I've had many coxswains ask me if I have any tips for The Head of the Charles. What a loaded question that one is.
I've decided to break the course down in the simplest instructions. After all, the more simple you make your coxing the better off you'll be.
For me the warm-up for HOCR is the worst part of the race. Once you launch it is usually too crowded to throw in any warm-up 10's let alone 20's without having to make that very tight turn around Elliot or try and pass a crew going half boat, arms and body through a bridge. With that said, I hope your coach has your rowers do a solid warm-up on land. You never know how bad the basin is going to be in terms of chop and traffic. Also, what I don't like is the fact that once you make it up to the basin you have to merge into the traffic pattern and try and throw warm-up pieces while dodging other crews and also navigating the square they seem to make out of the warm-up area. I love also trying to avoid that crew who is late and decides to cross the middle of the warm-up area, going up the wrong side of the line-up area because everyone else was super early and stacked up already, forcing the late crew to break traffic pattern to make it to their spot on time.
My words of advice; leave plenty of time to get solid work done on the water before you race. Keep your crew moving. If you let them sit for too long in the cold their muscles will not like you during the first part of the race. When you need to line-up, odds on one side, evens on the other, tell your crew to keep their warm clothes on and not to take them off until you hear the announcer start your race.
Starting Shoot to Weeks:
Once you are lined up in the shoot make sure you are positioning your boat in the appropriate spot, spacial awareness is key to making this happen. Listen to the Ref who will be calling you up and make sure you are at full speed well before the line. Some coaches tell their coxswains to be right on the stern of the boat in front and some tell their coxswains to leave plenty of room between the boat in front of them. This is definitely a conversation you need to have with your coach. Strategy on when to pass and when to back off is a huge factor in head races. Also if it feels appropriate, introduce yourself to the coxswain who is in front of you. If you know their name and can yell it out to tell them what direction to go to get out of your way it could help.
The first part of the HOCR is pretty straight forward. Be aware that you are allowed to put your oars over the buoy line. Be careful if you choose this options. The buoys can get tangled on your rowers' oar if you are not completely committed to having the buoys under your riggers or under the middle of the oar shaft. Also be AWARE that you MUST go around ALL buoys, even the renegade buoys that get pushed off to the middle of the course. There have been years where there is a buoy that somehow moves from its original spot to make the turn very annoying, but you must go around All of them. So if you choose to cut it close look ahead, far ahead to make sure you are going around all of the buoys. If you miss one, it is YOUR fault.
Once you come around Magazine Beach and pass Riverside boathouse get lined up and ready to go straight down the Powerhouse stretch. It is longer than you think, I believe 2k+ (before Weeks), I could be wrong about this distance. Someone feel free to leave a comment if I am. This is where you need to come up with a plan and key phrases that will make your crew sit up and crush it. After the Western Bridge start thinking more about your steering and less about what you are saying. After leaving Western I tell my crew that I'm going to become more silent to line-up for Weeks.
There should be a blue cupola to point at then as you get closer hold your point to a small little tree on the shore in front of Weeks footbridge. You need to come off of the buoy line a bit and start your turn before you are under the Weeks. You also need to make your Ports paddle, the easier they make it for the Starboards the better you'll be. Tell your Starboards to hit it and this is when you need to be getting anxious. I always think to myself, "Am I going to hit this abutment?" If you are thinking that then it means that you started your turn in the right place.
Leaving Weeks and on to the finish line:
After you leave Weeks look ahead and aim for the middle arch of Anderson. I've seen a lot of coxswains hold their very tight Weeks turn for too long and decide to visit Harvard's boathouse. You need to be in the middle of that body of water to hit Anderson. You also have to see if you will need your Ports to hit it a couple of strokes to whip around Anderson. After you leave Anderson look ahead to find the apex of the big bend to Port. This turn is more of a bend and it is longer than you think. You can easily lose 10 seconds around the turn if you are on the outside of a crew. Make sure that you position yourself well leaving Anderson.
Then comes my favorite part....Eliot. This turn is my favorite. It is where a lot of crew make mistakes and there is a lot of passing and some don't make the turn and decide or maybe not fully decide to "dock" at Cambridge instead of making the turn. This turn you can definitely follow the buoy line and you should. It is a two part turn where you have to call your Starboards in, then everyone go, then Starboards only again, then everyone FULL! As you come under the bridge start looking for the green buoy right on the corner of the dock in front of the Belmont Hill-Winsor boathouse. There is usually a lot of people on it watching you. Get your Starboard blades as close as you like to that buoy if not riggers over it if you and your rowers don't mind it hitting all Starboard blades. After the buoy, get nice and close to the bushes on Starboard until you come around the corner to Starboard and see the finish line. Then get a good straight course to the finish line.
I hope this helps and I think I definitely skipped some boring parts of the race. I hope you guys get to practice on the course before racing and definitely practice the turns at full speed. Visualizing when to have rowers come in and out of pressure before executing the turn on the water will help make your calls simple and clear.
Good luck and drive it like you stole it this weekend!