Sarasota Invitational has come and gone, and that means I finally have a little bit of free time back. The two weeks leading up to SIR flew by. Each morning began with a workout, followed by eight hours teaching, and in the evening, something SIR-related. Loading boats, emails, phone calls, volunteer meetings, site checks. Regattas are not short on work, especially when you are the host team.
The Mariooch Wins.
Saturday began early and clear. The forecast called for sunshine and winds ranging from 15-20 miles per hour. Early in the morning, the winds were light and straight out of the south. I worked the start platform on Saturday. It took a bit of time to get us all down to the dock and wired in, but it began on time and fast. Events began to run ahead.
When 9:45 rolled around, everything was running smoothly and on schedule, and I caught a ride back to the launching area for my race. Saturday’s races are primarily youth events except two for two Mixed Master’s races that row the 1500m youth course. Most Master’s events are 1000m, so the extra 500 meters can be intimidating. To entice Masters to compete, these races included a special “Mariooch Award,” a ceramic puddle handmade by my artistic club members, for the winning boats, awarded at a ceremony by the finish line tent.
I’d signed up for the Mixed 2x with my old doubles partner from my first rowing club–our first race together in three years.
By the time I reached the regatta island, the wind had kicked up the lake and races flew by in the surf. My partner wasn’t phased, even when I warned him my steering isn’t the best–thinking back to my off-course novice row at OARS Regatta.
“No problem–I’ll help!” He said confidently. “We’re going to win.”
I don’t count my chickens before they hatch. We had zero handicap, an extra 500 meters, no practice, a tippy fire-engine red Hudson, a choppy lake, and not to mention a terrible finishing record. Three years ago, every one of our double races ended in disappointment. The worst was Sunrise Sprints. We’d shot off the stake boat into second place when I crabbed about 500 meters in. We recovered from fifth place all the way back to second and closing on first with the finish line in sight, when I crabbed again. I still remember him saying back on shore, “We just can’t catch a break!” Fast forward to SIR. Yes, I had more experience and had improved sculling, but I didn’t want to inflate our hopes and have a poor finish.
For a bouncy lake, we had a smooth run down to the start platform, mostly balanced, and our course seemed pretty straight. I started thinking more optimistically. We hammered out a brief race plan (His–“row as hard as possible the whole way.” Me–“I want to save something for tomorrow. If we’re killing it, let’s just stay long and strong and hammer down the legs.”)
We backed in with no issues. I don’t remember the start. I do remember our oars slicing off the tops of waves like a razor blade. We took an early lead and lengthened it out over time. Our course stayed pretty straight–one stroke here, one stroke there, but no major corrections. The SIR course is very well-buoyed and I rarely needed to look over shoulder for adjustments. We had a few unclean releases due to the conditions, but I’d call for us to calm down and stay long on the legs.
One glance back revealed the tip of the island. I let him know I could see it. “Sprint?” He asked. “Not yet,” I answered, not seeing the red the buoys for the 250 yet. With the wind pushing us, we soared down the lane. Just as I could see the island’s point off the starboard, I turned to find the 250 and there bobbled a red buoy. We passed two red buoys before I could take a breath and call sprint. He caught water on starboard, and I cursed, “Calm down! Don’t you dare —– this up for us.” As far as my mouthy rowing history goes, a rather tame remark compared to what I used to shout three years ago. We cleared the finish well ahead of the second boat.
As the first person racing for our team, winning the Mariooch puddle made by team members, and–of all coincidences–while rowing the Mariooch boat, coming in first felt amazing. A great way for SCRC to start the regatta!
Race complete, I returned to the start platform. By then, the high winds had pushed the fingers out of alignment. During lunch break and while afternoon racing resumed, members of the ROC attempted to fix the dock with little success.
By the end of the day, lane six lacked a finger completely. Lanes 3-5 had to make a fast course correction to get into their lane. Lane six lacked a finger completely and we tried to avoiding using it in races without full entries. Nonetheless, we finished the day only half and hour behind schedule and without a trace of sunburn.
Lake Wind Advisory Sunday
As I sat huddled on the bleachers at sunrise, watching the referees milling about with their wind gauges and staring ominously at the white caps on the lake, Alan sent me a picture of a lake wind advisory alert.
