David Fuller got snow on his blazer and tie when he guided Harvard University’s freshman eight in the Head of the Charles Regatta a year ago, and maintained a family tradition.
Fuller, whose older twin brothers rowed for the Crimson before starting careers in the financial industry, may not be sporting such an Ivy League wardrobe this weekend, when the 46th edition of what bills itself as the world’s largest regatta takes place on the Charles River near the Harvard campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Testing the chances of himself and his teammates to win varsity spots in the Crimson crew next year, Fuller, a 19-year-old coxswain, will be among 8,800 rowers -- including Charles Pieper, a former Harvard hockey player and now a vice chairman of Credit Suisse Group AG, and Dick Cashin, a former Crimson rower and now a managing partner at JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s One Equity Partners -- competing before 300,000 fans who turn the riverbanks into a three-mile-long party.
“It’s an opportunity to see where our fitness is, and how our development is coming along,” Fuller said in a telephone interview. “But we try and have some fun with it, too.”
Started in 1965, the regatta has attracted crews ranging from prep schools to Olympians. This year’s competition -- time-trials, or so-called head races against the clock -- may focus on college rowers, with national teams preparing for the World Rowing Championships in New Zealand that start next weekend.
That won’t deter the racers and spectators, who gather on blankets or in hospitality tents to eat, drink and connect, said Fred Schoch, the regatta’s executive director who has run the race for 20 years.
“I feel like the biggest wedding planner in all of New England,” Schoch, 61, said in a telephone interview. “I do all the planning all year for one great weekend.”
The regatta’s $2 million budget is financed by sponsors including EMC Corp., Delta Air Lines Inc., closely held Retail Brand Alliance Inc.’s Brooks Brothers and Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln. Schoch’s non-profit committee wouldn’t disclose advertising fees and said the regatta usually leaves a surplus for the organization.
A financial loss was looming last year before Hopkinton, Massachusetts-based EMC, a data-storage company, signed on in August, according to Schoch.
“We were biting our nails,” he said. “We would have lost money. We were cutting everything in sight to pare costs. The economy was tough and sponsorship deals usually have a two- to three-year incubation period.”
The regatta doesn’t award prize money. Winners in 56 races receive a 3-inch diameter bronze medal. Much of the two days are about networking.
Free to VIP
Schoch said he sets up a reunion village with 40 tents that are rented by schools, who serve food and wine and reconnect with alumni. Admission is $3. Stanford University, Duke University, Ivy League schools and even some private high schools rent the tents, which are about midway up the course, he said. There’s also a VIP area run by Delta near the final bend of the course that charges $75 a day or $125 for the weekend.
Fuller, the Harvard coxswain, said the race is as much about family and friends as about winning medals and preparing for the spring season.
He said he hopes to spend time with his brothers, 22-year-old Mark and Chris, and their father, Joe. The twins work for Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, Chris in mergers and acquisitions and Mark in financial sponsors. Dad, a Harvard Business School graduate, is co-founder of the Monitor Group, a Cambridge-based consulting firm.
“When the weather is nice, it’s like a carnival on the banks,” Joe Fuller, 53, said in an interview. “Everyone knows each other and there is a respect among the oarsmen.”
Neither of the Fuller twins will be among the 75 alumni teams returning to the Charles, such as Dartmouth College’s Ever Green, Yale University’s Blue Cheese, Princeton University’s Fat Cats and Williams College’s Purple Reign.
Harvard lets its student teams decide what to wear for the race, and last year’s freshmen rowed in buttoned-down shirts, blazers, ties and waterproof pants. Temperatures during the regatta on Oct. 17-18, 2009, hovered around freezing and it snowed the second day.
The forecast this year calls for temperatures in the mid-50s to low-60s and sunny skies. David Fuller wouldn’t say how much different his crew’s uniform will be from a year ago.
“It’s sort of a secret we keep until the day of the race,” he said. “It’s just a lot of fun.”