004 | Bowloaders: Safety & Comfort
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I'm Breana, I'm Sally, and I'm Anne and we're three coxswains with a combined 50 years of experience in the seat. We decided to share our knowledge with coxswains everywhere via this podcast and ultimately we hope to create a community among our audience where coxswains can learn from each other.
SALLY: This is the first part in our discussion about bowloaders. After working on this, we quickly realized that there was so much information to cover we decided to break this down into multiple episodes. We are by far not the sole source of information and these podcasts are not designed to be the definitive source. We are very likely to come back again and again and discuss various aspects of bowloaders - not unlike backsplash from bow's blade - but just maybe not as cold or as startling and definitely not as harsh and jarring. I don't know ... what do you think, y'all? There's nothing like a face full of cold water on a brisk October morning!
ANNE: Oh Sally, I have such a visceral reaction to that, yeah. Well, in today's episode we're going to focus on two important but sometimes overlooked topics: safety and comfort in a bowloader.
BREANA: I've been waiting for this forever (as much as you know four episodes can be forever), because, of the many topics on the internet about coxing - and there's a lot of good information as we've said before - this is one that I have never seen discussed in detail. And the information out there, I find, is vague at best, so we're determined to go into the nitty-gritty of bowloader coxing on this episode. And by bowloader we mean the types of boats where the coxswain lies down in the bow of the boat while the rowers are sitting behind them - as opposed to the more familiar (perhaps) stern coxed boats where you sit in the stern and the rowers are directly in front of you. And there are a variety of boat classes that can be in bowloaded shells, actually. There are coxed quads, coxed pairs, and even bow-loaded eights - and Sally herself has actually laid eyes on one of those before. Tell us about it, Sally.
SALLY: I was fortunate enough to see a bowloaded eight when we were competing together in Bled, Slovenia, and I watched a Russian women's eight come down the course and you're looking ... going 'Wow, that coxswain's really far ahead of everybody else' and realized that coxswain was in a bowloader. It was an incredible sight to see!
ANNE: That seems a little scary to me, Sally. I never would have thought there was such a thing.
BREANA: Yeah, I don't think I would have the courage to cox that.
SALLY: They're very, very rare because they determined - and 'they' being the great boat makers - determined through actual, rather arduous study, that the displacement of the coxswain's weight in the bow of an eight didn't have the same positive effect that the displacement would in the bow of a four. It was determined that the coxswain was more beneficial sitting in the stern of an eight so it could see more. There have been studies - they're not always as scientific as I'm sure Breana would like - but there have been studies and anecdotal evidence to support this claim.
ANNE: Wow. Well, today we're going to really focus about sweep rowing in bowloaded fours. As much as that eight sounds like fun, let's talk about bowloaded fours. And although some of you have never been in a bowloader - or might never be - a lot of us have been in them occasionally (or even routinely), and it's a whole different animal. And even if you never end up coxing in one, some of the things we're going to talk about today might be applicable to your stern coxing. So I wanted to share that almost all of my time as a cox has been in a bowloader. Our club did not have any eights for quite a while and the group that I coxed for routinely - there were only four of them - so I ended up in a bowloader most of the time. So I do have lots of stories to share. But I know Sally has also spent a lot of time in a bowloader and she has a particular story that I'm going to ask her to tell a little bit about that story now.
SALLY: Thank you Anne. So I come from a long line of seanchaithe, which I'm sure I've mispronounced, but it's it's an Irish storyteller - so everybody take it with a grain of salt. But there was this one time I was coxing in a bowloaded four at the start, and the bow of the boat tapered, so unlike many bow loaders, there wasn't a place to put my feet. It kind of tapered like Gabriel's horn ... or I think it's also called Torricelli's trumpet ... I'm really not good with Italian (as I'm really not good with Irish) ... but it's basically a geometric figure that's got an infinite surface. And this particular bow just kind of tapered on forever. And we're lining up at the start line and the start is so violent and so chaotic and there was so much check, I had nothing to brace myself with so I shot down into the bow of the boat ... got wedged pretty far in, and had to use the cox box wire to rappel myself back out again. It was terrifying … but an adventure! Also, the cox box manufacturers haven't recommended that as a particular escape mechanism.
ANNE: Oh dear God.
SALLY: I had to learn how to cox in bow loaders mostly because I'm an adrenaline junkie and it was the only opportunity for me to learn and to compete. And I had to learn to love it because if I wanted to be on the water, I was in a bowloader. What about y'all?
BREANA: For me, I think I probably have the least bowloader experience of the three of us. I've been in them kind of an intermediate amount of time. I've always been on teams that have a couple, you know, in their fleet ... and every now and again maybe would break an eight up into fours for a race or for a practice day. So I haven't yet reached the point where I absolutely love them as much as you guys are gonna share, and I hope our audience appreciates that it's possible to reach a point someday, perhaps, where you actually really do enjoy being in four. So yeah, I just have had some races in them, a fair number of practices in them, and I'm still really looking to build my skills. So that's something that we also intend to talk about at some point is - really, how to develop your skills in a bowloader.
ANNE: Absolutely. And I (as I mentioned before) have had a lot of experience in them and I really enjoy them ... so much so that it almost feels like it's almost a bit of a different sport -
being in a bowloader as opposed to being in an eight. So I just know that I cannot wait for a chance to get back in one.
BREANA: Yeah, all these stories really make me miss coxing, which many of us cannot do now due to the Covid 19 pandemic. And while we're on that topic, I want to point out that this, I think, is one of the first boat classes that may come back as coxswains start to get back out there in a, you know, potential post-Covid world. And you know, in the meantime, we're aware that probably many of your guys' first experience in a bowloader (whether that was super recently or it's yet to come or it was quite a while ago), you might have had the experience of maybe your coach puts together their top eight and then there's some leftover rowers and you, and they just, kind of, throw you guys in a four and send you out and don't even follow you in the launch and you're just totally fending for yourself. And that is a very common experience that I want to normalize. But it's also an experience where there's hope that you can, you know, turn that around and make something of it. Often times coxswains have hopped into boats and bow loaders and not even realize that there's a different type of steering in there sometimes, which is something that we'll talk about. So we hope that this episode - no matter where you're at in your trajectory and your experience with bowloaders - we hope that there's something for you here today. So with that said, let's dive into this episode and like all things coxing, the first topic that we wanted to cover is safety.
SALLY: Yeah, I can't stress enough the importance of safety especially in a bowloader. Anne and Breana are far more intelligent than I am and they haven't had some of the incredibly stupid experiences that I have, and for that I'm so grateful that they consider me friends. But a long time ago ... in a galaxy far, far away ... I had the distinct (we'll call it privilege) to cox a pair. So, back in the old days, people used to use coxed pairs as a means of seat racing - as a means of torture - because one-third of the boat isn't actually contributing to its forward momentum. It used to be nicknamed the 'lead sled' and in addition to being incredibly slow and heavy, the pairs were tippy. And they were more tippy because you had a goofball 110 pounds sitting up front just doing stuff. And I actually flipped .. or I don't think I flipped it ... but the pair I was in flipped, and because I was wearing a life jacket, I became entangled in the wires and then I got ... the life jacket was doing what it was supposed to and it pinned me up against the hull, and I wasn't strong enough to pull myself out. I had to be extracted from the hull by one of the rowers and that was one of the scariest moments of my life. So, when you guys are in bowloaders, it's really, really, really important for you guys - for everyone - to pay attention to the fact that like, if this boat turns turtle, can you get out easily and quickly. And that means removing all the entanglements around your feet. If you wear a life jacket - and I am a proponent of the life jacket - make sure it's like one of those mustang pull cord ones, because it's going to do what it does best and that's going to provide buoyancy, and in my case (on that particular day) buoyancy was up against the hull of the boat.
