By Göran R Buckhorn
HTBS’s Göran R Buckhorn went to Red Top for the 154th Yale-Harvard Race on Saturday, 8 June. Here is his report.
Saturday offered beautiful weather for the Yale-Harvard Regatta on the Thames River in New London, Connecticut. Harvard’s boathouse Red Top had generously opened its grounds for the public, including a simple rowing writer as yours truly.
Arriving at Red Top, it was immediately clear which team had won the 2-mile Combination Race the previous evening. Across the river from Red Top, the famous Rock was painted blue with a large white ‘Y’. Tradition allows the winning crew from the Friday race to paint The Rock in its team’s colour.
The first race on Saturday, at 12:45, was the 3rd Varsity, where the crews race 2 miles upstream from Mamacoke Hill to Bartlett’s Cove. Both crews got a good start and were fighting side-by-side in the beginning of the race. Half-way, the Bulldogs were a few seats up which after a couple of minutes became almost a full length. You could hear a disappointing mumbling among the gathered Crimson fans at Red Top, who were watching the race on a big TV screen in a tent. It looked like Harvard were not going to repeat their victory in the 3rd Varsity from last year.
Many fans left the tent when we were able to see the two crews out on the river from Red Top. What seemed like a miracle, the Crimson sneaked up from behind, were suddenly neck-and-neck, then had a nose lead. The Bulldogs could not respond and fell behind. Rumour had it at Red Top that one of the Yale oarsmen collapsed but that is unconfirmed while I’m writing this. Big cheers from the Harvard fans when the Crimson crew crossed the finish line as the first boat. For the second consecutive year The New London Cup went to Harvard.
Coming back to Red Top, the Crimson 3rd Varsity was met by cheers and applause. Parents, friends, girlfriends, fans and others took photographs of the happy nine, but took a couple of steps back when it was time for Nicolas Yan, the cox, to be tossed into the Thames.
While the fans waited for the next race, the one for 2nd Varsity, on the 3-mile course between the Coast Guard Academy and the Bartlett’s Cove, they lined up for some hamburgers, hot dogs, pasta, salad and other food items that some good people served throughout the regatta. There were also free drinks, and I must confess that it was tempting to ask for a G&T, but it was still early in the day and there were two more races to cover.
At 1:30, the crews in the 2nd Varsity race took off, now with tougher water conditions and a strong tailwind. Harvard took an early lead and at the two-mile mark they were two lengths ahead. Yale never caused a threat to the Crimson victory. The fans at Red Top cheered on their boat as soon as the crews were in sight from the shore.
Harvard’s victorious 2nd Varsity boat was greeted by their teammates from the 3rd Varsity when they approached the dock. At one point, the boat’s Australian stroke, David Fleming, waved with The F. Valentine Chappell Trophy showing that Harvard had taken the second cup of the day.
Some moving pictures will sum up the Red Top atmosphere after the second race.
However, there was no question which boat was going to win the third race of the day, the 1st Varsity. The Bulldogs came to the regatta after an undefeated season, having become the national champions for the third year in a row and also winning the Eastern Sprint.
At the start, Yale took a five-seat lead almost immediately and kept increasing its lead all the way down the 4-mile course from the Gold Star Bridge to Bartlett’s Cove. However, Harvard tried to get closer to their arch rivals.
‘[Harvard] never gave up once and kept trying to move back into us. Credit is due to all of these guys. We just kept our composure all the way down and never let them have a sniff,’ Yale oarsman Charlie Elwes, who rowed in the six-seat, said according to an article in The Day. Elwes was one of 10 Brits rowing for Yale this season. Harvard also had 10 rowers coming from Great Britain. As the only senior in the boat, Elwes will leave for England, but he hopes to be back in the USA in July to compete for Great Britain in the World Rowing Under-23 Championships in Sarasota-Bradenton, Florida, he told the New Haven Register.
With the strong tailwind, Yale cruised to the finish line, crossing the line in the brilliant time of 18 minutes, 30.9 seconds, an upstream course record time. The previous record was also held by Yale, of 18 minutes, 35 seconds, set in 2015.
‘I think our guys put together exactly the race they needed to do to win. It’s obviously an exceptional crew. Its unbeaten, won the national championship and won the Eastern Sprints,’ Yale coach Steve Gladstone told media. ‘It’s always satisfying seeing people that you coach execute and perform. That’s very, very satisfying. And they’ve done that all season.’
Despite the loss, Harvard coach Charley Butt was pleased with his crew’s performance. ‘We fought the whole way. There’s nothing more we could have done, Butt said. ‘So, I feel like it was a great victory in terms of effort, poise and determination. All those things that sports are about. Yeah, they’re faster. And you have to admire what the best guys in that boat are doing.’
The Crimson crew were met with warm applause by their fans at Red Top. The Bulldogs proved to be too hard to beat this time. Nevertheless, coach Butt seems confident that he will be able to build a good Varsity crew from the oarsmen in the 2nd and 3rd Varsity boats for the next season.
There were many nationalities in this year’s Yale and Harvard boats. There were nine foreign countries represented in the crews: Great Britain (20), Australia (9), New Zealand (7), Germany (2), Ireland (1), South Africa (1), Switzerland (1), Italy (1) Serbia (1), and to these should be added the 29 American oarsmen. In these numbers, the Friday’s ‘combination’ crews are included.
After Yale’s victory of the 154th race, Harvard leads with 95 wins to Yale’s 58.
Yale – 18:30.9
Harvard – 18:35.8
Harvard – 14:11.1
Yale – 14:23.1
Harvard – 9:49.8
Yale – 9:55.6
Yale – 9:55.0
Harvard – 9:57.2
Photography © Göran R Buckhorn