By John Tracey
What’s more exciting than talking about the weather? A lot of things. Unless you’re a rower, in which case The Weather is always in the forefront of your mind. If you sleep in and miss a morning row (I’ve become an evening rower, so this is normal for me), you drive by the river on the way to work and see it perfectly flat, perfect temperature, with scullers plying the water with ease. You say “DAMN! Why do I have to work? Why can’t I be out there?” You know that these days are precious and few. When you do row in those conditions, and get a full, long, thorough workout, you drive by with this smug attitude, like, “HA. I was there. I experienced that. And no one can ever take it away from me.” I honestly do not think that normal athletes in normal sports have these types of feelings. But maybe it’s just me.
The weather is fun conversation. It gives us something in common with complete strangers – not unlike sports. We all have to live with it, and none of us can control it. Which makes worrying about it totally pointless. I love the expression, “Everyone talks about the weather, but no one does anything about it!” One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons was on a Sunday, and Scott Adams, Dilbert’s brilliant creator and writer, was narrating. In the first box he had a narration saying, “Top 5 ways to reject a guy hitting on you” (obviously giving advice to women). In one of the squares, the narration at the top said, “Use the phrase ‘my boyfriend’ in a sentence.” The square shows Dilbert talking to some random woman, and he says, “Nice weather today…” Her response: “My boyfriend likes weather.”
When racing, the weather goes from being 9.5 on a scale of 1-10 in importance to…an 11. And the more important the race, the more neurotic you become about it. Let’s say the race is on Saturday. It’s a big one. Maybe NSR I or something. Or the Head of the Charles. You literally start looking at the weather about 10 days in advance – knowing full well (or maybe not) that the most accurate forecast is, if not the day before, then the morning of. Or as John O’Day, the brother of George (who started the sailboat company) said to me once, “You want to know the weather? Look outside.” John was an avid sailor and knew a thing or two about the weather.
But you obsess on the forecast anyway, thinking, “Oh God, it’s going to be cold, rainy, and a headwind. This always happens to me!!” And you get more nervous, more freaked, and have more butterflies. What’s the point? As my friend Molly Haskell often remarked, in her curmudgeon-esque way, “It’s an outdoor sport people! There’s going to be weather!”
In the case of the Head of the Charles, which occurs at the end of October in Boston, it’s all about probabilities. You start thinking about the weather in August, when you get your singles entry. You dwell on it, wondering, hoping… “Maybe this will be the year when we get amazingly awesome conditions.” But why waste your brain cells? The chances are it’s not going to be great. Nine years out of ten, it’s going to be windy, cold, maybe raining, and pretty miserable. (Note that I listed wind first). That time of year, we typically get cold fronts moving through on a regular basis, which means either a northwest or northeast wind. Since the course, despite weaving all around, generally runs from southeast to northwest, this translates to headwind the whole way. And it’s usually strong, which means you’ll get blasted right out of the gate, after you go through the BU Bridge and round Magazine Beach. You feel it in the arches of the Powerhouse stretch going by Riverside. And you’ll get hammered as you go through the Anderson arch. I’ve been stopped almost completely in that arch (of course I don’t weigh much and have skinny legs, which does not further my cause much). Then you get a little break through the long Anderson-CBC turn. If it’s northwest, you’ll hit “the wall” of wind as you go through the Eliot Bridge – this is the “west” part of the northwest wind. That’s always a good time, since you’re pretty exhausted at this point and still have a good 3-4 minutes left in the race (in a single). If it’s northeast, it’s kind of a gift from God, because the “east” part takes over and you get a tailwind to the finish. Very, very, VERY seldom do you get the perfect southeast wind, which is a tailwind practically from start to finish. That might happen, on occasion, in September when you’re practicing, giving you a huge false sense of security because you manage to post a better-than-expected time. But in the third week of October? Don’t count on it. Last year, miracle of miracles, we not only had a warm sunny day, we also had a strong southeast wind. Oh, and there had not been much rain, so the public servants in charge of cranking up the current at the Museum of Science Dam had mercy, and there a was lower-than-average opposing current. On a day like that, you buy a lottery ticket.
What are the chances of having a repeat of 2007 this coming October 18-19? Slim at best, but you had better believe I’m praying.