When a crew loses two of its key oarsmen just prior to a race like Henley, you can usually count that boat out as a possible contender for a trophy as prestigious as the Thames Cup. So when the Harvard varsity lightweight crew learned that number two man Paul McKenna had an infection in his heart and number seven Todd Howard had eligibility problems, thus preventing both from going to England, the lights' chances of victory seemed out the window.
Jerry Boak, stroke of this year's undefeated Eastern Sprints champ junior varsity boat, replaced McKenna at two. Tim Hackert, also on the J.V. boat, took Howard's place on the starboard side. Even though both were better than adequate replacements, the crew never got back the momentum built up en route to an undefeated season and an Eastern Sprints Championship this spring. Besides the loss of raw power in the boat (Howard and McKenna were the two strongest oarsmen on the team) the makeshift Crimson crew lacked that essential ingredient in rowing that distinguishes a first-rate from a second-rate crew. The rhythym that a team builds after racing a whole season together had vanished with the intrusion of two people with rowing styles different from the oarsmen they replaced.
In a top-notch eight, the individuals develop a "swing" that allows a boat to glide smoothly through the water right on keel. Rowers adjust to the imperfections in their teammates' rowing technique, so that after racing a season together, the boat is almost perfectly balanced, and there is as little resistance as possible to the shell cutting through the water. The crew had achieved this near-perfect swing after months of working together as a unit, but it all disappeared with the loss of Howard and McKenna.
Trying to get the rhythm back in the boat in a few weeks proved an impossible task. Harvard coach John Higginson was never satisfied with the way the team rowed during that time.
This was painfully evident when Harvard was pulverized in a pre-Henley warmup race at Nottingham by some English lightweight crews.
But the Crimson refused to give up the ship. When their first race at Henley came up a week later, they came out roaring and won 'easily' (the Henley term for a better than five length win). They duplicated the feat in the second race and won their third contest by better than two lengths.
In the semi-final against Quinton Boat Club, Harvard was down by six seats at the start, but fought back to win it by three quarters of a length.
The final against Antwerp was a different story. Harvard took as quick lead of six seats, but the bigger Antwerp team (they outweighed the Crimson by an average of 20 pounds per man) proved too much to handle, and Antwerp powered to a three-quarter length victory. Number four Peter Huntsman '74 summarized his team's feelings after the race.
"I feel that we did the best we could under the circumstances. Antwerp was an excellent crew. We rowed as hard as we could, but they had more to call on than we did. We're proud we got into the finals, and we showed that we belonged at Henley," he said.
That's the very least that can be said.