Women’s crew breaks Charles record

Women’s crew wore its purple with pride and poise this weekend at the Head of the Charles Regatta in Boston, Mass. After top-three finishes in previous seasons, the Ephs came out gunning for gold this year – and gold is exactly what they got, as the 1V boat set a new course record with its first-place finish.

The Head of the Charles is the premier event of the fall head racing season for Williams and many other schools fortunate enough to get a bid to compete in the two-day regatta. “The Head of the Charles is one of the largest and most famous regattas in the world,” co-captain Adrienne Darrow ’11 said. “It is a great opportunity to race crews from across the country that we wouldn’t be able to see in other competitive settings.”

“Unlike any other event we participate in, including the championship regattas at the end of the spring, the Charles is not just an event for rowers,” said 2V six seat Ellen Stuart ’11. “The Charles is viewed by an average of over a quarter of a million people each year, most of whom are not rowers. It is a great opportunity to celebrate our sport with the non-rowing community.”

The hype surrounding the event is not the only quality that makes rowing at the Head of the Charles unique. The Charles River, located in the heart of Boston, is fraught with difficult turns for which the women prepared extensively in advance. “We’ve been preparing for the Charles on [Lake] Onota all fall, working in long race pieces and practicing the difficult starboard turn that is part of the course,” Darrow said.

In the end, this extra time and focus paid off as the 1V shattered the women’s collegiate eights course record by just over 23 seconds, rowing in at a time of 16:24.219. The 1V captured first place by a margin of more than 35 seconds over second-place finisher Ithaca.

“I could not have imagined a better race for the 1V,” Darrow said. “We went into the race with a solid plan, and I think we executed it very well, powering through the straight stretch of the course and taking bursts of speed out of the bridges. Becca Licht [’11], our coxswain, did a fantastic job steering the difficult turns of the course.”

The 2V also rowed extremely well, but a freak occurrence put them out of contention for medaling. “We rowed the first 4000 meters extremely aggressively, forcing Ithaca to take a sweeping course and creating a perfect environment for the 1V to dominate the race,” Stuart said. “Near the end of the race, one of our oars became caught in a buoy while taking a sharp turn. This caused the boat to come to a dead stop until the oar was untangled.”

However, the reaction of the women, notably coxswain Liz Zhu ’11 and 2V stroke Hayley Swan ’13, illustrated remarkable composure and depth of character that allowed the boat to finish the race with pride. “We gunned it as soon as we were able to row again, flying down the last bit of the course. It was the fastest that boat has ever rowed,” Stuart said. “While the delay from the buoy and an additional interference penalty cause our posted time to be at the end of the pack, we can estimate how we would have done without the added time. We would have placed somewhere in the top 10, exactly where we wanted to be.”

The team is proud to have accomplished its goal of winning first place at the Charles, but the women face one more challenge before they wrap up their fall season. The Ephs hope to build on their success thus far on Saturday at the Head of the Fish in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., before heading into captain-run winter training and the spring 2K season.