This week, the Stanford men’s crew team will prepare for the Head of the Charles Regatta (HOTC), the world’s largest two-day rowing competition. Since 1965, the HOTC has hosted the world’s best crew teams and attracts over 9,000 athletes and 300,000 spectators each year to the Charles River between Boston and Cambridge.
Stanford won the Championship Fours—one of the most prestigious events—last year and will send another four boats this weekend. Stanford will return senior stroke seat Austin Hack, junior three seat Scott Roycroft, junior bow seat Kaess Smit and sophomore coxswain Nathalie Weiss. The team will also welcome freshman two seat Ryan Hails to the boat.
“We have a good amount of experience in the boat, and we’re all used to the race and know how to win the race to some degree. It’s great to be going again, and Ryan seems to be stepping up pretty seamlessly,” Roycroft said. “But at the same time, it’s a new boat, it rows differently and we have to all refocus and not think that we have any outstanding ability or advantage as returners. It’s a new race and a new year, so we’ve got to step up.”
The HOTC will offer a different look for many of the rowers from normal spring racing due to its status as a head race, in which boats leave one at a time to compete against the clock instead of starting together and competing head to head. There are no lanes, and the boat must follow the course of the river, making the job of the coxswain that much more important.
“During the sprint season, my job is just to go straight, and there are all different lanes,” Weiss said, “but in head races, I steer the course and there’s pretty much a 180-degree turn in the course, and so I make sure that we cut that turn as closely as possible and make it easy on the boys.”
Another distinction that Weiss made will be at the end of the race, at which point it will still be unclear how the team is doing in comparison to other teams. Instead of getting a push of adrenaline at the end as it tries to pass the nearest boat, it will just be important to focus on not getting passed by teams with later starts.
The length of the race is also different at the HOTC. A normal spring race is typically two kilometers, whereas the HOTC is slightly over five kilometers, making endurance a more significant factor in the race.
Boats start the race at 15-second intervals, with starting order based on the crew’s finishing time the previous year. Since Stanford won last year, it will leave the starting line first.
“It means we get to go out a lot harder because when you start behind someone else, the boats create a lot of wake, but when you start first, it’s clear sailing,” Hack said. “The downside of that is Nathalie can’t really see if we’re gaining on anybody or losing, whereas we can kind of see the boats behind us, which is an advantage. It’ll definitely be different. Our coaches are making us focus on the first half of the race.”
Last year, the Card finished with a time of 16:50.385—a convincing six-second win over the University of Washington. This year, the main competition will again be Washington.
“[The Huskies are] always good, and they’re incredibly deep. Their four will be great, and their eight will be great,” Kaess said. “Also the senior national team, the guys who will be on the Olympic team and who have been on the Olympic team, have submitted a few entries, so they’re also very good.”
Despite the strong competition, with experience and a prime starting position on its side, the Card is still in a good place to do damage at the HOTC once again.
Hack believes that it will just be important to “put your head down, and do your own thing, and do it well” as the Cardinal looks to claim its second straight victory in the annual regatta.
The Men’s Championship Fours race is scheduled to begin at 2:31 p.m. EDT on Sunday in Cambridge, Mass.
Contact Ashley Westhem at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.