May 13 2005

Introduction to rowing

Published by Ari at 11:08 am under rowing

As many of you know, Rachel and I are avid rowers. Since many of the posts on this blog may be about rowing in the future, I’ve decided to write a little introduction to the technicalities of the sport so that you can better understand what I’m talking about when I write about rowing.

We row what are referred to as shells. There are many different kinds of boats needing from one to nine people to successfully row them, and there are two styles of rowing, sweep and sculling. In sweep rowing, each person in a boat requires only a single, large oar and the direction of the oars are placed so that each person rowing in the boat is rowing on the opposite side of the person in front of them. There are three major kinds of sweep boats that we row, a pair, a four, and an eight (denoted in rowing script 2-, 4-/+, 8+) What do the pluses mean? Many of the sweep style boat require an additional person in the boat in order to steer and direct it. This person is called a coxswain, or cox for short. The pluses after 4+ and 8+ mean that the shell has a place for, and requires a coxswain to function. A coxswain or cockswain was at first referred to as the swain (boy servant) in charge of the small cock or cockboat that was kept aboard for the ship’s captain and which was used to row him to and from the ship. The term has been in use in England dating back to at least 1463. With the passing of time the coxswain became the helmsman of any boat, regardless of size, including crew boats. The boats that are 2- and 4-, do not have a place for a coxswain, and are thus called a pair and a straight four. Here are the configurations of a 2-, 4+ and 8+:

These boats are very fun to row, and the pair is certainly one of the hardest boats to row, since two people, each with only one oar, can potentially pull the boat in circles if one is significantly stronger or rows longer than the other person. They need to be quite well matched.

In the other style of rowing, called sculling, each person has two, smaller oars. This arrangement allows for more efficient transfer of power to the water (meaning the boats are faster than their sweep equivalents), but the technique is more difficult to master, since you now have two oars to deal with. The types of boats in this category are a single, a double, a quad (denoted 1x, 2x, and 4x). None of these boats require a coxswain to steer them, mainly because the boats are too small for that. So, the person sitting in the bow seat, steers the boat with a cable that is attached to one of his feet which turns the rudder on the boat. This style of steering is usually only present in the 4x, and sometimes in the 2x if that boat can be converted to a 2-. Here are the configurations of a 1x, 2x, and 4x:

The single is perhaps the hardest boat out of all the styles to row. It is nice because it only needs one person to row it, but the boats generally weigh 18-20 or so pounds, are 15-20 feet long and are only 1 foot wide. My butt usually hangs over the side of the boat when I’m rowing it. So, it is really difficult to balance the boat and there is a lot less room for error in your rowing technique.

When looking at the pictures above, you might wonder which direction people sit. When you’re looking at the inside of a real boat, it is pretty easy to figure out because the foot stretchers (the place where you strap your feet in) are facing the right direction. In these boats, the people rowing face the stern, or the front of the boat, and they pull and propel the boat towards the bow (or rear) of the boat. So, yes, these boats are literally rowed backwards from normal boats. In fact, the rowers row with their backs facing the direction of motion the entire time. The person in the bow seat of a non-coxed boat must constantly look over their shoulders to make sure that the boat is on course and isn’t about to hit something. This person either has to steer with his/her foot, or tell the rest of the boat to put more pressure on one side or the other in order to steer it. This position in the boats is call the bow seat, or simply bow. The seats in any type of boats are numbered from the bow seat (which is number 1) to the stern-most seat, which can be anywhere from number 2 to number 8. The stern-most seat also has a special name and function, and is known as the stroke seat. The person in the stroke seat sets the pace for the entire boat. It is extremely important for the entire boat to row exactly alike. Everyone must put their oars into the water at the same time (called the catch in rowing), and everyone must take their oars out of the water at the same time (called the finish, or release). Also, they must keep their bodies perfectly centered and keep their oars at the same height on the recovery (when the oars are not in the water) and the same depth during the drive (when the oars are in the water). The stroke seat is the person in the front whom everyone must follow. If the stroke seat is not rowing in a very regular, easy to follow fashion, it will throw the whole boat out of sync. Naturally, if a person is rowing a single, that person functions as bow and stroke simultaneously, so it is a big job.

There are two sides to every boat, right and left. However, right and left are in the eye of the beholder, which is why each side was named either starboard or port, following traditional mariner terminology. Port and starboard are shipboard terms for left and right, respectively. Confusing those two could cause a ship wreck since two boats must pass on the starboard side of each other. In Old England, the starboard was the steering paddle or rudder, and ships were always steered from the right side on the back of the vessel. Larboard referred to the left side, the side on which the ship was loaded. So how did larboard become port? Shouted over the noise of the wind and the waves, larboard and starboard sounded too much alike. The word port means the opening in the “left” side of the ship from which cargo was unloaded. Sailors eventually started using the term to refer to that side of the ship. Use of the term “port” was officially adopted by the U.S. Navy by General Order, 18 February 1846 and has been adopted in all forms of recreational watercraft in the time since then. In a crew boat, if you are facing the stern (front), your left side is facing starboard, while your right side is facing port. The sides are reversed in normal boats that actually move in the direction of the stern. So in sweep rowing, you either have a starboard or a port oar. In sculling, you have both a starboard and a port oar. The person steering the boat, whether it be the bow seat or a coxswain, refers to these sides in order to control the boats and shout commands to everyone.

Anyway, Rachel and I are a part of the competitive teams at the Austin Rowing Club. Our goal is to train for competitions at the masters level, which is age 26 and above. There are basically two types of races, a sprint and a head race. A sprint can last for either 1000 or 2000 meters and a head race can last for 4500 – 6000 meters. Naturally, the strategies for each type of race are different, but they are all a lot of fun.

Rowing is extremely hard work and a very good type of exercise. I definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to try it. It is addicting the better at it you get and the more you start to see results from your hard work. The other aspect of rowing are the people. Pretty much everyone on our teams and the recreational teams are great people and a lot of fun. Rowing is a very social sport and the people reflect this aspect. It is a great stress reliever and something that I will hopefully continue to do for the rest of my life.

No responses yet

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.