ANNE: Sally, I am, first of all, I'm really glad that you made it out of that safely and and it must have been terrifying. And just listening to that kind of makes me pause. And I've got to say that's why we're starting off with safety as the first topic in this episode ... because it is crucial and it's quite a different situation than being in a stern-loaded (you know stern-coxed boat), and I think you make a super point about life jackets ... whether to wear them or not ... but the fact that you really have to consider the possibility of flipping and what would you do. You need to pre-think that, and it's going to affect how you position yourself, what you wear, and how you anticipate reacting if that should happen. In our club ( I just want to share), we - this past year ...this last year before Covid - we actually held a flip clinic for all kinds of smaller boats and so forth, but the coach also ran a clinic for flipping a four off the dock and asked for volunteer coxswains so that they could practice getting out if/when the boat flipped. I did not volunteer for that but there were other coxswains who actually did, and they did it repeatedly and found it to be a helpful experience because it is a technique and a skill set to be able to get out of there safely.
SALLY: When you think about it, all the luggage, all the things that you carry - your cox box, the tool kit, the extra clothes to stay warm - all of that can get very easily snagged on the steering mechanism ... or it can get stuck on the head rest ... or you could just become entangled in the wires. So when I'm coaching coxswains, I am always: "You take as little as you have to in there", because if I'm not watching them, it doesn't take long for something bad to happen very quickly. And for me, every time I climb into a bow, I ask my bow seat, "How many heads are in a four?". And inevitably, they usually answer 'four', and I correct them immediately because there are five heads in a four, and if we go upside down and they only count four heads, they need to come find me because I am stuck! And it's something that doesn't leave you really quickly, but gives me a new and a serious appreciation. I mean, I flipped the pair, I flipped the four a couple of times, I swamped an eight (but that's not the same dire circumstance). Safety is critical and important and it's something we should be thinking about at all times, especially in bowloaders that are not watched closely by a coach.
ANNE: Yes Sally, I've also adopted stressing that before I leave - actually in any boat. And one way that I reinforce the fact that there is always one more person than the crew might think is that, when they count down, I always include myself in the count. And I usually say, you know, if they count down from stern to bow in a bowloader, I like to do that because I'll be the last one to speak. So I'll have them ... four, three, two, one, and then I say, "And coxswain in the bow". And that should hopefully again reinforce the fact that there's someone up there even though they might lose track of the fact.
BREANA: That's a really good tip, Anne. Thank you for sharing that.
ANNE: Thanks. So, these are some safety things ... some advisories. It might be seeming that we're starting off on some very, I don't know - what would you say Breana?
BREANA: Dismal outlook, perhaps?
ANNE: But they are safety related and people don't talk about it enough, I think. And we are going to not be dismal through this whole piece, but another part of coxing in a bowloader is the concept - and the experience - of hypothermia, because let's remember that not all of us have those nice bodies of water where it's nice and warm, or weather that's nice and warm. I know I'm up in New England, and when I get into a bowloader, I am immersing myself. It's like sitting in a, you know, a pool of cool water. And we row until there's ice. And then in the spring, when the ice clears, believe me that water is just above freezing. So I - for an hour and a half while our practice is ongoing - I am basically with just a little fiberglass between me and this huge body of water ... sitting there for an hour and a half. So hypothermia is a consideration. Do either one of you have thoughts on that subject?
SALLY: Anne, you're correct. In a bowloader, there is absolutely no thermal break between the temperature of the water and you. And the sad thing is, the warmest you are going to be all day is probably the moment you step out of your car, and it just proceeds to go downhill from that point on. So dressing appropriately and dressing (you know) in non-water absorbent clothing so that you can quickly extract yourself in the event of an unlikely water landing is really, really important. Breana?
BREANA: Yeah, my experience personally has been that I sometimes feel warmer in fours or in bowloaders, particularly which maybe is due to the fact that I'm protected from the wind a little bit more. But I think it's also probably the fact that most recently, I was coxing in a little bit more warm of a climate and still (you know) had an off season in the winter. But that and also, I feel that I have gotten better at attire. Like, there's more space, you know, in a bowloaded kind of cockpit to fit yourself than in an eight. So there's no concerns, you know, if you are someone who has a tough time getting your hips into an eight (which we can relate) - in a four, I find I can layer up as extensively as I want. So I learned through coxing in a cold state during college, how to really layer up effectively. And that's a topic we'll cover as well this episode.
ANNE: Awesome. Well again, just to be aware that hypothermia is an aspect that you might need to address at some point in your coxswain career. As we're on the topic of safety, another thing that comes to mind for coxing skills in a bowloader is that weird aspect about understanding the size of the boat. Your proprioception - your sense of what's around you - is very different than being in a stern loaded boat. So for example, one of the aspects that you need to really consider is how far the oars extend behind you ... like getting a sense of how far back is the stern, because again, really what you're sitting there facing is the cockpit of the boat ... the bow of the boat ... and your peripheral vision only really goes so far - and not very far. So what do you guys think about understanding how you feel and you fit in that boat and become part of the boat?
SALLY: I played a lot of games with myself. When I was first learning, I would practice with sticks and logs and twigs on the river and I would see how far or how close I could get, and that that gave me a better sense of my size. I found it very handy, but it is something that every once in a while, you kind of have to do a double check and go, "I am not as skinny as I think I am", and appreciate the fact that there's, you know, 28 feet of oar hanging off on either side (or a total) and it's just something to just be very cognizant of. The decisions I would make by myself on a bike is not the same decisions I can make in a four.
BREANA: Yeah, this is one that takes time to build up. I think for me, it worked that way to get that extra body sense of how far those oars extend really, and I think one way that kind of helped me was to (I love your idea of testing it with small objects that are harmless if you missed, Sally). I found kind of navigating my home river, you know, I got really comfortable in an eight - like, okay this is how close I typically get to this buoy or this set of rocks, or this (you know) object out on the river. And then once you're in a four, give yourself a wide berth and get increasingly comfortable getting close to that, and check yourself by turning around and kind of seeing ... like, 'Okay, I felt like I was pretty close'. I actually glanced over and looked and my oar blades were miles off from that object, so I can get closer next time. And then you build up -
carefully - that understanding. So hopefully if you have a luxury of practicing in a four before you race in one on a new course that you're not familiar (with which we don't always have, I will acknowledge), hopefully in that scenario, then you've got that understanding built up if you have the opportunity to practice on your own body of water.
ANNE: Yeah, I completely agree it is something that you have to be intentional about, and you have to gain experience. So thank you very much for those suggestions, and just to recognize it's an aspect of the boat that you really need to attend to. And you will build that skill set over time, and the crew doesn't necessarily need to know that you're in the process of testing this out and gaining that sense of: how big is the object that's behind me, right? So thanks for those suggestions. I'm gonna move a little bit now into a slightly different aspect of the boat, and it is something about lights and when you're lying down in a bow loader. That experience I have with light - whether it's daylight or lights from a bridge at night ... there are all sorts of things that can really mess with your vision. It's a very different situation and it is something that I find very challenging - really, really challenging in a way that I think if you're sitting up in a (you know) in an eight in the stern, it doesn't happen. So Breana, what are you experiencing with that?
BREANA: Yeah, one of the biggest struggles for me has always been at sunrise and sunset when the sun is so low in the horizon that you can't avoid it - like you can't look at your point without, you know - if you're headed that direction - without it being right there. And so for me, (it's kind of) I developed a strategy of sort of hunkering down and pulling the brim of my hat. I'll never cox without a hat. I can't even imagine how I would, and it's a tool for protecting yourself from the sun, but also protecting your eyes in this case. So I would kind of (again) slink down deep into the bowloader as much as I can and then pull the brim of my hat down, and just kind of leave myself a little slit of visual space between the (you know) bottom of the horizon and the water and my bow, hopefully. Sometimes, you know, you just are stuck dealing with the realities of that, but a way that you can prevent some issues with light - which is something I've also personally experienced - is if you have bow lights that attach to your boat by suction cup ... one morning, I made the mistake of going ahead and just slapping one of these right next to me on the deck ... and it was blinding. It was a morning practice and there was this diffuse cloud of light in my visual field the entire time, so that was a lesson learned for me - to never attach a light that close to my seat, and attach it as far forward as possible, if you don't have the opportunity of using a bow clip, for instance.
