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Back of the Head

Lose Irwin

By Steven D. Irwin

The Head of the Charles Regatta's "Championship Eights" lineup: Harvard Varsity; 1964 Olympic Team; Washington University; Kirkland House Elite Eight; Vespers Boat Club...Kirkland House Elite Eight??? Wait one minute!

Believe it or not, Kirkland House boldly challenged the world's finest crews this year in the Head. Armed with six men, two women a mean coxswain, a six of Miller and champagne, we set out Sunday as the last boat in the last heat of the entire regatta with two goals. First, we were determined not to be the last crew to finish the course despite being outclassed, and second, we wanted to avoid wrecking our racing shell--or anybody else's.

House crew differs quite a bit from varsity rowing. For one thing, House crew doesn't have that masochist tinge to it--no ergs, four-mile runs or Nautilus. You just wake up (at least try to wake up) at approximately 6 a.m. every morning and row. Row hard, row strong, row with your eyes closed--row whatever the cox says; after all, who's in any shape to argue at that hour?

House crew is friendlier than its regimented cousin across the river. In a varsity boat, oarsmen signal they are ready to row by barking, "bow, two, three..." House oarsmen are more akin to the Mouseketeers: "Brad! Kathleen! Liz! Liam!..."

We left Weld Boat House heading upstream an hour before the 4 p.m. start. In this way we could cheer on our K-House sister crew rowing in the Mixed-club eights and see if they were still afloat after the first mile marker.

When we reached the basin, I asked everyone how they felt. Aside from the expected nervousness, I learned, not only the adrenaline was flowing. More than half the Kirkland crew needed a restroom, and since Indian summer had solicited an audience of thousands, the River Charles was not an auspicious site.

Before we really had time to solve this problem, however, an announcement to the tune of "Gentlemen, start your engines" came from the B.U. Boathouse, and the world's 39 greatest crews, and K-House, began rushing through the Charles' mighty waters. We were the fortieth and final "Championship Eight" boat to depart, and as we passed the judges, they promptly informed the crowd that the last boat in the 1979 Head of the Charles Regatta was on its way. A senior in our boat sighed at this point, "Just think, this is the last time I'll ever have to exert myself."

Almost a mile into the race, a chance to reach our first goal arose. Colgate University (number 39) was ahead and by some grace of God we were gaining on them. Only our cox, Lisa, really knew that we were approaching them, since we were supposed to keep our eyes in the boat (or else you get rocks in it, or something).

At any rate, we did pass them and stroked hard on to the power stretch, a portion of the river marked by bridges, upon which sit spectators who think you are a boat of Championship Eight caliber. I felt confident and pulled harder until our cox gave us the encouraging reminder that we had made it half way. This is about as encouraging as a grade from the Government Department: "Excellent paper: B."

To make an already long story not as long as it could be, I'll tell you that I caught a second wind and in mechanical rhythm finished the course. Our cox cried wolf only once, calling for a power 20 with 80 strokes left, another power 20 with 60 strokes left, ad infinitum (or at least so it seemed).

When she finally said, "way 'nough!" I collapsed in my seat, hands blistered and shriveled, and soaked with a combination of river water and sweat. Almost immediately we broke out the booze and paddled back to Weld--oar in one hand, beer in the other--to cheers from the crowd that remained. Only now did I notice that the 1979 Head had been the last race for my sliding seat, which cracked and lost a bolt at the finish line. Somebody was on our side. In fact, we had finished in 19'33", not particularly good for the Championship Eights, but better than our best practice time of 28 minutes and ahead of Colgate, the last boat to finish the Head. They came a long way to finish last, but I know nine members of K-House who are so glad they did.

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