitiated that some of these guys had not touched an oar in many a year. There were some Alfred Hitchcock silhouettes, and the [Princeton] Fat Cats were.’’ Northeastern won the men’s race, Virginia the women’s. With the regatta already numbering 1,884 entries (up 98 from last year) and 8,842 rowers, it’s doubtful that those numbers will grow next year. “The parent-child doubles ended at twilight,’’ said Schoch. “Close to 1,000 boats rowed on Saturday. It was like Homer’s Odyssey.’’ . . . Jim Dietz, the three-time Olympic sculler who won a record seven championship singles crowns between 1966 and 1976, claimed the 60-and-older veterans title yesterday, in his first year in the category. The 60-year-old UMass women’s coach, who has 11 titles across four events, defeated Henry Hamilton of the Cambridge BC by nearly 22 seconds despite conceding a 64-second age handicap . . . Claiming his ninth senior veterans singles title yesterday was 79-year-old Richard Kendall in the 70-and-older category. He has won every event he has entered here since 1999. Kendall, who’d won the Head of the Housatonic in Connecticut last weekend, prevailed by an age-adjusted 20 seconds ahead of 76-year-old Christopher Collins.

Globe correspondent Tony Chamberlain contributed to this report.