SALLY: It is tricky because you do need to have the navigable lights to be safe. But at the same time, some of these lights are so amazing and so bright, they do rob us of our night vision, so we're unable to see sticks and logs and things that we would normally ... so it becomes a catch 22. I definitely am not advocating going out without lights (that's stupid), but making sure that you're still able to see as much as you possibly can when the lights are there, is critical.
ANNE: Yeah, well almost all of our practices (it seems) are in the dark, and because we are practicing in the morning before work with a master's club ... so I experienced this a lot of the time. And I would agree about the navigation lights, but I personally struggle with another issue, which is: I have to use a coxmate for splits and so forth, and the illumination from the coxmate - is it shining right towards my eyes (again so that I can see it) and it is robbing me of my night vision. I almost am blinded by it. So when I am coxing at those times of days with the coxmate, I literally have to put my hand over the face of the coxmate (you know), then move my hand off when I want to look at the splits. And it's quite a challenge - it's doable - but I wanted to let people realize that that might be something else you have to consider when you're in a bowloader.
SALLY: I have used headlamps in the bowloader. Headlamps don't work so well when you're a stern loader - your stroke gets really pissed off - but in a bowloader, it works out really well because: one, as the coxswain, the light is where I'm looking at, and two, as a coach of a coxswain wearing a headlamp, I could see what the coxswain is looking at and realize ... nope, they're on the wrong arch, or no, they're looking at the wrong thing or they're ... so for me, it's very helpful. But again, it needs to be used carefully because different bodies of water have different navigational rules, and sometimes that white light in the bow is a contraindication of safety ... so it's a catch 22.
ANNE: It is. I hear you, Sally - it is hard to be able to see and you know, once you get down in there, you're in a world almost by yourself. And it can be very dark, and how are you going to illuminate what you need to illuminate? And every person is going to come up with a slightly different angle on how to do that successfully, and even when it's daylight, I have to admit that I often have challenges when I'm hunkered down there - especially racing. I have a hard time seeing over the splash guard, and a lot of times the splash guard will get covered with rain. You know - dry drops of water. Have either one of you experienced that, or am I just alone in that world?
SALLY: Sometimes the splash guard becomes more opaque than translucent by scratches, by water, by debris, by seagulls ... there are so many other issues. Yeah, it's just trying to wedge yourself in a spot where you have the best leverage and visibility possible.
BREANA: Yeah, this depends on boat brands, too. My career has primarily been in Vespolis, and in a bowloaded Vespoli (at least the older kinds that I was in), the splash guard's actually made of carbon fiber, so it's like an extension of the boat deck and so it was never transparent to begin with, which kind of (you know) trained me to always be looking over it. But I have been in (subsequently) some brands that make it clear at least, but then I've had the exact problem that you described - that by the end, it's not see-through.
SALLY: It rolls out of the manufacturer's warehouse transparent ... by the time it gets the racecourse, it is translucent at best.
ANNE: Exactly. There's so many considerations with the designs of boats - in particular, with bowloaders - I think, you know, it pays to discuss this as coxswains because otherwise, you might be surprised. And we want to help people to consider these things - even maybe before they get into them - or if you get into a bowloader, or you're prepping to get into a bowloader - you're saying to yourself, "Oh yeah, that's right. I should remember to think about xyz". Speaking of getting in and out, I am very careful (as I think I mentioned before) about counting down and making sure that the crew knows, but on the dock, when I'm taking a crew down with a bowloaded boat, I am ultra careful about when I get in the boat, for example. So I make sure that I am the last one in, because I do not want to be in that boat and missing something that's going on with my crew. So I watch them each get in and then I tuck myself in. I need to remember that I need a few more moments to adjust myself ... whatever I bring with me ... and just, I need more time to get adjusted in a bowloader than I do in a stern loaded boat. And I make sure that when I land, I am the first one out so that I can then also make sure that my crew is out - and safe - when we are landing and getting out of the boat. Do you either of you have any thoughts on what you do differently?
BREANA: I agree with what you said there, and I will emphasize that it really does make a difference, because I also use that opportunity to hold the boat against the dock ... or keep it much closer to me than I might care about in an eight, because stepping down into that well - that deep well of a bowloaded cockpit - for the coxswain is more challenging. So in an eight, you can get away with maybe just (kind of) hopping over a little bit of a gap between your boat and the dock, but in a four I find that that is less possible. So that's another thing I'm doing while the rowers are climbing in is ... I'm making sure I've got a good grip on the hull ... and I'm keeping it close by so that there's no space between the dock - where there could be room for error as I climb in - because it is definitely more challenging and it's challenging when you get back too as you climb out.
SALLY: It could be my experience with unforeseen water landings, but I am always the last in, first out, for the same reasons.
ANNE: Yeah, exactly. What other things do we have to say about things to consider with safety in bowloaders, would you say?
SALLY: I would definitely stress: know the water quality that you're on. You are going to get wet. You are going to get water in your mouth. You're going to get water in your eye and sometimes that water quality, while improving, isn't healthy. So being aware of it and respecting it is really, really important. In DC, where I spent many years coxing, after a rainstorm, the bacterial count in the river was particularly high ... and I tried not to get into bowloaders on days immediately following a heavy rain, just because the likelihood of me getting sick from the water was pretty significant. I didn't always have the luxury of saying 'no', but I could try.
BREANA: Yeah, that's a real phenomenon that it's worth considering for sure. I have also coxed in that same Washington DC region, so I'm familiar and you know, many bodies of water out there that we're all lucky to be on, are not always designed for human safety, so it really is worthwhile kind of being aware of that water quality at least ... and what might accompany that health-wise.
ANNE: Yeah, there's a lot more water that you experience as a coxswain in a bowloaded boat than you do sitting in the stern of an eight, right? There's a lot of water involved - closer contact with it than you may ever experience in a stern loaded boat, in my opinion.
BREANA: Definitely. And people will find that's true. If you're listening to this and have not yet had the opportunity to get into a bowloader, and if you are similarly in that situation, or if this thing that we're about to talk about has not yet happened to you. I'm going to pivot to a topic I want to bring up regarding - I guess, safety - on a more lighthearted note than where we opened this section, which is just some of the horror stories that I have personally had with bugs in a four ... because as we have been describing, you are much more contained in that cockpit. You're really almost fully encased inside the hull whereas in an eight, you know your routes of escape are a little easier. And your ability to maneuver and, you know, kill an ant that you see on the deck, is a lot easier. But I'll share - one time, I was in a four at a race (actually this is at Stonewall Regatta in the DC area) and I put my four into the water on the dock. And we're about ready to launch and I go to crawl in and there is - in Vespoli fours, they have this (we're gonna talk about this) a kind of crank on the side for steering, and protecting that whole crank mechanism is this plastic piece of the boat. And inside of that - between the hull and this piece of plastic where my arm was going to sit as I steered and my hand - was the biggest spider I have ever seen in the boat. And so I'm about to step in. I see that, and I kid you not, I leapt out of the boat. I swore (which I never do in a rowing situation), and the poor dock master (you know) had seen this, like, previously competent coxswain walking her boat down ... putting it in ... managing everything - and she took a little bit of pity on me because the response that I made was just so outlandish. But I leapt out of there! I was like - absolutely not! I'm not getting in there. And my rowers were also freaked out because this is like the least professional behavior I've ever displayed. But they took care of it for me and I was just cowering on the other side of the dock ... like, no way. Because if that thing had emerged while I was mid-race and I couldn't do anything about it, that ... that would not have been a good time. So that's my warning: to check that random little space, especially if your boats are stored outdoors, in between that plastic Vespoli steering cover and the actual hull.
SALLY: In general, it's a good idea to check any hole before you climb into it - just going to put that out there. Any dark space, yeah, shine a light. See what's living in there - caves, pipes, cockpits ...
