There was a bit of history at this year’s Head of the Charles, with the largest boat regatta in the world expanding for the first time to a three-day format. Kicking it all off at 8 a.m. sharp on Friday, October 22 was the Men’s Senior Veteran Singles race, with the 70+ divisions. And it was Manchester’s Don Besser in his single scull Bow #8, who sailed across the finish line in first place and winning gold in his class, with a time of 22:36.588.
The race capped a long personal challenge for Besser, who picked up the sport 20 years ago after decades as a spectator in his son, Jeb’s successful career as an amateur rower. Jeb started as a teenager at prep school and rowed for Brown University, and has continued his love of the sport, organizing and competing in races around the world, even from his home in Puerto Rico. For Don and Jeb, rowing has become something they do together, whenever they can.
Julie Besser, Don’s better half, said in all these years, a first-place win at the Head of the Charles was a goal that has alluded her husband. This year, however, was it. Don won gold.
Besser’s division was a “head race” format, with interval starts instead of a unified line up, so as he came out from under the Eliot Bridge at the last stretch of the race, Besser was unable to gauge exactly how he was stacking against the competition. But when he passed the end line’s yellow buoys, his best hopes were confirmed.
“Jeb and I finally connected with Don after the win, and he said it was no big deal,” said Julie. “But it was a big deal, because we knew he’d been striving to get gold all these years.”
Besser’s win is no small feat. The regatta started in 1965 as an all-male affair, with just 80 boats. By 2018, there were 2,300 boats and 10,000 competitors, with half men, half women.
And what about Jeb? Well, he also raced in this year’s HOTC, as usual. He took second in Saturday’s Men’s Masters 4 and raced again Sunday in the Men’s Quad.
But in the last race on Sunday, Jeb’s team took first place gold in the Mixed 8 Challenge, where his team wore Harry Potter costumes and raced in a boat (Bow #2) decorated as the Hogwarts Express.