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On the Charles, Part 2

By Tom Richardson; Photos by Benjamin Boynton
ENE host launches his skiff at the public ramp in Allston/Brighton.

I’ve only just had a chance to come up for air after a furious few weeks of filming new episodes of ENE TV. On June 25, cameraman Camden Spear and I wrapped up our shoot on the Lower Charles River, starting with an early-morning launch of my home-built skiff at the public launch ramp on Nonantum Road in Allston-Brighton. Sadly, this is the only public powerboat launch on the entire Lower Charles, but at least it’s free. It also put us directly adjacent to the Community Rowing Center, our first appointment of the day.

Kane Larin, right, and Tom Richardson walk through Community Rowing's huge boat-storage building.

We met with Kane Larin, CRI’s Director of Special Projects & Relationships, who gave us a tour of the Center—the largest community rowing center in the country. Larin explained that the Center serves over 1,000 rowers per day, and offers lessons, equipment, and, of course, access to the river.

Later, Larin even put me in a one-person scull so I could see what the sport was all about. I had never rowed a scull before, and found that it was very different than rowing a skiff.  First of all, it takes a great deal of balance due to the narrow beam. Second, you need to concentrate on turning the blades flat as you slide forward on the seat, then snapping them perpendicular as you dip them in the water and push back with your legs on the power stroke. Then there’s the fact that you can’t see where you’re going! After trying it for 30 minutes, I had new respect for the numerous rowers who glided gracefully past me on the river.

The author gets the hang of sculling.

After wrapping up with CRI, Camden and I headed down the tree-lined river, which feels a million miles from an urban center. We stopped at a few spots to cast lures for bass and panfish along the shaded banks, often startled by the violent thrashing of enormous carp that were spawning in the shallows. The Charles supports a wide variety of fish species, as well as waterfowl, wading birds, beaver, muskrat—and turtles. At one point Camden noticed a male mallard that appeared to be entangled in some lily pads near shore. As he attempted to free the struggling bird, he was horrified to find that its leg was firmly clamped in the jaws of an enormous snapping turtle. Sadly, there was nothing we could do to save the poor duck, which eventually disappeared below the surface. Nature red in tooth and claw, indeed.

Casting for bass along the upper Charles River.

A few miles downstream, we arrived at Paddle Boston’s Allston location, where General Manager Mark Jacobson and I hopped in a pair of kayaks for a short paddle along the river. Paddle Boston rents canoes, kayaks and paddleboards from three locations on the Charles, as well as on the Mystic River, and has been around since the 1970’s, when the river was a bit less inviting. Jacobson and I discussed a wide range of topics, including how the Charles has changed over the years and how the different river stakeholders are able to share the waterway without conflict.

Just below the Paddle Boston location, the river changes personalities, from a bucolic waterway to a much more urban setting. As Camden and I continued downstream, we passed below the Eliot Bridge, the Cambridge Street Bridge, the Western Avenue Bridge and the BU bridge, traffic roaring past on both sides. It was much nicer to travel through Boston in a boat!

ENE Host Tom Richardson interviews Community Boating Executive Director Charlie Zechel.

Eventually we entered the river’s broad lower basin, where we picked our way through the fleet of sailboats, kayaks, tour boats and duck boats to our final stop of the day: Community Boating Inc. After tying up at the CB docks, we were greeted by its affable Executive Director Charlie Zechel, who told us all about the history of the organization, which is celebrating its 75th Anniversary this year.


Evening sail in a Sonar with Community Boating.

”Boating for All” is the CB motto, and to that end it offers rentals of sailboats, kayaks, windsurf boards and paddleboards at extremely affordable rates. Anyone can join, and if you’ve never sailed before, no problem—lessons are offered, as well. After our interview, Zechel and I headed out for an evening sail aboard one of the eight Sonars in the CB fleet. A lifelong sailor, Zechel was right at home at the tiller, and we spent a delightful hour on the river with the Boston skyline and Esplanade Park as a backdrop. What a perfect way to wrap up our shoot on the Charles, a remarkable river with an even more remarkable history.

You can learn more when “Three Cheers for the Charles” airs August 1 at 9:00AM on NESN.

Community Boating's Charlie Zechel and ENE Host Tom Richardson rig the Sonar for an evening sail on the Charles River basin.
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