BREANA: Yeah, there can be all kinds of additional horrors in bowloaders you might not expect.
ANNE: Oh, I can really relate to that. I, in one circumstance during a race situation, the body of water had apparently recently had a dumping of nitrogen and the fish were dying and also jumping out of the water in order to grab oxygen. They were just in a desperate dying frenzy. So there there I am in a bowloader with (you know) in the middle of a race, and the fish are landing on the hull ... landing on me... flapping against me. It was just quite something. Have either one of you had that experience?
SALLY: Yes. I can speak to that. Breana knows I have a rather low startle factor and when caught unaware or unprepared, there is a lot of yelling and hand waving. And I'm in a bowloaded four in the middle of a really intense practice - and it's a dark gray morning and a dark gray sky - and all of a sudden, a fish jumps and breaches and lands on me in the middle of a piece. And I didn't see it - all I knew is I was getting smacked in the face with something wet and slimy, and I responded like I normally do ... which is a lot of yelling. And because you're in the bowloader, your hands are kind of pinned to your side ... and the fish is smacking me in the face with its tail and its head, and I can't get my hands up fast enough to catch it - to fling it out - and all of a sudden my rowers hear me having this shouting thing of fairly nonsensical ... "Fish - fish - fish - fish!" I eventually got the fish out, but it was a really memorable moment. So yes. I've had that - it does stick with you. Again, I am serious about checking before you climb in - especially if it's been sitting ... if it's not been actively used ... because stuff crawls in there. There was one time I'm in a bowloader and I realized I was sharing the cockpit with a mummified mouse. Not the best way to start the morning. There was far less screaming, but again - don't climb in there blind. I know we all need to wake up sometimes but - trust, but verify you are alone in the cockpit.
ANNE: I think people will understand the importance of - look before you put your body inside the bowloaded boat, right? So, I'm sort of laughing because it (for some reason) it comes naturally to me now. But I think it's a really good point that people who have not spent a lot of time in a bowloader should just get that safety habit going on ... really early on. And so we've kind of focused a little bit on safety and then some more lighthearted aspects of the bowloader. Maybe we could turn to talking about comfort.
BREANA: What - there's comfort in a bowloader? Show me the way!
ANNE: All right.
SALLY: I am always going to advocate dress warmly, but carefully. Both Breana and I have survival suits. Breana was far more intelligent in picking out hers because mine has this big square pouch on the back, which is excellent and designed to keep my head above water, but in a bowloader it gets stuck and snagged on the headrest. So I can never wear my super warm, super comfy suit in the bowloader because it is a possible entanglement risk. But making sure that when you're dressing, you're recognizing the fact - you are going to get wet. So wearing things like cotton and fleece and things that absorb water aren't going to be helpful. So wearing things that are waterproof, windproof and again, not super, super baggy (because super baggy, you run the risk of getting snared) and that, for me, is a really critical trade-off. I will be colder on purpose knowing that when in doubt, I might be able to get out. I will run that risk and then for me, when I'm coxing, I always have a complete and full and dry set of clothes in my car because you will get wet - and I will need the wool socks. I will need another pair of pants because you just get soaked. So knowing all that is critical.
ANNE: I think that's a really great point, Sally, in that our listeners - and we might talk about coach's ideas - is it might be important to know before the practice what kind of boat you're going to be coxing, because you very well may shift your clothing options based on which type of boat that you're going to be in.
BREANA: I'd say this even applies, too, if you row in a warm climate. If you are planning to go to school after your practice, or go to work, or even if you're at a regatta coxing a bowloaded four and you're gonna get in someone's vehicle afterwards and head home, you very likely will be soaked. And it doesn't feel as miserable during the summer, but that water can still be cold and you might still come out super wet. So it takes a very warm day for me to be willing to get into a bowloader without full waterproof gear from top to bottom.
SALLY: I remember it was college - catching rides home from people - and always very quietly and very discreetly turning the air conditioning vents off and closing them on my side of the car because I'm a popsicle and they have just, you know, done nine by ninety minutes or something extreme ... and they're sweating and have the AC cranked to the point of where icicles are forming on the rear view window. Yeah, an extra set of clothes would have been really awesome then.
ANNE: Well, have you ever used, like, a wetsuit or anything like that?
SALLY: I have. I have and definitely in a climate like yours, Anne, I would recommend it. They come in different cuts and different sizes and whatever you can get ... like farmer john's that cut off at the knee - the important part is making sure that your organs are warm. I have worn full body wetsuits and they do help significantly. The downside is you are sacrificing mobility for warmth because most wetsuits are designed to fit tight ... like lycra ... like a Star Trek uniform, and they aren't designed to be jumping hurdles or running around in. So just being aware of - you will be warmer, but you do sacrifice some mobility. But again, in your climate Anne, if I didn't have a survival suit, I would have to rely on a wetsuit. I don't have enough body fat to keep me warm. I have done everything from hot water bottles to hand warmers to ... they have these battery powered fleeces now, which are great except they're fleece and they don't work when they get wet ... which - bow loader. Making sure that you just have a solid wind waterproof jacket. Not resistant - proof! And then just have something warm and dry to change into afterwards is the best that you're going to be able to muster.
BREANA: The Gore-Tex brand is probably one of the most reputable (you know) waterproof brands out there, and it can be expensive. When I started coxing in college, I got the wise advice from our head cox on the team to not invest too much money in the sport until you were really sure you were gonna stick it out. So I did ask my family - that first Christmas - for a waterproof jacket and then after I realized this was going to be something I was in for the long haul, I finally invested in the waterproof pants. Also, you can see what you can find out there at places like goodwill and things as well. But I've always found Gore-Tex to be pretty reliable. And then the important note I'll make is that oftentimes, companies that market clothing at rowers are really not thinking about coxswains and so they might design - I've seen jackets that have, you know, panels on the side that are just made of spandex - and that's done in the name of, you know, 'breathability' for the rowers. But for me, that means it's no longer a waterproof garment. So make sure you're getting something - if you're buying from your team store... or if you're out of regatta shopping around in the clearance bins ... that you invest in things that really are going to be fully waterproof all around. And bonus points if it has pockets in it! Oftentimes that's ignored because rowers don't want to be snagging on things, but we want that - that's where you can stick those hand warmers. So again, just remember that the rowing world doesn't always have us in mind, so we've got to do a little extra thinking to make sure we're dressed appropriately. Another feature of dressing appropriately that can really help out - we talked a little bit about how hats can be a great tool for protecting yourself not only from the sun, but from lights that are in your visual field as you're coxing. I've also found that it's very helpful - I often times wear sunglasses in a bow loader (whether it's sunny or not) because they just protect me from this onslaught of water raining over the sides of the boat and getting in my eyes and just prohibiting me from being able to actually ... you know, besides the health reasons that we talked about ... preventing me from being able to see as I'm coxing. So that's a tip that I have, you know. Glasses wearers might find that a similar strategy works for you if you wear glasses as you cox.
ANNE: I was thinking as you were talking, Breana, that we didn't really talk yet about where all this water is coming from. I'm going to say from an unusual source -sometimes there's water that comes from the body of water that is ... if there's a crosswind and there are waves ... sometimes it's enough to come into the cockpit. But your bow seat can be the source of a lot.
SALLY: And you have to consider too, part of it is your bow seat and some of it is your position in relation to the boat. When you're sitting in a stern loader, you're a good six or seven inches higher up off the keel. You're sitting down. Your head is hopefully two and a half feet above the water line, whereas in the bowloader, you're lucky if your shoulders are above the water line. And that proximity to the water and that proximity to the blades makes a big difference. And in a stern loader, you're sitting up - most times you have a seat - most times your ankles are lower than your gluteus maximus - so if there's water sloshing around, it's getting your ankles wet ... it's not getting your core and it's not getting your organs wet. So while the water is still the same amount, our relative position makes it much more noticeable.
