HOCR: Getting to the starting line

This will be my first time racing at HOCR so lately I’ve been spending some time doing research on the course and trying to find out as much information as possible. Over the next week I’ll do a series of posts tackling all the different parts of the regatta, how to handle the course, what my race plan will be, etc.

Related: Hey, I row in NZ and I see everyone talking about the Head of the Charles and I was wondering what exactly is it? And why is it such a big deal?

First up – the official coxswain video.

At FALS (Finish Area Launching Site)
Listen to the dock master. If he/she tells you to jump, you say how high – whatever they say goes. In large races like this safety is paramount so don’t take it personally if they snap at you or seem angry. They’re just trying to keep things moving and the crews safe. Make sure you know your event and bow number, as they will more than likely ask you for that information when you get down to the dock so that they know who has arrived and who they’re still waiting on.

Heading towards Eliot Bridge
Stay inside the orange buoys.These buoys indicate the travel lane and are the only place you’re allowed to be when making your way to the starting line.

Pay attention at Eliot. This turn is TIGHT so you need to be rowing continuously through the bridge so as to not impede other crews. No drilling, no stopping. Just like the dock master, the marshals may yell at you to keep moving – just do what they say and don’t take their irritated tones personally. As you come through the arch, have your starboards take it down to zero pressure so your ports can drive it around. Trust me on this – zero pressure from the starboards. Once you’ve got a straight line you can even it back up.

If you sense that you might hit another crew or it’s just getting to close for comfort in one spot, add in a pause at hands away until you’re clear of any situations. This should only be done in certain cases – you should not be doing pause drills or anything else. This is only to keep your crew out of harm’s way. Use your judgment to determine if adding one in is necessary. Tell your crew WHY you’re adding the pause – “Guys, it’s getting a little hectic up here, let’s add in a pause at hands away to let it clear out before we pick it up again.”

Newell Boathouse
Coming out of the Eliot turn and heading towards Anderson is a good spot to throw in a power 20 if you have room to do so. Be mindful of other crews, especially ones launching from Newell. If there’s room to do a 10 or 20 and you’re a little close to other crews, yell at their coxswain and alert them that you’re about to do a short burst. As long as you communicate they should give you space. Make sure you do the same for anyone who is also trying to get in a short burst while warming up.

Anderson
This is another good spot to take a 10 if you’re able and there’s no one coming down the course. Remember the turn out of Weeks is an abrupt 90 degree turn to starboard so you’ll need to properly set yourself up for that coming out of Anderson. Be aware of the orange buoys and make sure you don’t drift over them.

Weeks
Have your starboards power down and ports power up to get you around the turn. Don’t rush it – take your time and be mindful of other crews who have slightly spastic coxswains. Inevitably there will be some out there with you. Always have an eye on what other boats are doing so that you can avoid dangerous situations.

Powerhouse stretch
This is another good spot to get some hard strokes in if it’s clear. Keep an eye out for traffic.

Riverside/SADL (Singles and Doubles Launch)
Scullers are awful and nowhere is that more apparent than right here. I blame it on the fact that they don’t have a coxswain to tell them they’re idiots, thus they are oblivious to the fact that they’re rowing right in your way half the time.

“But they’re looking RIGHT at me, surely I don’t need to tell them to look out or move since they are STARING at my boat?”

Wrong. So wrong. Scullers will be launching from SADL and, with the assistance of a course marshal, will be crossing over the course and into the far travel lane. Sure, if they simply look to their right they will see you coming towards them, but that NEVER happens. Now is not the time to be doing any bursts or power strokes. You need to navigate this area as quickly, calmly, and safely as possible. Be aware that there will be that ONE sculler that doesn’t pay attention, cuts you off, and then yells at you for it like it’s your fault. Ignore them and don’t let it rattle you.

BU Bridge
As you come down to the BU bridge, make sure you don’t go through the arch closest to shore. There’s a bike path that juts out over the water and makes that arch too narrow to travel through. Stick to the middle and left-most downstream arches. Coming down towards the bridge there is PLENTY of room to sort out where to go so set yourself up for it early.

Warm-up Area (Charles River Basin)
As you come into the basin, stick close to the Boston side of the river. Eventually you will see giant yellow buoys that are right in line with MIT’s boathouse. Row past them until just before you get to the Mass Ave. bridge, at which point you can turn to port, row it across, and come back down the other side. If you have time to continue the warmup, proceed around the buoys again before making your way back down towards the queuing area.

When you’re up here, you will be in a fairly large pack of boats. Keep your eyes and ears open – listen for other coxswains or marshals and keep an eye on what’s going on. Be aware of other crews that might not know or be following the traffic patterns.

Queuing Zone
Know what time your race begins and what time you need to enter the staging area. You have to get in numerical order by your bow numbers, so find the people before and after you and squeeze in near them. Try and stick close to them while you’re waiting to get called up. You must be lined up 5 minutes prior to the start of your race. Make sure you are aware of the time and when you should be moving. Do. Not. Be. Late.

Your bow number will indicate where you should begin lining up. Odd numbered crews should line up on the left side between the red and yellow buoys. Even numbered crews should line up on the right side between the yellow and green buoys.

From here, it’s a simple, painless process. The starting marshals will bring the crews up in groups of 10. As you come into the chute, you’ll need to alternate who goes so that you stay in numerical order.

Starting Line
As you come up to the starting line, begin to build into full pressure. If you take five to build, a good spot to begin your build is right before the start of the docks, that way when you row through the starting line, you’ll be at full pressure and already a few strokes into your starting sequence. Remember, you want to be at your fastest coming across the line, not still building into it. You’ll hear the announcers in the BU boathouse say “You’re ON” when you cross the starting line.

As you approach the line, make sure you’re paying attention to the crews in front of you and to what the marshal is saying. If you get to close or too far away from the crew ahead of you, they’ll tell you to either power up or power down. This is done to keep the spacing between crews as steady as possible coming across the line.

If you don’t hear the race announce say you’re on the course, just look for the giant yellow buoys.

Next up: Steering through the bridges, covering what bridge arches to use and the various penalties you can be assessed.

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