And the boats kept coming. The traffic on the river was like downtown Rome. A Yale women's eight, cruising around upstream, plowed into an intermediate sculling shell, leaving a gaping hole. But Larry Klecatsky pierced the armada like a needle to win the elite lightweight singles competition by 39 seconds. And then came the lightweight fours, the only event at the Head with both men's and women's boats. Harvard led the men, and Radcliffe was best of the women. It was not meant to be a competition between the sexes, but when the Radcliffe boat pulled to within a length of one of the men's fours, well.... "They realized we were women and took off," said Radcliffe Coxswain Nancy Hadley. "I think they cut 20 seconds off their time."
But that was the day's only threat to male egos. All other events were segregated. In the women's eights there were 42 shells, the largest field ever, anywhere, and the best crew won by 31 seconds. Every member of Philadelphia's Vesper Boat Club entry had won a national title at one time or another, and in 1972 Vesper had set the course record of 18:24 in a tail wind. Now, with five women from that same boat and rowing into a cold, tough wind, the crew only missed breaking it by .4 of a second.
The clocks had been turned back the night before, and by four o'clock much of the riverbank lay in shadow. As Jim Dietz left the starting line for the elite heavyweight singles event, which he would win for the fifth time, the portals beneath the six bridges over the course were growing darker. Finally, only one event remained, the elite eights, and the big shells were moving downstream toward the starting line. Suddenly, no other boats remained on the river but the eights, and this, with the lowering sun and the cold, seemed to create an air of repressed excitement in the huddling, waiting crowd.
Partly it was the general glamour of the big eights, but mostly it was the specific glamour of one of them, No. 79 on the regatta program. With the exception of one oarsman this was the U.S. national crew, the one that had gone unheralded to Lucerne in late summer and beaten the British and the New Zealanders over 2,000 meters to win the world championship. Four of them were Harvard men from last season's undefeated Crimson crew, and as the shell bobbed in the lagoon there were questions upstream: Are they still in shape? How will they do over a three-mile course?
The answers were: Yes, and, Oh, boy!
The world champions blasted up the river. On the bridges the spectators watched them approach, looked down on the shell as it disappeared underneath and then darted daringly through the traffic, to see it emerge on the other side. The onlookers had the exuberance of small boys in the long-ago South, who had waited all day to see the Robert E. Lee.
And then it was over, suddenly, the race and the regatta and the day, all of them together. The world champions had won in 15:36, 23.2 seconds ahead of No. 80, from the Vesper and Union boat clubs. The out-of-town boats were being packed aboard their carriers now, big boats from places like Yale, a single scull from the Nonesuch Oar and Paddle Club of Prout's Neck, Maine, boats from 114 other clubs, schools and colleges, of all sizes and sorts, all homeward bound after a glorious day on the river.