BREANA: It's good for us to step back and and clarify that, especially for any coxswains listening who haven't been in a bowloader, like ... what do you mean ... I'm gonna get rained on? But I mean in all the boats that I've been in, certainly the set has been flawless and bow seats technique has as well, but hypothetically, in other people's boats, you may find that anytime things are down to one side or if bow seat happens to be struggling a little bit, then you might catch some some water. And even actually, I've used this as a technique before - if the coach (we're gonna save talking about coaching technique in a bowloader for our next episode as a preview), but I have used this as a tool where if the coach is explicitly (during that practice) working on backsplash, I have immediate feedback from bow seat's blade of whether they're achieving that goal. So even if they are rowing effectively, just because you're now behind the rowers instead of in front of them as you are in an eight, or (you know) facing them, let's say ... and now you're not facing them, you might catch some of that backsplash even on a properly taken stroke. So that can be something where, you know, the coach is coaching that bow seat and then you feel the rain come over and you're like, "Yeah, that was the one ... that was the one ... you had that backsplash". So it, you know, we can use it as a tool sometimes.
SALLY: I remember one fall season, my bow seat - every third stroke - she hit me with a wall of water. I don't know why. I don't know what was going on with her technique, but every third stroke ... for four and a half months ... hit me with a tidal. It got to the point where I learned how to breathe because the water was that bad. But yes, I agree with you Breana. It is immediate and abrupt feedback.
ANNE: Oh. Oh dear.
BREANA: Only you don't need the cox box to count anymore, you know.
SALLY: Oh wait ... it's been 62 seconds since I got hit ... here it comes ... yeah, yep, yep.
ANNE: Oh, and yet I happen to love the bowloaders. Let's not forget that. Well, you know, it's something else that we might want to just share with people who have not spent a lot of time in a bowloader - is some of the challenges about the actual physical structures that are in that area that we spend that time in ... like the cox box cups and steering mechanisms.
BREANA: Yeah, I think the steering is one of the biggest things that might catch coxswains off guard - especially because as I described at the outset here, it's very likely that your first experience is going to be: your coach just says, 'Oh grab that bowloader (you know, that's on the rack that we never use), and go out with these people'. And then off they go, you know, with the eight they were meaning to send out. And then, you put that on the dock. You flip the boat over and you don't even know what you're looking at there. And so, unlike the kinds of cables that you'll find in an 8 (which we're probably a lot more comfortable with), you can find a variety of mechanisms in a four. So, some have a bar - a horizontal bar - that sits directly in front of you, kind of right underneath that splash guard (which is where the cockpit that you're in kind of comes to a point on the deck above you). And that can be horizontally displaced left and right in order to steer. So that's one mechanism you might encounter. The other is common in Vespoli brand fours, and this is kind of (as I was talking about earlier with my spider story), a crank where pushing it forward takes you to starboard and pulling it backwards takes you to port. And that can be very unusual for coxswains who, you know, are just getting in a boat of that design and seeing that kind of mechanism. And then yeah, like we were saying Anne, we have to also fit in all of the equipment that we have. So there can be these kind of plastic black cups somewhere in the cockpit there - in theory for you to put your cox box in. That doesn't always end up being the best location for it, and sometimes they don't have those in the boat, so you've got to figure it out on your own ... where to store that device (among all the other things you're carrying). So that's a couple of the things to get us started.
SALLY: To talk about steering as well, one of the things you really should check, especially if you have the luxury of checking, is make sure whatever device you have - the stick or the crank or I've seen a tiller - whatever you have, make sure that you have full mobility and it's working the rudder, because unlike a stern loaded boat (the rudder strings are much closer to the proximity of the rudder so there's less likely that they're going to be entangled). But again, because you're spanning 30 feet ...40 feet ... the likelihood that that rope (or that cable) has become snagged is greater. And also when people with the very good intention of mounting the cox box holder where you can see it, mounts it in such a way where you don't have full mobility of the rudder. And I have even been in boats where the full mobility of the rudder is actually impinged upon by the boat itself. So knowing ahead of time that I've got a 35 degree turn to starboard possible, and a 15 degree turn to port if I need it, is going to be essential in my steering. So l go in and I make sure the rudder moves, and it moves as fully and completely as I need it to. And then if I have to take apart a cox box holder - whoopsie.
ANNE: The position of the cox box holder (if there is one) ... once a club had that ... I hopped into a four where the club had actually mounted the cox box holder (the cup) on the steering lever, which I found fascinating because again, it restricted the movement side to side. I also get very frustrated when, if there is a cup there, it angles in a way that you can't see the actual display because of the fact that you are lying down. They had no thought about the fact that your vision - your field of vision - is different when you're in the racing position. And then, a lot of times, that there isn't anything there and ... 'What do I do'? I'm holding the cox box like, on my lap ... trying to make sure it doesn't bounce around ... somehow also holding the cox mate still ... and if i bring some small set of tools or whatever I bring in there for other gear … it's quite a scene and a lot to wrangle - in addition to steering and performing all of the other coxswain responsibilities.
SALLY: Just want to stop that and just say, in addition to carrying all this and trying to look at all that stuff, the possibility of you getting entangled in any one of those things is significant. So, I just kind of want to bring back to the point ... that you have listed four things that you needed that is on your lap and that isn't critical, but just being aware of that cox box wire is, to me (having been baptized by several bodies of water unpleasantly), is really important.
ANNE: That's exactly it. That's what I get in and think about. I think all this stuff is also in the way if there is an event that is dangerous. And again, settling it all down and trying to find a spot for everything ... it is challenging. I mean, what do you do?
BREANA: One life hack that I found from a master's team that I worked with was - they actually kept their tools on a lanyard, which I thought was kind of helpful. So they had these (like) almost like pencil case sort of devices that were attached with a carabiner to a lanyard, and so I really appreciated that because it was one less thing I was carrying on land. For one, I could just toss that over my neck ... again that's another device that Sally was pointing out ... that you now have on you. So that's something to be aware of - as these heavy tools around your neck - but I found that that prevented some scenarios I'd had before where I would have tools just like jangling, and the back of my head ... trying to put them there, or I would put them on my lap and then they would shoot down to the bottom of the boat, or I would try to shove them in pockets (and that's more possible if you're wearing a lot of gear with pockets because it's cold), but I found that was a super helpful way to make sure they were always on hand, because even though they might slide down in between the crook of my arm and my body or whatever, at least they would be accessible if I needed them. And another consideration for people to think about, too - going back to this concept of, you know, how much we're having to hold on ourselves - is if you are using a cox box or a speed coach or a device that is gps based - and that's how you're getting information about splits (for instance) and rate. That device needs to be held stationary in order to actually work correctly, so that's yet another thing that you have to hold down if you can't effectively put it into the cup (whether it's there or not ... if it's positioned well or not). That's something to be aware of. So I've found myself in a lot of scenarios where I've kind of been pinching the cox box between my arm and my thigh in order to keep it stationary, and then reading it sideways as I do that. So, a lot of things that we deal with that people aren't aware of even.
SALLY: So I think it's interesting, Anne, you ask about a life hack. And the greatest life hack I've managed to 'what to do with all the coxswain gear' is ... I sit in a launch and coach.
ANNE: Well, as you're sitting in the launch coaching, please continue to think about the rest of us coxes who are in a bowloader handling the water, the wet clothing, potentially wet clothing, and the gear, the visual challenges, and you see why I love it. I love bowloaders. It's a challenge on so many levels and yes, there have been times when I've been cranky about it, but for the most part I like problem solving. I have to say I am not fond of having a head race where there is no cox box holder and again, trying to wedge these things in so they're stationary and you can see them, but glancing down - then you're not watching what's happening in front of you - so I hear you, Breana. I think that's a great suggestion. I also do wear a lanyard but every time I do, I'm also aware of the fact that that's another potential area for concern. So just being very self-aware is crucial I think, in this situation.