I thought for sure the refs would call the regatta. Winds already blustered persistently around us at 20 miles per hour and all forecasts called for increasing winds throughout the day. Random bursts of wind shoved sand off the beach into our faces and snapped the flags high on the grandstands. Who would row in these terrible conditions?
Instead, they cancelled all the novice, middle school, and pair events. The ROC pushed all the races up to try to finish well ahead of the severe weather crawling its way south. I frantically texted my parents and Alan, the women’s 8+, and emailed the club.
In the meantime, one of our coxswains became ill. It’s 10:30 a.m. and at 10:50 a.m., four SCRC boats are scheduled to be on the water: two men’s 4+ and two women’s 8+. We already were using a sub cox’n for one race. I scrambled around the venue desperately trying to locate a cox’n with some racing experience to handle the now consistent 22 mile-per-hour winds. My pants pocket buzzed relentlessly with messages from my parents, Alan, the start platform, rowers, and ROC helping with the cox’n hunt. We attempted to de-rig as many boats as possible that would not be used that day to clear them out of our way. We lacked slings to throw the boats in for pre-race check. More boats had to shifted and tied down. Oars went missing or were sent out on the wrong boat. The whole dance was like the backstage of a fashion show with athletes instead of models scrambling around to find all the right pieces to go in the right place.
Eventually our boat’s cox’n said to me, “When you’re done with this text, you are done. Put your job aside and start focusing on the our boat and our race.” And I did.
The referees had reversed the launch and recovery area to compensate for the small run-out space past the finish lane and the strong southerly winds. Consequently, we spent our fair share of time holding the boat in line before proceeding down the swaying platform and lowering the boat to the churned-up water. We had to tie in on the dock before pushing off–something rarely done in the rowing world.
Heading south, the waves and wind waged war, but we made it down past the start platform. We fit in some starts; the cox’n had us practice how we would enter the start platform and lock with the stake holders. We checked out the competition.
The marshall called us forward to enter the starting chute. With no issues, we made it into lane two and into the stake holder’s hands. A few chops from the bow and we straightened up in the southern gale. We’d be rowing with the wind, a tailwind, and a ferocious one based on how tightly the two stake boat holders grasped our hull.
The referee called quick start, ATTENTION, GO! Off we jammed on the legs, swerving dangerously to starboard and into lane 3 with Sarasota Crew. Our cox’n avoided the clash and maneuvered us back into our lane. I could see Sarasota Crew and Miami and far off to my left, a little bit of the Orlando boat, when the siren sounded. Back at the platform, the start referee brandished the red flag. A false start.
Pulse pounding from the starting surge, I hoped it wasn’t us. We never touched oars, so I didn’t think it could be–but you never knew. Had we impeded? We were clearly ahead of them…right? We had to turn and row back down the course before executing another furious turn and backing into the start platform. Once all boats locked back into their fingers, the starting referee announced, “Cape Coral–warning.” A let out a sigh of relief. Not us.
The pattern began again. As soon as the referee called “ATTENTION” I knew this start would be better than the last. We pushed away and out from Crew and Miami fast and furious. I stopped thinking and focused on legs, legs, legs. How far could I push the boat away from them? Crew dropped away and I could see Orlando off to the far left fighting us. As the wind sailed as down the course, the cox’n called for the Power 10. It sealed the deal. We put open water between us and Miami and in the corner of my eyes I could see Orlando’s bow seat.
And if I can see you, I can beat you.
Video from the finish, by my husband:
All’s well that ends well
All in all, SIR was a successful but tough regatta in many ways. We already knew we had to replace one seasonal member in our boat, but another member withdrew in the days following the win. It’s hard to lose someone so powerful and vital to our team, who helped us come this far, but racing is personal. And no one tells you how challenging it is to be successful. You discover the cost as you go on. In time, you decide the boundaries: how much you’re willing to give and what it is you will not surrender. Some, like Olympians, dedicate completely for years. For the rest of us, it’s a matter of personal choice. As adult rowers, with families and commitments outside the boat, competitive racing is a very personal sacrifice. We chose to this path for different reasons and no one can force us to compete. Only we can decide how much of ourselves we will give and for how long. When it’s time, it is time, and as adults, we have to respect that.
One day, I know I will have to make the choice. To ease off or to change gears. Maybe put the jersey away for a while. Go recreational. To stop rowing.
But not just yet. I foresee more blood, sweat, jammed thumbs, early mornings and sore muscles in my future.