A pair of star-laden crews from Philadelphia captured the featured octuple sculls (eight rowers, 16 oars) events yesterday at the first Scullers' Head of the Potomac Regatta at the Potomac Boat Club.

The Schuylkill Navy Club's composite shell, with such nationally known oarsmen as Bill Belden and Sean Colgan in its lineup, covered the 2 3/4-mile course from just above Three Sisters Island to Memorial Bridge in 13:10, to defeat another Philadelphia entry, Malta Boat Club (13:39), and the local Potomac shell (13:46) in the PBC Grand Challenge event.

Rowing first in the three-boat race, the more experienced composite crew took an early lead with a quick start in a race based upon elapsed time rather than head-to-head competition. The Philadelphians steadily pulled away from Potomac which started second.

"It's a beautiful sight to see," said Charlie Butt, a member of the regatta committee who first saw an octuple in England last year. "I was fascinated by the concept, and the more people I talked to, the more the interest grew. They are so fast, much faster than a regular eight-oared shell."

Perhaps the best race on the 19-event program was a 2,000-meter match race between masters' and mixed octuples. The Philadelphia Masters Composite, with University of Pennsylvania Coach Ted Nash and former Olympian and diamond sculls champion Sean Drea, was expected to win easily against a mixed shell from Potomac and a masters crew from the Georgetown University Rowing Association.

But Potomac made a run at the Philadelphians in the final 200 meters and barely missed scoring a big upset. The Philadelphia shell was clocked at 6:32.4, only 1.1 seconds ahead of PBC.