Head of the Charles Attracts Thousands

* Spectators watch races, collect gifts from area vendors

Despite the cooler weather and mostly clouded skies, thousands flocked to the annual Head of the Charles regatta this weekend.

While many of the spectators said they enjoyed watching the crew team races and strolling along the river, others said they were also drawn to the event by the vendors and display booths set up along the river.

"Getting free stuff, that's all that matters," said Michelle E. Barlow, a Cambridge resident, who said she was drawn to the event by the variety of free merchandise offered by vendors.

Some merchants said they were more than happy to be able to satisfy people's cravings.

BankBoston workers filled cup after cup of free apple cider, while nearby representatives from Proctor and Gamble distributed bottles of Scope mouthwash accompanied by brochures that read, "Hey, it's only your future. Don't blow it with your breath."

Paul Pfuhl, a Motorola employee representing the company at the event estimated that Motorola had given out 65 cases of candy in plastic megaphones over the last two days.

The company was on hand encouraging students to consider careers with Motorola, he said.

Other merchants said they hope to make a profit at the event and make use of the crowds of people to publicize their merchandise.

Jill A. Caputo, director of new marketing development for J. Crew, the official outfitter of the regatta, said the regatta was an ideal place for advertising.

"Considering the customer, this is a logical extension for us," she said.

Representatives from J. Crew said they were selling t-shirts at a brisk pace.

Representatives from other booths lining the river said they had more social and/or political causes in mind.

Jane M. Debros and her husband Fred M. Debros were on hand, encouraging Massachusetts residents to sign a petition to put an initiative on the Massachusetts ballot to abolish state highway tolls.

But the Debros said they collected relatively few signatures over the course of the two day regatta.

"There are too many young people," Jane Debros said. "[There are] too many people not from Boston, too many New Yorkers and foreigners."

There were fewer spectators at the regatta event this year than in previous years, according to Matt F. Brannelly, a spokesperson of the Cambridge Fire Department.

About 300,000 people were expected to attend; he estimated that there were about 50,000 people by the river yesterday afternoon. Brannelly said he attributed the low turnout to the grey weather.

Yet, the weather did not deter Nicola O'c Fitz-Simon, a rower for Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

"It was nice weather," she noted. "We're used to rowing in the rain.