Make Way for the Novice Coxswain!

The first Head Race of the Season has passed. I vowed not to race and I did not, despite all the flack I’ve received from fellow rowers. With only three weeks to gear up for a 5k, I did not feel prepared to row the race I’d like to row: long, hard, and fast. I think sometimes people forget:

A) I want to win, but

B) I have no handicap (okay, so I get 1 second, but who’s counting?)

which means,

C) I have to out row the field by about two minutes to win.

So despite all the chastising, teasing, and encouragement about how my legs are like pistons, I did not enter a race.

However, it turns out one of our boats needed a coxswain. I mentioned at our board meeting two weeks ago that I was interested in gaining coxing experience because I thought I’d be a good race cox and it would provide more options to the racing team. We always seem to struggle to find coxes. I’m a bit on the heavy side, but now with my weight loss my hips can stick in the seat and I am a little lighter than some other coxes we have. Not to mention I know how to row well, I like racing, and race coxing does not terrify me.

I can count the number of times I have coxed on two hands. Yes, I have done it before. The last time I coxed was just under a year ago. I helped a Mixed 4+ in the Bushell get in some practice rows for the Halloween Head Race in Tampa.

I popped into the recreational boat for a spin about a week ago or so. After one of my practices, someone in the Mixed 4+ for the Sarasota 5000 mentioned they needed a cox. I offered to do it.

Mind you, I’ve never race coxed or driven a bow-loader. Only stern seats in 8+’s and 4+’s. Our Red Kaschper 4+ has a reputation for being the worst boat for steering and navigation. Either the stroke meter claims you are rowing at 56 wpm, the wiring dies leaving you with no microphone, the steering cable falls apart, or the steering is just flat-out useless and unresponsive.

Nonetheless, I agreed. I refused to show my nervousness at coxing a race boat. We ended up borrowing another 4+ because the steering fell apart again in the Kaschper 4+. Honestly, probably a blessing. The boat was still a bow-loading cox. In a bow-loader, you lay down in the boat just behind the first rower. You can’t see the rowers but have a clear view of the course. It is more difficult to coach the rowers, but easier to steer.

Sarasota 5000 Mixed 4+ Coxn

Sarasota 5000 Mixed 4+ Coxn

The beauty of coxing is you can fake it until you make it. I’m savvy enough that I know how to steer and what makes for good rowing. I just need practice making clear calls, coaching rowers, making sure I correctly call port and starboard. The challenge of the bow-loader is you have to think backwards and who is on which side of the boat. Several times I called stroke to hold when I meant 3.

Getting through the bridge was a bit hairy, but once underneath I let out my breath. We had the current with us all the way down, but in the new boat we had some foot and seat issues we had to sort out. We had to stop or row by pairs for a while. The crosswind kept pushing us over to starboard. Just to stay tacked into the wind and have some semblance of a straight course, I had to keep the rudder turned. The wind was hissing into the mic, so I kept my hand cradled over it and my mouth. As we exited the mangroves and a youth men’s 8+ sailed past us, I checked the time. 9:50. Our scheduled race time: 9:50. 2000 meters still to go. Once you are late, you are late. There is nothing you can do about it but keep rowing to the start and hope they let you in.

Coach Randy was running the marshaling area. I let him know we were late and if that was okay.

“How late are you?” He asked.

“About twenty minutes,” I said.

“Well, we’re twenty minutes behind, so you’re fine. And the other boat in your race isn’t here yet.”

I breathed a sign of relief. We could see them coming down the course with lime green hats. Orlando, of course. Randy gave me direction to line-up with the chute and to let Orlando scoot ahead of me.

“It’s just weird seeing you in the cox’n seat,” he added with a double-take.

I laughed. “I know.”

We let Orlando catch their breath, get water, and relax a moment before heading up the chute ahead of us. Ready to go, I completely laid down in the boat, my feet just barely touching the hull and my head cradled against the uncomfortable head rest. I’d brought cushions along to prop up and sit on, but I was still wedged in and reclined on my elbows.  As we rowed, the cushions ended up slipping and my heels were rubbing raw against the bottom of the boat.

My boat had a solid start despite being waked right at the beginning. I kept talking to them…the moment I would stop, they’d ease off the pressure. After a while, you run out of things to say in a 5000 race that’s going by slowly with no boats to catch or fend off from passing. I added all kinds of crazy things. Food, for instance. “Earn that McDonalds! Chocolate lava cake!” I said the Lord’s Prayer. I called 10s for each rower. I pushed them ahead into buoys. I told them to look good because another Sarasota race boat was heading past us to the starting line. I said we were rowing past Todd, but not really. The whole time I had to stay tacked into the wind.  We survived several boat wakes, with the last christening me with a full, over-the-hull, drenching wave to the face. Sunscreen washed into my eye and I finished the last 1500m with one eye burning and closed.

Coming into the finish line of the Sarasota 5000.

Coming into the finish line of the Sarasota 5000.

The good news is we finished and no one died, despite calling the finish early, a classic cox’n mistake. All the markers are still erect on the race course, the boat was not dented or scratched, and my voice was hoarse from a constant stream of 10’s, requests for power and speed, and encouragement.

Race cox. Check.

Head race 1x.  Not yet.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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2 Responses to Make Way for the Novice Coxswain!

  1. terry galvin says:

    So I guess you didn’t enjoy the teasing about not rowing on the 5,000 as much as I did doing some of the teasing. You could have just explained! What, we’re supposed to just ignore a chance to give you a hard time? Fat chance! It’s a little hard for some of us to relate to your situation. We would never race at all if we had to win. Also, remember that photo credits are really a nice thing to do. Enjoying your blog,

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