July 7, 2022 · Write a comment · Categories: Musings · Tags:

When I rowed in the Independence Day regatta last weekend in Philadelphia, my single scull race turned into much more of an adventure than I had anticipated. On Saturday, my husband and I were struggling with the mixed double because it was our first time rowing on the Schuylkill River. There was some wind, the waves felt unpredictable, and we kept putting our oars wrong and just couldn’t get into a good rhythm.

We still had fun on Saturday, though, walking past the Art Museum where people run up and down the steps pretending to be Rocky, and seeing the old boathouses on what is called Boathouse Row. They were built in the 1870s or thereabouts and are beautifully maintained.

Photo of Boathouse Row in Philadelphia.

On Sunday morning the river looked calmer, and we went out for our lightweight single races hoping to do better. The men raced their singles before the women, so they were already on the course when Deb (my women’s double partner) and I carried our singles down to the dock where we would launch them.

The dock belonged to Temple University, and it was high above the water, built for large crew boats. As soon as my teeny-tiny single went into the water, it became obvious that I was going to have a major problem just getting off the dock. My boat was so far below the level of the dock that there was no clearance whatsoever between my riggers (which hold the oars) and the dock, which had a strip of soft rubber along the edge.

When I got into my boat, the rigger on the dock side sank down into the rubber strip, and I was completely stuck. I tried pushing my boat out farther than usual before stepping into it, but that did not help because my riggers, although not totally flat, have less of an upward angle than on most sculling boats. I couldn’t lean away far enough to get unstuck, either.

Meanwhile, Deb’s boat, which has higher riggers and is somewhat too big for her, looked like it would be able to get off the dock without any problems. Other women already had launched. I had the smallest boat and was the only one who got stuck. Although it was early enough that there would be plenty of time to row over to the starting line, I first had to find a way to get off the dock.

“Deb, help!” I called, while she was still getting ready to launch. This didn’t look like something I could manage by myself. Deb’s race was before mine, but we had allowed enough time that she wasn’t in a hurry. I finally managed to get off the dock by pushing my boat just past the end, halfway off the dock, with both riggers out over the water. Deb held the boat in this precarious position while I carefully climbed into it.

Then I rowed around to the middle of the river and into my lane, along with Deb, heading toward the starting line. This would be a floating start, meaning that there was no platform for everyone to line up. Instead, the competitors would sit next to each other in the lanes, floating there while waiting for the starting official to say “Go!” and drop the flag.

We had to go through a bridge before starting the race. Because I was early, I waited before the bridge for a few minutes. The water was calm, and there was little wind. I thought I’d be okay rowing through the bridge and waiting on the other side until it was time to line up for my race. As soon as I did, however, it proved to be a mistake when a strong tailwind started blowing fiercely.

I stopped rowing, but my little boat was still getting blown down toward the starting line. People were yelling at me to back up, which was quite a struggle in that wind. Thankfully, by the time my race was called, the wind had died down for the moment. The referee in charge of getting the boats properly aligned in the lanes did a good job, and we got started quickly.

I managed to row more evenly than in the previous day’s mixed double, but I still had trouble judging the waves and couldn’t get going fast enough to stay near the frontrunners. Afterward, when I was rowing back to the shore after an unimpressive finish, a gust blew my hat off. The hat fell in the water next to the boat, and I had to back up and retrieve it before it sank too far. When I arrived at the recovery dock where my husband was waiting to help me take my boat out, I threw the soaked hat on the dock, grumbling about how that was the sort of race it had been.

My husband was cheerful, although he hadn’t rowed a fast race either. He told me that I should count it as a victory to have rescued the hat. Also, he said, now that I’d had a floating start in my single race, I would feel more comfortable doing it again in the future.

“This was my first floating start in the single?” Until he mentioned it, the thought hadn’t even occurred to me. “It didn’t bother me at all. Actually, it felt like the only thing that went right.”

After we got all the singles ready for transport and strapped them back on the boat trailer, I had one more race—the women’s double with Deb. We rowed pretty well against strong competition and finished third, mainly due to her efforts rather than mine. She had a better sense of how to deal with those funky waves. Still, it was a fun vacation over a long weekend, and I am feeling pretty good about it.

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