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Your Head-of-the-Charles Primer

The Lingo


Alte Achter: the 1972 U.S. Olympic eight. Made up primarily of Harvard orwers, this boat holds a reunion each year at the Head to relive the experiences the crew shared at the Munich Games.

The Amateurs: David Halberstam's latest book. The Amateurs chronicles the struggle of four rowers to earn the right to be the American single sculler at the 1984 Olympics. Maybe the most important book ever written about the sport.

blade: cool way of saying oar. Also a way to refer to the painted part of the oar.

callouses: only way to identify a real rower. The blades leave raw spots on your hands which turn into brown, scaly callouses.

Cambridge: rowing's Mecca. Home of the powerful Harvard and Radcliffe crews and many of the country's finest individual scullers.

Charles: long, local chemical bath. Used to develop film and home to Boston area crews.

coxswain (cox): the little person in the rear of the shell. He or she steers the shell, keeps the rowers informed of their progress in the race, and controls the pace of the shell by calling for power strokes and the sprint at the end. Coxswains must weigh at least 99 pounds (for women--125 pounds for men), if they are less than that, sand bags are carried to bring the shell's weight up to that standard.

crab: put the blade in the water at aother than a 90 degree angle. This causes the blade to dive into the water, which in turn destroys the rower's rhytym and at worst flips him or her out of the shell.

curvature of the Earth: what the Radcliffe lights win their races by.

double: a shell with two scullers.

eight: the most common shell in intercollegiate rowing. An eight has eight sweep oarsmen and a cox.

Eliot Bridge: bridge just upstream from Harvard that is the site of the most notorious crashes at the Head. The twisting river has little mercy for coxs unfamiliar with its hairpin turns and bridge arches.

engine room: the middle sweeps in an eight. The biggest and strongest rowers sit in the middle of the shell and from that position they give the shell its biggest bursts of power.

ergometer (erg): a machine that simulates rowing. An erg looks somewhat like half a bike glued to a thin rail and a little sliding vinyl seat. Ergs measure a rower's power by counting how many revolutions of the bicycle wheel he or she can generate.

four: a shell with four sweeps and a cox.

freeboard: the three inches of the shell above the surface of the water. Shells are notoriously easy to swamp with such little protection from rough water or the wakes of passing motorboats.

freshmen: freshmen are not allowed to row varsity crew in men's competition, so they form their own freshmen boats. The 1983 Harvard freshmen won the Ladies Challenge Plate at Henley, the second most prestigious event at that regatta.

Harvard-Yale Race: held in early June each year on the Thames River in Conn., the Harvard-Yale race is four miles long, as opposed to the usual 2000-meter contest and stresses endurance. Harvard's 18-year hold on the event was broken by the Elis in 1981. The Crimson broke a four-year Bulldog victory string with a triumph in the spring.

Head of the Charles: the biggest single-day rowing regatta in the world. 100,000 spectators, 44,000 Bloody Marys, 3200 competitors, 720 shells, 18 races--all right at your doorstep. A must see.

Henley: the most important regatta in the world each year. Held outside of London at Henley-on-Thames, the event pits the best shells in the world against each other. The Harvard heavyweight crew won the Grand Challenge Cup in July, beating Princeton in the final to claim the mythical world university championship.

Pertti Karpinnen: the best single scull in the world, perhaps the best rower ever. Karpinnen has won three straight Olympic gold medals and edged out Harvard's Andy Sudduth at the World Championships this summer. At 6-ft., 6-in., 225-lb., the Finn is the most imposing figure in the world of crew. He will not be racing tomorrow.

lightweight: a shell with a specific weight limit. For men, the boat must average 150 pounds per oarsmen. For women, the average must be 129.5 pounds.

nationals: the race to determine the national intercollegiate rowing champion. The Crimson heavies drew a bid after winning the Eastern Sprints and narrowly defeated Princeton to claim the national crown in Cincinatti last June. Radcliffe lights won the national title by an unprecedented 20 seconds.

