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Tips for watching the Head of the Charles Regatta

An armada of more than 9,000 rowers will snake the Charles River this weekend. To get the best of the action, you’ll need to go prepared.

Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe

An armada of more than 9,000 rowers will snake the Charles River this weekend. To get the best of the action, you’ll need to go prepared.

This weekend brings one of the highlights of the Boston-area sporting calendar: the Head of the Charles Regatta. If you’re interested in watching the armada of 9,000 rowers navigate the snaking course, headwinds, and bridges, here are a few spectator tips to the 2012 Head of the Charles.

If you can take the T, do so.

You can walk to the river from the Central and Harvard stops on the Red Line and the BU Central stop on the Green Line’s B Branch.

Parking is much easier on Sunday.

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If you’re driving to the regatta, free parking is much easier to find on Sunday since you’ll be allowed to park for free on the side streets in Cambridge without a permit. On Saturday and Sunday there will be on-street parking at Birmingham Parkway and in an elevated garage at Arsenal Mall, a one-mile walk from the expo area.

Take a shuttle.

If you want to watch the action along the winding three-mile course from the starting line to the finish line, and don’t want to walk, there is a free shuttle bus with stops at the Singles and Doubles Launch Site, Lars Andersen Bridge (Boston-side), Cambridge Boat Club, and the Finish Area Launch Site.

Bring a draw and schedule with you.

There are more than 50 race events, some with as many as 60 or more competitors, so it’s tough to keep track of who’s who. Each boat has a number on its bow, so if you have the draw with you, you’ll be able to identify competitors and teams. You can purchase a program at one of the vendor areas along the river, but a cheaper option is to get a copy of the Friday Boston Globe. It has the complete schedule and list of competitors, which you can easily tear out, fold up, and take with you

Watch the clock.

Spectators line up on bridges and river banks to watch the weekend-long Head of the Charles Regatta.

Scott Woolwine Photo

Spectators line up on bridges and river banks to watch the weekend-long Head of the Charles Regatta.

Rowers start at 15-second intervals near the BU Boathouse, so they compete against the clock and not each other. You won’t be able to follow a race from start to finish or even get a good sense of who is winning at any given point in time. One clue of how the boats are doing is, if you’re watching down the course, if you see a bow with a higher number in front of one with a lower number. That means they are racing at least 15 seconds faster through that point on the course. You’ll need to catch a glimpse of one of the race results boards to see who has won a particular race.

Stake out a bridge.

There are seven bridges that span the Charles River along the race course. They are great places to catch the action. If you get there early enough, you should be able to stake out a spot on the bridge and see the competitors as they row underneath. Much like Boston rush hour, traffic on the river can be treacherous. The banks provide a good view of the commotion. The Eliot Bridge is a prime spot from which to watch. You’ll see the competitors having to negotiate the hairpin turn and straighten out to get through the bridge.

Need some food?

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There are concession stands located at the Cambridge Boat Club, the Rowing and Fitness Expo (which also sells workout and rowing gear) near the finish, the north bank of the Charles right outside of Harvard Square near the Weld Boathouse, and at Magazine Beach near the launch. Think fair food: lots of kettle corn, hot chocolate, chowder, hot cider, burgers, hot dogs, fried dough. Sometimes the exhibitors near the Weld Boathouse will be giving out free samples of food and drink products.

Bring a blanket or chair.

There are plenty of spots along the banks of the Charles to watch the action, but bring a blanket or lawn chair and you’ll be a lot more comfortable.

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