BOSTON -- The Orange Coast College men's crew took on the top rowers in the country at the 55th Head of the Charles Regatta and in the largest rowing regatta held in the United States, the Pirates took second overall in the Men's Collegiate 4+ event on Sunday.
It was the first trip to this prestigious event since 2014 for the Pirates, who were seeded 24th out of 40 boats in the time trial format.
For those not familar with the Head of the Charles, it is a much different race than those held in the springtime during the regular rowing season.
- The races out in front of the OCC Boathouse and throughout the season are straightaway races that cover 2,000 meters. At the Head of the Charles, the race is 4,800 meters and the course is full of twists and turns to handle and bridges to navigate through.
- Most springtime races involve no more than eight boats per race. The Head of the Charles is a staggered time trial race, where the top-seeded boat goes out first, with the next-seeded boat taking off 10 seconds after the previous boat. With all 40 boats in the water and all of the curves and bridges to work around, the race has the potential to have the feel of the Indy 500 vs. a simple, straight, start-to-finish race.
"You could have the fastest time of your life, then all of a sudden, collide with another boat, and it's all over," OCC head coach Cam Brown said. "We had to make sure we knew the course well and we had to be prepared for all of the turns and bridges and how to work around all of that. We were seeded 24th mainly because we haven't been at the race in a few years. The top 10 boats from last year's race get seeded 1-through-10 and after that, it's kind of up to the regatta after that. So we knew being in the middle of the pack, we were going to be faster than a lot of boats ahead of us so we had to be able to work around them as well as the course."
In addition to getting the opportunity to compete against the very best, the Pirates also were able to use a very prestigious boathouse for the weekend. As in years past, Harvard University played host to OCC and lent the program equipment for the event as well as a home base at the Harvard Crew Boathouse for the weekend – the coaches and program of Harvard Crew continued their generosity and support of Coast Crew as they have for many decades. "To have the guys get the opportunity to just be around an atmosphere like that is truly remarkable," Brown said. "The people at Harvard and everyone involved with the event really made the cross-country trip as comfortable as possible."
As for the race, the crew of Garrett Putnam, Alex Sobrato, Dominic Feist, Gabe Mandossian and coxswain Gracie Rullo went out strong and at the first check-point, the Pirates actually notched the fastest time at that point with a mark of 3 minutes, 42.140 seconds. UCLA took advantage of a No. 3 seeding and some calmer waters to win the 3-mile race with a time of 16 minutes, 19.035 seconds. OCC earned the silver medal with a time of 16:31.182, while UC Santa Barbara (the 16th seed) took home the bronze medal at 16:31.386. Fourth place went to Bowdoin College at 16:34.609, while Oklahoma City University finished fifth at 16:34.609.
"We lost to UCLA by 11 seconds, but in a race like that ... all it takes is one improper turn, or a bump from another boat to make all of the difference," Brown said. "We banged oars with other boats a couple of times, but for the most part, we managed to get around that course without major trouble. Our coxswain did a great job of communicating with our rowers and they did a great job of steering and turning along with battling through a much longer course than they're used to."
Known as the "Giant Killers", the OCC Pirates added several big-name programs to that list following Sunday's regatta, including Notre Dame (finished 6th), Vanderbuilt (8th), North Carolina (9th), Michigan (12th), Boston College (15th) and top-seeded Georgia Tech (30th).
With the success of this year's Head of the Charles, the Pirates will return to Boston next year as the No. 2 seed and will get ahead of the slower boats in 2020. "I think with doing it this year, we have a much greater understanding of the race, the course and what we need to do to be even better prepared for next year," Brown said.