HOCR: Steering around the turns

Previously: Getting to the starting line || Steering through the bridges || Landmarks along the course

Taking the turns on the HOCR course is all about setting yourself up right. If you position yourself properly as you enter the turn you’ll all but guarantee a smooth exit, thus taking a load of pressure off of you and ensuring your crew has it’s best possible shot at the next part of the course.

Alongside each photo (aka Google Maps screenshot) I’ve included a difficulty rating ranging from 1-5 based on my experience with the turns, which 1 being the easiest and 5 being the hardest. As of writing this post I’ve been coaching and coxing on the Charles for about six months so while I anticipate these turns becoming easier to steer over time, this is how I’m rating them given the limited amount of time I’ve spent on the river thus far. If HOCR is your first time on the Charles or you don’t row here on a regular basis, this should give you a good idea for what to expect.

Keep in mind too that the lines drawn below are not 100% accurate – they’re just there to give you a rough idea of where the buoy lines are vs. what your ideal course around the turns should like look. Buoy lines are marked by thin green or orange lines and the course line is a thick purple line.

Magazine Beach // Difficulty: 1

Coming around the turn through Magazine Beach there will be buoys marking the shallow areas along shore, as well as the area where the singles and doubles will launch from (SADL). This is a fairly wide turn, even if you hug the buoys, so you should be able to get around on the rudder with no trouble. If you take it TOO wide, then you might need to have the starboards power down and let your ports drive you around for 1-2 strokes.

Remember, as you finish the turn and come into the Powerhouse Stretch you want to be aiming for the center arches of River St. and Western Ave. Set yourself up for Magazine Beach so that when you come out, you can look directly through both of those arches.

Weeks Footbridge // Difficulty: 4

The trouble I’ve had with Weeks isn’t getting a good line or coming out right; it’s been knowing when to start turning. As you come out of Western Ave. you’ll want to start aiming for the blue tower of Lowell House.

You should be parallel-ish to the buoy line coming down the last part of the straightaway (you can be next to it but there’s no need to be right on top of it) and then as you pass “the turning tree”, that’s when you want to start going hard to port. Have your ports power down and tell the starboards to really lay into it. It should take anywhere from 3-7 strokes, depending on the strength of your crew. The goal is to be about 90% finished with your turn as you come under the bridge.

If you have a port stroked boat, your 2-seat’s oar should be THISCLOSE to the left abutment of the center arch at the end of the turn if you’ve executed it properly. When I’m steering the turn and think “OH SHIT, I’m gonna hit the bridge…”, that usually means I’ve done it right. If you experience that momentary second of panic, congrats, you just nailed Weeks (figuratively speaking … literally hitting it would be bad).

Anderson Bridge // Difficulty: 2

As long as you come out of Weeks with a point on the left abutment of the middle arch of Anderson this turn will be a piece of cake. 90% of this turn happens under the bridge and it should only take maybe 2-3 hard strokes from ports to swing your bow around before you even back out.

One thing that coxswains get fixated on is this idea that they have to take the inside of every single turn without giving any consideration as to how that’s going to effect their next turn. Anderson is one such turn where you want to be on the outside of it – if you split the center arch in half and designated the left side as the Boston side and the right side as the Cambridge side, you’d want to go under on the Boston side of the center arch. That’s going to give you an easier line to the inside of the turn around Eliot, whereas if you go through on the inside (the Cambridge side) you’re more likely to get pushed to the outside in front of Newell and it’ll take that much more work and steering to get over to the buoy line before the start of the Eliot turn.

As you come out of Anderson, be aware of where the buoys are – they will pull you off the straightest course so do not follow them as you come past Newell. The boathouse is set back into a little bay of it’s own and the buoys follow that bow in the river. Don’t let this fool you. Coming out of the turn you’ll want to pick up a point on the tall white apartment building at the start of the Eliot turn.

Eliot Bridge // Difficulty: 3-5

Eliot is a half-mile long turn whose difficulty is wholly dependent on how close you were able to get to the buoy line, your speed, and whether you’re coxing an eight or a four. In a four I’ve always been able to do the entire turn completely on the rudder but in an eight I always need to call on the rowers to adjust their pressure once we hit the apex of the turn. (On the map that would roughly be about where the Route 3 sign is on the Cambridge shore.)

Having the ports power down and the starboards hit it hard is key to making it around here – you cannot do it with extra starboard pressure while ports continue to row full pressure. I typically have the ports back off to about 3/4 pressure and the starboards take no more than five hard strokes as we come around the first part of the turn, even pressure for one or two, and then one or two more hard strokes to finish it off.  This may vary depending on your speed and position relative to the buoy line but there’s no need or reason why you should have your starboards pulling you around the entire turn.

Think of this turn like an exit ramp off the highway. The faster you’re going coming into it, the harder you have to break to get around the turn without flipping your car. If you coast into a 25mph exit at 30mph, you’ll be fine coming around with minimal braking. If you take it at 45mph though, you’re going to have to hit the brakes before you make the big turn. Analyze your crew’s speed ahead of time to see what you need to do and if you have the opportunity, practice practice practice how you plan to take this turn.

As you’re coming around the turn, you want to set yourself up so that as you look through the bridge you’re pointed diagonally towards the far corner of the Winsor-Belmont Hill dock along the Cambridge shore. Note that if and when possible, the ideal course through this bridge is to enter it on the left side of the center arch and exit it on the right side. 

Final turn // Difficulty: 1.5

As just mentioned, coming out of Eliot you’ll want to be pointed at the far corner of the Winsor-Belmont Hill dock. Grabbing the inside of this turn is key to saving 8-10 seconds (at least) on your final time. It’s recommended to get your riggers over the buoys if you can or at the very least, your oars (but not your hull because that’ll be a 10 second penalty). Depending on how many crews are around you, it might beneficial (and safer) if you hold off for a stroke or two before shooting for that line. Once it’s open, take it.

This final turn is to starboard and can easily be done on the rudder with no additional pressure from the ports. There are no buoys on the inside after that last turn so you can get as close to shore as you want. Be careful of debris and low hanging trees though. When you start to see the river bowing to starboard, do not follow the shoreline – you want to hold a straight course and aim for the two yellow buoys that mark the finish line. It’s going to feel like you’re coming out towards the middle but you’re not so don’t let this throw you off. Once you’ve got your point set on the finish the only thing left to do is haul ass across the line.

Next up: Head of the Charles race plans

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