Quiet ride for Head of the Charles race monitors

A team at Community Rowing designed the boat, which is quieter and leaves a smaller wake than other models.
A team at Community Rowing designed the boat, which is quieter and leaves a smaller wake than other models.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

Most fans watching the Head of the Charles Regatta this weekend will focus on the graceful sweep of rowers plying the water, paying little attention to the long, flat motorboats used by race monitors.

But those boats are vital for referees and for coaches training crew teams. And this weekend, rowing enthusiasts will see a newly designed motorboat that is so quiet and disrupts the water so little that it could draw even less attention.

The 26-foot craft, designed and built by Brighton-based Community Rowing Inc. with help from three Boston public school students, looks at first glance like standard coaching boats, also called launches. But its electric motor is quieter and does not pollute as do its gas-powered counterparts, and its underside has a drastically different shape.


Where most launches have a catamaran design, with a central deck supported by twin hulls, the prototype has a long central hull and two thin, blade-like outer hulls, reducing the displacement that causes wakes, which can tip over a rowing shell and even cause it to crack.

“The innovation is hidden under the water,” Bruce Smith, 44 — executive director of Community Rowing, a nonprofit organization — said Wednesday as the new boat was unveiled. “We haven’t been able to find any commercially produced boats that have a similar design.”

That design is the creation of Dave Snowdon, 30. The boatman led the team that built the prototype in the organization’s boathouse, with help from students in the MLK Summer Scholars Program, a project that gives teenagers summer jobs at nonprofit organizations.

One of those teenagers, Kimberly Valdez, said Wednesday that building the boat was her first experience constructing something with her own hands. At first, Valdez said, she could not imagine how the pieces of foam insulation and fiberglass sheets would take shape.


“How are we supposed to create a boat with all these materials?” the 18-year-old Boston Arts Academy graduate recalled asking herself. “What if I cut it wrong?”

The pieces came together over time, and the shape, though new, slowly became recognizably nautical.

“Once we got close to the end, I’m like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m actually building a boat right now. It’s incredible,’ ” Valdez said.

Snowdon said all three students developed a new enthusiasm the day they flipped over their new creation and saw for the first time how it would look in the water.

“It all starts to make sense, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it, and then they got a real sense of ownership and started to feel proud of it,” said Snowdon, who lives in Watertown.

Having completed and tested the prototype, Community Rowing plans to produce more like it. Snowdon said the organization also hopes to bring in more students and teach them design, technical drafting, and boat-assembly skills, and to help them find jobs in boat manufacturing.

About three dozen rowers and supporters gathered Wednesday for Community Rowing’s fourth annual Launch Rodeo, where many got their first look at the prototype and watched it outshine two traditional launches in a contest to create the smallest wake.

Peter Beaman of Newton, a rower for 45 years who plans to compete in the Head of the Charles, said a quiet engine will make it easier for rowers to hear coaches’ instructions.

“Having a quiet boat is not only ecologically sound . . . but better for the oarsmen and the coach,” said Beaman, 59. “And not having the outboard motor fumes is a big improvement.”


Smith said the most important design factor, though, was safety. Because the deck of this launch sits 8 to 10 inches lower than that of other launches, it will be easier to pull rowers from the water in an emergency.

Jane Morse, a trustee for Community Rowing, was present with her husband of 43 years, Robert, to christen the boat, which they named The Charger. The name, she said, refers to both the boat’s electric motor and metaphorically to a powerful horse, “a strong steed.”

Morse said she and her husband provided seed money to develop the boat. She was especially interested in supporting a boat that would create a minimal wake, she said, because she rows in a small, one-person boat easily upset by large waves.

“At times it’s almost impossible to row through it,” she said. “You just have to stop rowing and wait it out.”

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com or on Twitter @jeremycfox.