BREANA: Yeah, boat manufacturers - if you're listening, we have some thoughts on optimization. But really, I mean, there are some other features of boat design that you'll encounter when you get in, besides this. These boats often will be designed with some form of headrest and in some boat brands it's a pillow, but in most it's this horrible, hard piece of metal that (maybe) has a deteriorating, extremely thin piece of foam pulled over top of it. And that's your 'head rest'.
SALLY: People, it is not memory foam!
ANNE: Amen! Or if it's not the bar, it might be one of those straps that has been twisted around. You know what I'm talking about Breana, right?
ANNE: Yeah, describe that for our listeners.
BREANA: You sometimes also have a 'backstrap' (for what that's worth), that is meant to support your back. But oftentimes, if your boat is older and, you know, your team, you know (maybe you have had it for a while or you're borrowing it from another team that doesn't take as good of care of their equipment - and most people just don't think about these aspects of the coxswain's seat). That strap might be knotted up ... it might have whipped around so many times on a trailer that it's literally impossible to adjust now. But if you are able to adjust it at all, the goal is for that to support your back a little bit. You're going to be kind of using your abs to keep yourself upright and be able to see over the splash guard like we were talking about. But ideally, the headrest is somewhat cradling your head and hopefully not stabbing directly into the back of your neck. And those often have some adjustability, but sometimes it takes some extra tools and some serious force on land, so adjust that if you can. And then there's this strap that maybe is supporting your back a little bit ... some brands of boats - I've raced a few times in a Pocock four, which instead of that strap, has a completely solid board that your back is supposed to ... I don't know, rest on...
SALLY: Feelings - I do have hard and fast feelings about the comfort of that said boat, Breana.
BREANA: I needed (like) surgery after that.
ANNE: I've also been in that boat and I'm in the Breana camp here. Having that vertical, hard barrier - I don't know what else to call it is, um, it's perplexing. And you're not sure how to position yourself and there is no good way. So what would you recommend, Sally?
SALLY: So as I'm culpable in this story, I'd like to tell you about the time I was coaching a stern loaded eight and that back strap is also present, but it had long since disappeared, and the coxswain looked at the two ends and turned it into a seat belt. And I had to very politely go, 'No, no that's not what that's for, but … good idea'. So yeah, it's not a seat belt, guys. How's that for a non-sequitur?
BREANA: I hope it comforts coxswains out there to hear, you know, it's not like you're doing something wrong. These boats are not designed with human anatomy in mind.
SALLY: Well, they're designed for very, very particular human anatomy - and fortunately, we're not Barbie and we're not short Barbie - so it doesn't really fit us. It's not really designed for the masters. It's not designed for a high school. There's, you know, two percent of the entire rowing population who possibly fits in these boats and that's part of it, because the where the coxswain cockpit is in many of these things, is just where the hull tapers. They don't go, 'Oh, the average masters women's hips are this big ... let's make sure we ...' They don't do that. I wish they did, but they don't. And you know, if you get the privilege of coxing a lightweight women's four that's actually designed for lightweight women, I can tell you I have a really tough time getting in there ... and I am often mistaken for a 13 year old boy.
ANNE: It's true. They're um... boat manufacturers - we may have a whole another episode (and I think we will) on different boats and boat manufacturers and the implications of those, right?
BREANA: That's where we're going to conclude for today, but we hope you can tell we really enjoy talking about this topic. We still have lots to share and we didn't want to rush through it. We started by going over a lot of really critical issues related to safety and as we've implied, that's not always something you're going to be warned about before you hop into a bowloader. So we hope that section was really worthwhile for you. Maybe some warnings ... maybe some funny stories that you can identify with, perhaps. And then we also talked a little bit about how to maximize your comfort, which comes along with safety - making sure that you're dressed appropriately in the boat. So the end goal, of course, is that we want to be able to be the best coxswains that we can be and we can't do the job if we're freezing, if our equipment is flopping all over the place, so thinking about how to (to the extent that we're enabled to by the equipment and the circumstances) ... being able to be the most comfortable and and focused on the real point of coxing of course, which is what all of our other episodes have been about. So we invite you to listen to an upcoming episode where we pick up this topic again - discussing communication in a bowloader and skills like steering ... and the holy grail... how to detect and correct technique issues in a bowloader.
SALLY: On this episode, I would like to give a shout out to Nik Kurmakov. We are recording this in early October (2020), and Nik Kurmakov - who was a coach and rower and a stalwart member of the Boston rowing scene - passed suddenly and unexpectedly a little while ago. Nik was an incredible person and he will be sorely missed in our community.
ANNE: Thank you so much for that, Sally, and it is something very sobering. Something a little less sobering is going to be our quick pick, and for this episode, we've decided our quick pick is going to be: anything waterproof! So in the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack, where your question might get featured on a future episode. We'd also love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. For our patrons, we'll be offering early access to some of our upcoming episodes, the chance to have input about what we'll talk about in future episodes, and other fun perks like blooper reels from these first few episodes. We are so excited to bring you more content soon ... and until next time, I'm Anne, I'm Breana, and I'm Sally - signing off for now.
SALLY: So interestingly enough, Breana, there was this one time Breana coxed for a master's team and, you know, she showed up and you know -being Breana - she took out her notebook and took notes and asked them questions (and blah, blah, blah) just impressed them. And then a couple weeks later, I had the privilege to cox the same masters team. And they look at me, and they look around, they go, "You know, Sally, Breana brought a notebook." So then I, like, spend, like, trying to find a napkin and a pen to (you know) live up to Breana's standards. But it was a good lesson in setting expectations. It was definitely a skill set. I wouldn't have thought to bring a notebook. So I now know - bring a notebook. Don't be outshone by Breana.
BREANA: Well, Sally, your type does have a lot of its own strengths. Among those are that you have a quick, imaginative and strategic mind, as the site calls it. You have high self-confidence - or at least, you are able to put out there the impression that you have it. The 'T' letter maybe indicates that's not true inside all the time. You are independent and decisive and a jack of all trades. And if you have ever met Sally, that is really going to resonate. If you find her at a regatta, in any given second she might be running around trying to find the right type of nut to fix a rigger on a boat brand that no one has ever heard of (and doesn't exist anymore). She might be eloquently quoting Shakespeare as she crosses the line, or she might be finagling five or six different teams to figure out how she's going to get 25 different boats on a trailer (that only has 16 spots) across the entire country in the next two days. So that's Sally - just rocking the INTJ.
ANNE: That's absolutely true. And all the time, she has to change her uniform and so she could be doing all those things while she's in the middle of putting on the correct uniform for the next race - and back and forth. Sally, it's quite something to watch you in action, and jack of all trades, I think, and master of many. I'm gonna add that - not just jack of all trades, but master of many!
SALLY: A lot of smoke and mirrors y'all, a lot of smoke and mirrors.
BREANA: That's your type talking.
ANNE: It's working for you and your crews, right?
SALLY: I hope so.
ANNE: Oh my gosh. Sally, though, sometimes you know, we all have weaknesses - even you maybe. And so according to the personality types, they're saying that sometimes you can be loathe to work in highly structured environments. So what do you think about that? And then I have one follow-up after that.
SALLY: I think anyone who has met me knows that that is a painfully obvious statement. If I don't understand a rule, I am not terribly willing to follow it. I will (again) ... safety -
please, for those who are just hearing me for the first time or just meet me occasionally - please know that safety of my crew and safety of the equipment is always my first priority ... and then comes fairness and then comes fun. So well, I do make these flippant decisions and I take liberal use of rules ... like the speed limit is a suggestion. I really do believe I try to respect the fact that there are some things in the interest of fairness that I won't do no matter, like again, the end doesn't justify the means. But yeah, I do have a tough time ... well, we have to do this: we have to wear blue shirts on Tuesday - why? You give me a reason why maybe I'll do it but I'm not just going to do it because you tell me to do it. And I'll never wear a bow like ... bows in the hair for freshman girls ... why why? That doesn't make sense to me.
ANNE: Well, another area that might be hard for you is things like those, those team rituals, right? So how do you react to them and then how have you learned to react to them differently over time?
