Rowing Incognito

In the two-plus month since I updated, I have been rowing aimlessly up and down the Sarasota waterways trying to find my path. To row without a goal like Masters Nationals can be both fun and strange. I have been bobbling around the boatyard like buoy, jumping around the sculling boats and occasionally putting a toe in the sweep boats, and lately squeezing these Marilyn Monroe hips into the world’s smallest coxswain seat.

Overall, I’ve been keeping my nose down, sticking with my rowing group, and not aiming for one thing in particular. Just like the pre-Nationals days. When the water is calm, the air slightly frosty, and the sky clear, the rowing has been fantastic.

Each row I’ve thought about all the words of rowing nonsense I could say, but once I’ve left the boatyard the rest of the world takes over. I put more time into finishing my book, which then morphed into planning for the upcoming Sarasota Invitational Regatta.

One of the more brilliant morning rows: flat water and fire on the horizon.

One of the more brilliant morning rows: flat water and fire on the horizon.

January assumed the new title of “windiest month.” The news focused on polar vortex after polar vortex, which is really just winter, and the accompanying snow, ice, and blizzards. We were hit with the cold, too, but I’ll take a low of 32 over a high of 1. Here’s looking at you Minneapolis.

The real problem with Florida winter rowing is the cold snaps bring driving winds that make small boat rowing dangerous. Even the big boats cancelled some days.  We were all driven indoors to suffer on the erg machine. I started losing my calluses.

As January waned, regatta began to take more prominence. I was given the opportunity to try my hand coxing in a sprint race. Have you ever seen this picture?

This is me. And the boat they are rowing is a lightweight Hudson 4+. The first time I tried getting it, I started laughing. “I can’t fit!” One of my teammates suggested getting a life preserver cushion to sit on, to which I replied, “That won’t help. The width of my pelvis is literally larger than the width of this seat.” Which is completely true.

After a few Sunday rows, I have learned that the best way for me to sit in the cox seat. First I lower into the middle before backing up into the seat slightly. I cross my legs, which gains a few more inches backwards. Since I can’t lean forward because stroke will crack me with his oar in the head at the catch, I recline backwards. Other than my mic, the cox box is completely useless. The wiring is wound tightly into position with very little leeway so I can’t pull it into my lap. I can’t see it over the tangle of my legs no matter which way I turn and tuck.

I’m sure a picture of my coxing set up in this boat would be hilarious.

Other than being too large to reasonably be a coxswain, I relish the challenge. A good cox’n can really read the oars, feel the boat, and quickly analyze the water conditions to make the best choices for the crew, and that takes practice. I appreciate the opportunity to try explaining rowing technique and concepts, figuring out how to relay the information in a way that makes sense, and just learning how to coach people to be better rowers. I had the opportunity to attend Mary Whipple’s coxing class and gained some excellent tips on the philosophy of coxing to apply to my race in the Mixed 4+ and to rowing in general.

I am still nervous about coxing the race as I do not feel comfortable navigating the start pods. SIR will be my first go at this new skill. All I can do it hope for decent weather conditions and take my time in the approach. My crew has done a great job practicing through the early and finish commands to the point that they automatically square and bury on “attention” even when I don’t call it.

In the afternoon, I will be charging down the course in a composite Mixed 4x with Potomac Boat Club. Just look for the boat out in front; that’ll be mine.

And finally: this beautiful morning I worked on yet another new skill. Bowing a quad with toe steering. And what better to learn than to do it in the dark and through a bridge? I’m sure my boat mates started second-guessing that decision when I turned us towards the “DANGER ZONE” markers instead of the gap within the first minute of our row followed by a frantic, “WAY ENOUGH HOLD ON PORT” in the second minute to avoid a “CAUTION: SLOW” marker on the other side of aforementioned bridge. Nervous wreck.

Disclaimer: No markers were hurt during this morning’s row. Only crab buoys.

All that’s left on this rowing bucket list is the pair.

About camckenna

I write; I row.
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