NEW LONDON, Conn. — The tide of the Thames River was flowing one way, the wind was blowing the other, and the combination had chaos written all over it.
Harvard coxswain Jacqueline Goodman got a sense of how choppy the water was before the Crimson’s heavyweight eight stepped into its shell.
“I think we all knew that it was going to be pretty bad and we were ready to face the conditions,” said Goodman. “Absolutely excited to be racing against Yale no matter what the wind or what the waves.”
Not even a half-mile into the 151st running of the Harvard-Yale regatta, the Crimson realized just how bad the conditions were. Yale, as it has done all season, pulled ahead of Harvard seat by seat.
“We were expecting that,” said Crimson seven-seat Conor Harrity. “I was just focused on trying to row them down.”
Then, a wave hit the Crimson boat hard, another came right after it, and suddenly Harrity was up to his ankles in water. Meanwhile, Yale stretched its lead to a boat length.
“It got to the point where it was just way too much,” Harrity said. “There’s a little bit of panic. I think we tried to keep focused as best we could, but by the half-mile we were done.”
By the time the Crimson reached the half-mile buoy, their boat was sinking. That’s when chaos turned to confusion. An official waved the red flag to stop the race. Launch boats came to rescue Crimson rowers. All the while, the Elis were in open water, unsure of what to do.
“We kept going for a little while,” said Yale stroke Nate Goodman. “We sort of knew what had happened, but you don’t just stop. We stopped eventually. It was clear that once the Harvard guys started getting out of the boat and into launches, we stopped for a little while, milled around, and then we decided that were going to finish up the race.”
At the docks, Yale celebrated what it considered its second straight victory in the oldest rivalry in college sports. But hours after the race, it wasn’t clear if there was an actual victor. And when an official decision was announced, it wasn’t clear if there had been an actual race.
To Yale coach Steve Gladstone, the outcome was clear.
“You have to finish the race,” he said. “You have to finish the race and we finished the race. You’d much rather have both boats cross the finish line, of course. That’s just the way you feel about it. But we couldn’t control that in the Yale boat. We agreed to the race. They agreed to the race. The race is on.”
For nearly three hours after the race, Crimson coach Charley Butt argued otherwise.
“In most cases when there’s a misadventure, the boats get back together and they continue the race from the point of the misadventure,” he said. “If I didn’t challenge Yale’s contention that that was a race, then I would be remiss to the greatest degree. So I’m merely doing what I’m doing and [Gladstone] is contesting that that was a race even though it was a red flag.”
Butt lobbied in the hopes of a possible do-over. But with conditions only getting worse and schedules conflicting Monday, he knew the likelihood was slim.
“The only way to reconcile it is to row the piece and do that,” Butt said. “But that’s not going to happen [Sunday night] and I doubt it’s going to happen [Monday] morning. So it was not a race, according to the referee.
Judges ruled the race a no-contest — a first in the history of the regatta. But Yale took its performance as a victory.
“We don’t row in those kinds of conditions normally, but we row in rough conditions,” Nate Goodman said. “It’s kind of the same thing. You just have to make sure that when something inevitably goes wrong — someone’s oar is going to hit the water, wave’s going to come up and splash everybody — you’re ready for it, you keep moving, you keep racing. A big part of it is who’s going to race the race and who’s going to try and survive the conditions.
“We felt that they kind of called it because they were down and they just kind of gave up. I wasn’t too confused, I half expected it. I looked over a minute into the race and saw that they were a way down and they looked like they were struggling more than us.”
For Gladstone, the Elis faced the same treacherous conditions as the Crimson and withstood them.
“These are very, very challenging conditions, period,” Gladstone said. “That’s part of it. Oarsmanship, watermanship, call it what you want, that’s part of what you do. It’s unfortunate. It certainly would’ve been more satisfying for us had Harvard been able to finish the race, without question.”