Don’t Panic — Part II

A series of beginners’ notes: Part II

by Frank Cunningham


It sometimes happens that the coxswain of a four or eight seems to be abandoned by his crew just as he approaches the dock. This occurs because the crew forgets that the management of the boat is a shared responsibility. With boat and dock converging rapidly, there is frequently not enough time for a cox (whose attention may have lapsed for a moment) to save the situation. During the approach, stern pair should be aware of the angle between the dock and the boat. There is a definite connection between that angle and the nearness of the bow to the dock. Knowing that, the water-side oarsman of the pair should have his blade on the water, ready to lower the leading edge and create some resistance. He can easily have his blade on the water, ready to lower the leading edge and create some resistance. He can easily
turn the bow out as necessary and at the same time, keep his rigger down, helping to clear his partner’s oar off the dock as well as the others on that side. Bow pair, it is important to understand, can do nothing to keep the bow away, and should be prevented from trying. Beyond leaning away, there is nothing they might be tempted to do that is the slightest use in preventing collision. Their best contribution is just to keep silent and bear up under the threat of calamity with that savoir faire, nay, stoicism for which they are noted.

Keeping Station at the Start of a Race

First, the rudder aback. Jockeying the boat at the start of a race, the coxswain may lose control of the rudder as the boat moves sternward and it fetches up hard over. With sternway on he risks damaging the whole steering apparatus and the boat if he tries to force the rudder back to the center line. Stern pair should always be alert to this possibility and immediately hang their weight on their oars to check the boat. This gives the coxswain a moment of reduced pressure on the rudder that permits the rudder to be moved safely.

Second, the boat in the lane but off course. In cross-wind this is a common situation, and a floating start makes for real difficulties. Since it is important to maintain station, the method used to correct the boat’s heading has to be one that produces little or no forward or backward motion. Bow pair may be able to correct the heading just by reaching out on the appropriate side as far as possible and taking very short mincing strokes. Two can give his handle to three. In a strong wind this second option may be necessary. Best in an eight, this method is probably not a good one to try in a four.

Turning on Rough Water

A simple rule is: Don’t get caught broadside. Most rowing is done in protected water, so on setting out it is well to choose a protected shore and row in the lee of the land. When it becomes necessary to turn, bring the boat ashore. Many times boats are swamped because of impatience to “get it over with”, when smoother water could be found. It is better to back the boat with the stern a few degrees off the wind, tacking as it were, toward lee.

In backing, only the stern four pair should be used. The boat will track better and it leaves other oarsmen to stabilize the boat – and if necessary, bail. Bow pair should be ready to check the side-to-side slide of the bow of the boat by letting their blades into the water just off the feather and offering just enough resistance to bring the bow back into line. This is one of those times when a novice crew can be overwhelmed, while an experienced crew takes very little water aboard. The reason, I think, is that lack of experience causes the rower to react to wind and wave with anxiety. This only hampers his movements. Much better to set to work resolutely and do what has to be done without any loss of time.

All that has gone before comes under the head of watermanship. It is the first order of business for those who undertake rowing on a sliding seat. The boat is long, narrow, cranky and fragile; the oars are unwieldy and carried too close to the water. Not to be able to handle a boat under a variety of conditions is to deceive one’s self that is it isn’t always hazardous. The same amount of exercise can easily be undertaken in a gymnasium – if that were all that was wanted. But to row well is to be, first of all a waterman, and a good one. In the final test, it is the watermen who win races.