SALLY: So, I'm a history geek on top of everything else, so I do appreciate a certain amount of ritual and tradition for history's sake. But again, there are some things, some histories that aren't shouldn't be repeated. And I like a tradition that empowers everybody and feels good and unifies us to a common cause. If it's a tradition that we're just doing to do and it's just part of the the show, I am less likely to do it but I do appreciate that there are some personality types and there are some people who really, really need the, you know, the hug it out ... and, you know, fist pump for the gold or or whatever. I am not a fist pump for gold but if you need me to, I will. Still not be really going to be big on the bows. So let's not do bows.
BREANA: That's something important for coxswains to reflect on as well. If you're identifying with what Sally's been saying here. Since you are often in the place of being a participant in those sort of team rituals, if you don't personally buy into them, it could be worthwhile to do so in the moment for the purposes of kind of bonding with your team. And those are people that, you know, the day after that silly team dinner with the fist pumping and the bows ...you guys all have to get in the boat together and they have to trust you when you call that final 10, you know, and as you approach the line. And so that's something again that I hope coxswains are kind of thinking about as we
talked during this episode.
ANNE: I completely agree with you, Breana - and this is the part where we can say ... let's acknowledge (and you know in this case we're talking about these personality traits), let's acknowledge the ones that seem to come to us naturally - the areas we live in or would prefer to live in moment after moment. However, in order to be effective coxswains and to grow as people we need to consider the bigger picture and begin to embrace some of those personality qualities that might be foreign or even, you know, kind of grating to us. But over time, they have a bigger value and we can either adopt them, you know, just by putting them on for a while - or we can actually (over time) we might end up enjoying some of them and they might begin to become more natural so that we're better, well-rounded coxswains. But sometimes there are painful lessons that we have to have in order to move us from point 'A' to point 'B' right?
SALLY: Actually Anne, I always have been very grateful for your consult on some of these issues. I mean, I have found you and and your personality type has you being exceptionally insightful and you have had the ability to alert me to some more subtle emotional and personality problems on a team before they've come to fruition. And things like - 'Yo Sal, we got to fist pump this one'. Again, you know, while I'm being authentic to my true self, I can participate but it doesn't always fit and I'm really grateful when you go, 'Hey Sal, by the way, they need you to do some of this kumbaya stuff'. And I am very grateful that you have led me (very patiently at times and repeatedly most times) to being able to participate in some things for the betterment of the team. I mean what your personality type is is kind of interesting and and like Breana, one of the the characteristics is that you lack an ability to change or adaptability to change which, again, the fact that you and Breana are still talking to me is astounding because, you know, the only thing constant in my head is the fact that I've changed my mind. And I really would be very curious how that and your sensitivity and being such a private person really works for you as a coxswain.
ANNE: Well, I don't think they do work for me very well as a collection, and that's why I really accept the fact that these are weaknesses and areas that I need to grow in. And they are very counter to my natural personality and so I have to consciously accept the fact that you like change and you are very comfortable with it. And I appreciate that what you've done is given me some moments to pause. You don't anymore require me to accept it immediately. You have recognized that I need to pause and keep my mouth shut and say 'absolutely no way'. I will pause and say, Sally's come up with this plan - or another person has come up with another way of approaching it - hey, pause for a moment and really try to say that might work. You know, I sort of ease into it ... say that, that could work ... that might work ... hey, it will work in this situation. So, it is a weakness but I am working on it almost every day and in terms of being perfectionistic is another characteristic that doesn't serve well, because things are never going to be perfect. And I don't ever like to say that it's good enough but I want to say it's as good as I can make it at this particular moment. Again, holding out, holding out the golden goose at the end saying, yes - if I keep working at it day after day, maybe one day it will be perfect. I can't quite give that up yet, but I'm working on it. So I think that you know understanding that there are all of these different situations that our personalities are going to encounter and they will happen ... as coxswains, things are going to be different and make us uncomfortable. Let's just maybe talk about our various personalities and how they would cause us to react in the face of some really common situations. Breana, what about, what about you? Could anything come to mind?
BREANA: Sure does. Yeah, one thing that has just always been really challenging for me is those times when rowers make outward displays of negative emotions in particular. So everyone can commiserate at the end of a race when we're whooping together because we pulled it off and we got that medal, but I'm talking about (kind of) those more subtle times ... like you're coxing an 8 and then ... this has happened to me ... you look up and stroke seat just has tears streaming down their face ... and they're still rowing ... and they're (you know)... everything seems normal from the look of their stroke, and so you now are in this situation, I'm in this very intimate position where only I can see what this rower is experiencing. And I'm always stuck. Like, do I respond in (you know) my 'T' side (if we're going to continue this theme of personality types) really is unsure what to do. Do I comfort them? And I usually end up in the situation of just, kind of, quietly acknowledging, but also not really responding in any way. And it has stymied me every time that it happens.
SALLY: And it happens a lot more than people think.
ANNE: Yes it does, right?
SALLY: It happens a lot more than people think - and for various reasons and I appreciate it, but I, like Breana, I'm like, 'Oh my god, they're leaking. Why are they leaking? They're leaking for a reason - something's wrong - something's wrong -we should fix this - we need ... what ... they're leaking ... why are they leaking'?
ANNE: So you reflect your personality type so much that I'm the only 'F' in this group, right?
ANNE: The things that are going to come so easily for the two of you, this is like, oh okay - no problem. I can handle this most of the time and the first thing, you know, that I'm gonna make a suggestion here. The first thing is that you, most of the time, you know your crews. You know those individuals so for example, if you ever see me crying, the best response to you seeing me crying is to turn the other way and pretend you never saw it happen, because it's hugely embarrassing to me but there are other people that you know that they tend to be more emotionally, you know, they have emotional displays. So in those cases, all you need to do - all you need to do is just cover your mic for a second, and just look up at the person or whatever, and say, "I've got you. I'll follow up with you later". And then put your mic back on and carry on.
SALLY: Y'all - for the record - if you see me crying ... nine-one-one, okay?
SALLY: It has gone very wrong very quickly. Nine-one-one.
ANNE: We promise. So what other circumstances or situations that happen a lot of the time? Can you give us an example perhaps, and then like, how you would handle it based on your personality type?
SALLY: So one of the things I do (and it's interesting because I get mistaken for an 'F' all the time and the truth of the matter is I am not an 'F'), I am a well-schooled person, so when we have the boat meeting, I (and especially with a pickup crew crew that I don't know that very well) I'm watching them ... I'm listening to them ... and it's to me, it's much more than "tell me what to say, tell me the starting sequence, tell me ...". I'm watching them. Who's nervous? Who's confident? Who's tired? Who's aggravated? And to me, I mean again, it's an algorithm. I am looking at how they are carrying themselves and that tells me how I need to cox them later in the race. I wish I could say it was this incredible outpouring of empathy and emotion and stuff, but again, it's like, "Oh my god she's leaking ... what are we gonna do, Breana? Breana, Breana - she's leaking! Help"!
ANNE: Well, so on the surface, you would seem like you are an 'F' and you might come across to other people as an 'F', but you accomplish that outward appearance through your analytical methods.
SALLY: And please don't, again, for people who don't know me, I am not sitting there like a robot judging you - that's Breana. I am evaluating. I just am not really good with emotions, so I have a very learned and practiced way of dealing with it. I'm not negating your emotions. I'm not making fun of your emotions.
ANNE: No. I don't, I don't mean that. And by the way, we're all 'Js' so we all have that little judgmental thing going on, truth be told.
SALLY: So what about you guys? Like - how about when you feel there is a last minute change? How do you guys handle it since change is not anything that y'all are very comfortable with? I read about that. How do you handle a last minute lineup change or regatta change or ...?
