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head of the charles

Head of the Charles Regatta to add a third day of racing when it resumes this fall

Rowers competed in the 2019 Head of the Charles Regatta.
Rowers competed in the 2019 Head of the Charles Regatta.Jim Davis/Globe Staff/file

The Head of the Charles Regatta, scrubbed last year because of the COVID pandemic, will be back on the river for its customary October weekend, this time with an unprecedented three-day program.

“Our long wait is over and we look forward to hosting the world rowing community back in Boston this fall,” said regatta executive director Fred Schoch.

Last fall’s cancellation gave race officials an opportunity to reshape the regatta to make it more efficient, more flexible and more safe while also allowing it to grow.

“If there was ever a year to try this, this is the year,” said Schoch, a longtime advocate of an expanded program.

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The Head of the Charles is the largest rowing event in the world.
The Head of the Charles is the largest rowing event in the world.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

The planet’s largest rowing event, which was held virtually last autumn, began as a one-day regatta in 1965. The Head went to two days after the 1996 edition was wiped out by the “100-year storm.” But soaring interest in masters, alumni, youth, and adaptive rowing has swelled the number of rowers to more than 11,000 and gradually increased pressure on organizers to schedule racing on Friday.

The sculling events for men and women over 50, traditionally held on Saturday morning, now will be held on Friday morning. Those races, which include senior veteran (70+), veteran (60+), and grand master singles (50+), and senior master (50+) and grand master (60+) doubles, comprise 309 boats with 378 rowers. Since many of the competitors are retirees, theirs were the obvious events to be switched.

“This class of athletes has more flexibility in their lives,” observed Schoch.

Since the 3-mile upstream course now will be laid out on Thursday, there will be more time after Friday’s racing for the eights and fours to practice, lessening the usual crowding and jostling on the river.

“Friday has become what Saturday used to be,” said Schoch.

The Friday program, which will run for just over two hours, will ease the congested Saturday and Sunday schedules, allow for adjustments for bad weather, and lighten the burden on the regatta’s 1,800 volunteers.

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The tentative schedule for Oct. 22-24 will look familiar. The championship singles and doubles, club and alumni categories, and master sweep boat races still will be staged on Saturday. Sunday’s schedule will feature the championship eights and fours plus collegiate and youth events. One addition will be an alumni four event with special medals for competitors from the Class of 2020 whose college season was scratched because of the pandemic.

The 2021 Head of the Charles will be held on an even grander scale than in year's past.
The 2021 Head of the Charles will be held on an even grander scale than in year's past.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

Customarily in the Olympic year (also deferred), the Head of the Charles has been a showcase for international medalists. With travel restrictions for the fall still to be determined, it’s unclear how many representatives from the usual two dozen foreign countries will be able to participate.

“The biggest impact may be on international athletes,” reckoned Schoch. “Their numbers may be diminished.”

The HOCR board of directors and staff, who’ve been consulting with infectious disease physicians and experts from Massachusetts General Hospital, will release health and safety protocols this summer as well as additional regatta details. Rowers who were accepted for last year’s event, most of them based on their 2019 times, will keep their entries.

Coming just 11 days after the rescheduled Boston Marathon, the expanded regatta will make for an unprecedented fall festival for Boston.

“The Head of the Charles has been such a reunion for rowers,” said Schoch. “It’s a facilitator for friendship. This year will be especially emotional because they haven’t been able to see each other for a couple of years.”

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