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9th Seat is the brainchild of Mary Whipple, Olympic gold medalist coxswain of the US women’s eight. Here you’ll find informative blog posts, tips and tricks, and opportunities to learn from the best!

HOCR 101–Don’t forget about Eliot!


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.

The Warm-up:

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 and go 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.  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+ (18before 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 Port 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 right side 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 Startboard riggers.  After the buoy get nice a 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.

Wow, I think this is the longest blog yet on the 9th Seat.  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!


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Posted at Wednesday, October 14th, 2009 in: Coxswain Q & A

22 Responses to “HOCR 101–Don’t forget about Eliot!”

  1. Coxswain says:

    The stretch after riverside to weeks is around 1280m, thanks for your posts!

  2. HOCR-4 days says:

    To expound upon that post, see the stretch from just about 100m after weeks to about 200 m after riverside, is the high school racing stretch, adn that’s 1280 m, so if you push that back 100 m, to get to riverside thats 1380m and then subtract the 200m after the finish so you get to 1180m for weeks to riverside; so the post above is almost correct on the exact distance, but i think i might be more correct. thanks again! and sorry for the irrelevance of this post! thanks for your awesome insight.

  3. Whipdog,

    Spot on with this one. I really liked your comments about the warmup, and I hear this weekend is going to be nasty. As for steering the buoys, I totally agree. The only time I put them under the riggers is at Eliot (and that green Cat-in-the-Hat buoy off the BB&N dock) otherwise, it’s too little benefit for too much risk of penalty.

    [whip cracking sound here]


  4. Zack Williamson says:

    Coming out of powerhouse, there is a big tree directly straight that has turned yellow, the others around it haven’t yet. It makes for an easy point, then come around straight through to Anderson. Should I call the ports back in pressure for those couple strokes coming under Weeks? I’ve always been close with just rudder. And yeah, the weather this weekend is going to not be fun.

    • Mary Whipple says:

      If you cannot rudder it, then definitely use your rowers to help you. After you execute the turn under through Weeks, then you should say, “Even pressure,” or “Ports add back in with pressure.” Whatever you chose to say try to time it right so you don’t have over steer or hold to turn too long.

      Hope your race went well,


  5. Harry says:

    Hi, I’m currently coxing for my college in NZ and i know how to cox I just need help to move my coxing to the next level? just a few tips that will improve me to the next level.

  6. Nick Snow says:

    Great guide. I think the decision to commit to riggers over bouys should be made on the warm up, as opposed to set as a rule. I went riggers over bouys in all the right places (yeah, that’s a mild sexual pun), in the Men’s youth 8+ in ’09 and didn’t have issues. I also didn’t see anything about the Big Turn (I could have just skipped over it). Lots of time can be made up for or taken away through that section.
    Those are my thoughts (granted I’ve never coxed in the Olypmics or at the National level).

  7. jamie says:

    hey im a coxswain to and i was wondering if you have and good motivational commands for me. i have some but i neen some different ones. have any ideas ans sometimes i repeat them to. have any websites i could go on and get some.

  8. jamie says:

    and im a coxswain n hs too. im like the only real varsity coxn on the team even though there are two others. this is my third yr and ive heard good things bout you being a good coxn and i wanna be a really good coxn like you

  9. jamie says:

    i cox at hickory high school n ches va we practice at the great bridge locks with great bridge. we have been going to nationals the last cuple years last year we had a girls four go and our double. the double started at semifinaks and didnt make it to finals but our girls four made it all the way to semifinals which is good for us. cause we r kind of a small club so.

  10. Coco says:

    I am a novice coxswain for a sophmore novice boys 4 boat and i am 13. i really want my coach to officially train me but dont want him to second guess his choice of me as a cox for that boat. how should i ask him? all the boys in the boat are super suportive and really ant me to be their cox for the race in about 3 weeks. i am 5’5 and 130 pounds so their are better choices for coxswains. i really want this postion and my cach really likes the way i yell at my boat and so does my boat. what should i do?
    thank you!!

    • Mary Whipple says:

      Hi Coco,

      Please ask your coach for a one-on-one meeting. Asking for more advice does not show that you are incompetent it shows that you want to be there and want to be better. The coach will start to have more confidence in you when you ask him how he wants certain things done….and then you actually execute it exactly how he told you to. Coaches only lose confidence in their coxswains when they don’t follow instruction and their on the water decision making doesn’t make sense.

      Good luck!


  11. […] Articles HOCR 101–Don't forget about Eliot!Welcome to The 9th […]

  12. Acox says:

    Really appreciate the “am I going to hit the abutment?” feeling. I have that everytime and I’m glad you confirmed it.

  13. Cait says:

    Hi Mary! I am a novice coxswain and I was just thrown into HOCR with only 2 months of training which included very very little water time! I had no idea what I was doing and we were doing fine until one of the bridges ( I can’t recall which one). I never learned what to do once I passed another boat coming up on a bridge. I was always taught to go straight in the middle. But then the boat we passed came right up behind us and hit us from behind (thank gosh we were the last bow number). We got a huge penalty and of course it was the bridge where my terribly mean coach was on. Once we got off the boat she made our lives hell.! There was another novice on our 4+ boat who so happened to be my bow (and normall rowed port). She (the coach) humiliated me in front of The entire team and told them that in the next race they were going to have to just bring me on the boat and cox themselves!!! It was such a traumatizing experience I switched to my highschool team because I still enjoyed the sport but I was tired of having Panick attacks whenever around her . My new team isn’t very good or competitive but I have so much fun and I don’t feel scared of being screamed at! You have inspired me to continue to cox! Even if it is just for fun! Maybe I can cox in college eventually

  14. Delaney says:

    Hi Mary,

    I am a coxswain for Everett Rowing Association. I am taking the varsity women’s 8 to HOCR this weekend. We leave on Wednesday. I am planing to come by to see you and hopefully have you sign my headset or something, as my coxbox belongs to the club. I met your sister Sarah at practice a few weeks ago. The Tuesday after your wedding. Which I saw the pictures of and was beautiful by the way. I am really looking forward to meeting you this weekend. Any other racing tips you’re wiling to hand out? This my fourth year coxing but by first HOCR, I can use all the help I can get. Thanks. :)

  15. Jacqueline says:

    hi Mary !! what do you think is best to say and focus on when an 8+ is doing a 4k race ?? any tips on what to say ??

  16. […] HOCR 101–Don't forget about Eliot!Welcome to The 9th Seat […]

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