Newell: the Harvard boathouse. Located on the southern bank of the Charles, Newell is the newer boathouse and houses the Harvard crews. Newell has tanks, indoor rowing facilities that simulate on-water conditions for traiing in winter months.

novice: freshmen can row women's varsity crew, so those that are inexperienced are grouped together as novices.

pair: a shell with two sweeps.

Harry Parker: god. The most important single figure in American rowing. Parker is in his 24th year as the Harvard heavyweight coach and coached the U.S. scullers for the 1984 Olympics. Parker went to Penn, where he discovered rowing. He will be racing in the master's singles at the Head.

port: a starboard sweep rows with his or her left hand on the end of the oar handle.

power: a series of all-out strokes that a shell uses to try to surge ahead of its opponents. Listen for coxswains calling for power during the Head.

quad: a shell with four scullers and a cox.

Radcliffe lights: the crew that's biggest problem is finding another crew willing to race it. Dominated its entire schedule the sprints and the nationals last spring, claiming every race by open water.

Rude and Smooth: 1974-'75 Harvard heavyweight crew that won two national titles: So-called because of their rude behavior, shouting epithets at other boats as they put them away in the sprint at the end of the race, and smooth technique.

scull: to row with two blades. This is as opposed to sweeping, which is with one blade per person. Sculling can be an individual sport, a shell with just one sculler is called a single.

seat racing: the ultimate--and most brutal--test for an individual sweep. Two fours are lined up and raced, two rowers switch boats and the race is repeated. The stronger rower is determined by the relative results of the two races.

shell: the proper name for a thin boat, which holds one, two, four and eight rowers and perhaps a coxswain.

single: a shell with a single sculler.

sprint: the final portion of a race. When the crews pick up their stroke rate and go all out until the end. Many races are decided during this crucial stretch.

Sprints: events held each spring to determine Eastern champions. The men's sprints are held on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester in May to determine the Eastern lightweight and heavyweight champion crews. The women's sprints are a week later on Lake Waramaug in New Preston, Conn. The most important regular event on the crew calender.

starboard: a port sweep rows with his or her right hand on the end of the oar handle.

stroke: the most important sweep in an eight. The stroke sits nearest the coxswain and sets the pace for the entire boat by determining the rate of of strokes per minute. Usually a shell will row around 36 strokes (28 for a head race) a minute but pick up the pace near the end of the race during the final 500

Andy Sudduth: the best American single sculler. Sudduth, who graduated from Harvard in 1985, stroked the Harvard eight that won Henley, won a silver medal at the 1984 Olympics as a member of the U.S. eight, and placed second in the world championships for single sculls this summer. He is the favorite to win the singles event at the Head.

sweep: to row with only one blade. This is as oppsoed to sculling, which is with two blades, one in each hand. A sweep has both hands on one blade.

tank: a shallow pool with a cement strip, slides and oarlocks set in the center. A tank allows a crew to practice as a unit in the winter.

tetanus shot: what you need to get after you get thrown or fall into the Charles.

Alison Townley: The finest Radcliffe rower. The junior will be stroking the Radcliffe heavies at the Head and was on the national team this summer.

Barb Trafton: a lightweight. She won the indoor Crash-B ergometer sprints in the winter and is a favorite in the women's singles.

t-shirt: traditional bet on the outcome of intercollegiate crew races. The members of each winning boat collect the shirts of their opponents. At the sprints, the winning crew will pick up 14 shirts after the final race.

Washington: the most powerful men's crew in the West. The Huskies are frequent national champions and challenge Harvard and Yale for national rowing supremacy. Washington won't be at the Head.

Tiff Wood: the unluckiest man in rowing. After rowing with the Rude and Smooth, Wood was selected as the spare on the 1976 Olympic team, but never rowed a stroke. He was captain of the 1980 men's team, but the U.S. boycott cost him that chance. He lost out in his bid to become the single sculler for the 1984 Olympic team, and ended up as the spare again.

Weld: the Radcliffe boathouse. It is the older of the two boathouses and is located on the northern bank of the Charles near the Weeks Bridge.

Yale: perennially, the second most powerful crew in the East. The Elis share the region's top billing with Harvard after surviving a drought of strong rowers in the early '70s.

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