From time to time when this October weekend comes up bright and blustery Aeolus, the mythical Keeper of the Winds, becomes race director. So it was again Saturday at the 51st Head of the Charles Regatta when the primary challenge for most competitors was to keep going forward instead of sideways.
“Cross or head — our two favorite winds,” Linda Muri observed wryly after she and CB Sands-Bohrer managed to stay the course for their third straight women’s senior master doubles crown.
It was a day when paddling pedigree counted even more than it usually does on this rambling river so it was no surprise that the two singles champions were Newton native Gevvie Stone and New Zealand’s Mahe Drysdale, a couple of Olympians who’ve raced all over the planet and who’ve won here multiple times.
Stone, America’s best female sculler, claimed her sixth crown by nearly 43 seconds over Kate Bertko, the world lightweight medalist who ended Stone’s three-year reign in 2013. And Drysdale, the five-time world champion and London titlist in the single, overpowered American rivals John Graves and Andrew Campbell for his third victory here, winning by 10 seconds in 18:11.97.
“It was definitely a long race,” said Stone, a Cambridge Boat Club competitor whose winning time of 19:43.07 was the second slowest of her triumphs here. “I don’t think anyone likes rowing three miles into a 17-mile-an-hour headwind, but I actually like headwinds. And rowing on my home waters in front of my home crowd is always amazing.”
Drysdale, who had prevailed here in 2005 and 2011, had the best résumé and the biggest frame (6 feet 7 inches, 220 pounds) in the field and the flags were blowing in his direction. “The headwind worked for me,” Drysdale said. So did the 14 years, 9 inches, and 65 pounds that he has over Campbell, the US teamer and former Harvard lightweight who’d set the course record with a tailwind last year.
This time Campbell knew that he was rowing into an ill wind for a man of his dimensions. “With the conditions the deck was definitely stacked against me,” said Campbell, who held off Drysdale for as long as he could before the Kiwi colossus went through him at Weeks Bridge, midway along the upstream course. “It was a good race and I’m proud of it. I gave it my all and I tried to win. But John is another great sculler. You’ve got to give it to him.”
Stone, who placed fourth at this summer’s world championships in France, knew that she’d get a persistent push from Bertko, who was the lightweight bronze medalist. “I knew Kate was going to be a real threat,” she said. But being defending champion has its privileges, among them starting first in the single-file format. That meant that Stone was steering her own course into clear water all the way up and could monitor every move that Bertko made.
The No. 1 spot was an advantage, too, for the Dutch duo of Chantal Achterberg and Inge Janssen, who outrowed Danish rivals Juliane Rasmussen and Anne Thomsen by nearly four seconds in 18:57.93, with Riverside’s Keziah Beall and Molly Hamrick another four-10ths of a second astern.
Going off first might also have worked for brothers Tom and Peter Graves, the three-time former victors who appeared to have won by 83-100ths until they were assessed a five-second penalty. That gave the title to countrymen Willy Cowles and Sam Stitt, who were third last year.
Winning the Head, which comes with a handsome Olympic-quality medal, is on every rower’s career checkoff list. Next Saturday comes the money race for the top scullers, the Gold Cup on Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River. It’s a 750-meter drag race with $10,000 going to the winner.
Stone will be up against Olympic gold medalist Mirka Knapkova, world titlist Kim Crow, and Pan American Games victor Carling Zeeman while Drysdale takes on Campbell, world champ Ondrej Synek, and Kjetil Borch, the two-time Head winner. By the time Aeolus starts huffing and puffing, that race will be over.