BREANA: Yeah, that used to be one that would absolutely drive me up the wall. And I think if there are any listeners who kind of identified with the earlier conversation about that, then this could be you, too. And your test results might reveal that. And yeah, the idea of a lineup getting changed at the race course, or something about the plan being different, the boat brand that you're gonna use (suddenly your coach decides that they're renting a different one) - all of those things were really challenging for me to confront because I like to plan and kind of see all those details and have just a vision for how everything is going to go and have accounted for all of those possibilities ... and then something new gets thrown into the works and I have just lost. And I think what really helped me to get over that was increasing the breadth of experiences that I had as a coxswain. So those scenarios were very frustrating initially, and now I'm able to roll with the punches a little more - even if it's uncomfortable and even if I'll challenge sometimes, because I have just had so many races that are all just full of changes at the last minute. I hop in the boat on the dock and I have to ask them when the race time is, and who they are, because it's just ... that boat needed a coxswain in that moment. And I'm able to serve them without kind of, you know, overshadowing the whole thing with my frustration about the changes. So really, it was just being thrown into all of these circumstances which any coxswain listening can have those experiences just being at regattas. And our skills are really in demand and so you have the opportunity to be in boats outside of your home team, and really seek those out. They can kind of give you (especially if this is an issue for you what I'm talking about here) they can give you more adaptability in different scenarios.
SALLY: Anne, what would you say? Again because you are sensitive, that feeling emotion (I don't want to say crap), but you know ... that feeling something .. yeah I'm trying ... I'm really trying here... okay I'm trying this ... so how would you handle it if you feel that you're being ignored by a rower?
ANNE: Well, you're touching on a very tender spot for me, and by this I don't mean somebody that's trying to make a change and can't make a change for whatever reason or they just haven't reached that change yet. I have been in circumstances where people have deliberately ignored what I'm asking them to do and it's an area for additional growth on my part. But my first reaction is intense anger. I feel very disrespected and invisible and I don't like that feeling at all. So I'd love to take some guidance from either one of you about how to better respond to that.
SALLY: See, as a tactician, I'm always thinking there's another gambit. If it is truly that they don't value what you say it's, for me, it'd be reframing the argument to making sure I am saying something that they deem a value, or I would be trying to evaluate ... they don't hear me when I am talking emotions. Would they hear me if I talk linear facts? So I see it as a game of how am I communicating and how are they choosing to hear? And sometimes there are people who choose not to hear you like, you know, no matter how wise and incredibly pithy the words that come. It's, you know, I've got 8 and a half minutes to try and figure out how to communicate to you. And the fact that I walk in a boat and you don't see me as much initially is okay by me. I'm hoping that by the end of the piece - by the end of the practice - you see me as bringing value add.
ANNE: Right. Well, I appreciate that and I'm going to give that a lot of thought - thank you. Are there situations for you, Breana, that are easy because of your personality type or some that are challenging? You know, another one that is challenging for you based on your type?
BREANA: Oh that's a great question. I have found really since I started that the parts of coxing that came most naturally to me were technique and really dealing with that puzzle of like - okay, I have eight blades in front of me and the blade's movement is reflecting the movement of a body which is controlled by the mind of a person. And there's eight individuals in there and just cleaning up each little tiny thing like this person's rolling up late ... okay, we fixed that ... now that's caused us to rush ... let's fix that. And I really enjoyed that part but again, it's where the kind of emotions come in where I'm challenged, so I might spend an entire practice (for instance), and even I'm getting frustrated internally trying to fix the set in the boat. Like, I can tell that it's off. I know the rowers can tell that it's off and I'm spending the whole time trying every call in my repertoire ... like, it wasn't that ... okay, I told him to sit up ... okay, wasn't that ... we've worked on handle heights for a minute - wasn't that. And that circumstance is challenging but a challenge that I enjoy and then what really compounds it for me is when there's a rower from the back of the boat in the middle of a piece who just pipes up out of nowhere, "Can we please fix the set". And I just ...
SALLY: Thank you. We had no idea that was happening, right? Brilliant. Insightful, Thank you so very much for your input.
ANNE: But Sally, would you say that out loud?
SALLY: Um, occasionally, yes. Again, a personality type.
BREANA: So that's the difference between us. Yeah. I, in those situations, I'm often just silent. Like, I don't react but I worry, and when I don't, I'm losing control a little bit you know. And some coxswains I know could shut that down right away and it would fit their style to just be like - "Shut up. I'm in charge". But that really isn't how I roll. And so
again, another situation that really gets me every time - and I've not mastered how to fix it.
SALLY: You know, interestingly enough you know, 'shut up' and just telling them to silence isn't how I'd handle it either. I'd be the one defusing it.Ii would be making a joke out of it. I would be quoting Monty Python or something ... just because that is, you know, that is a conflict ... that is a problem ... that is a sticking point. The logician in me is trying to make it work and to make it work, you kind of have to hear them. You acknowledge them, but if I reference the black knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it kind of diffuses the situation a little bit. I think there's a time and a place for those, you know, explicitives, but I tend not to gravitate toward them. But I would, I would be one like - "Jolly good idea. Thank you so very much - had no idea. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a set issue. Brilliant, three seat. Brilliant ... so grateful. Thank you very much. Ladies and gentlemen, let's try to focus on set for three seat now, shall we?" And, um, three seat might not talk to me after practice, but you know ... worth it. ANNE: That's awesome Sally.
SALLY: Yeah, no.
ANNE: I know it's better than some of the things I would come up with.
SALLY: There's a time and a place and again, I wish I could say that comes naturally. That is a learned skill. I evaluate the tension in the boat. I evaluate three seat's anger. I evaluate who's it coming from - why are they saying it? Are they saying it because the boat's really down or are they saying it because they're getting stuck in the water and they perceive the boat is down to their side? And all these little algorithms are running in my head and my mission is to get the boat back safely, and try to actualize the race plan or the workout or whatever. So how do I manipulate the situation that the common end is actualized?
BREANA: So given that, Sally, tell us how much you love situations that you couldn't have planned for. Like, we all know you've relished the experience of having a seaplane come down in the middle of your race out west.
SALLY: That was, yeah, that was taking coxing to like ... three dimensions! For all of y'all, that cox in Seattle or Washington state (God bless you guys because that is pretty crazy). Yeah, that we were doing Tail of the Lake and a seaplane comes whizzing down as I'm in the middle of the racing queue. And on the east coast, seaplanes are not that common and you know ... it gets close to you ... it kicks up a wake while it's still in the air. It was one of those things I had not anticipated during the race plan. I was able to adapt (possibly with slightly more colorful language than I would have appreciated) ... not that I'm rethinking my behavior in that day at all ...
BREANA: Not a turbulent personality type - not even a little.
SALLY: It's like all of a sudden this wake comes. I mean, I have been in situations where literally a submarine goes by and this giant wake, that if it was a boat, I can see the wake - that's coming from a boat because I can see the boat. But the wake from a submarine caught me a little off guard because you can't see it coming. You ... I may have thought I was hallucinating a little bit, but ...
ANNE: I want to hear from our audience how many other coxswains have ever been waked by a submarine and we will give you a 'shout out' if it's for real, right?
SALLY: ... anybody who coxes out at Fort Townsend and the San Juans and the upper peninsula out there.
ANNE: Come and tell us! We want to hear more about it, but that, that's awesome Sally.
SALLY: Did not anticipate that one.
BREANA: I think we've covered a lot of great scenarios here - some more relatable than others maybe. And I know you're probably listening and thinking ... you know, maybe there are things that are resonating that are really challenging for you or maybe you have the perfect answer to when a rower cries in the boat ... in which case please, please, please, please, please email me! So we would just love to hear ... you know ...
continue the conversation please on our on our Slack channel and elsewhere on the internet where you can find us. And just let us know what is resonating from this episode and that's another chance for us to all learn from each other. So to kind of bring it back to our purpose for today and why we're making an episode like this - an uncommonly addressed coxing topic, I would venture to say - what we've been saying is that one of the advantages of knowing about your personality type is that once you have a sense of which things come easily versus what's challenging, you can kind of mitigate those challenges ... which is all in the service again of being the best coxswain that you can possibly be, no matter what boat that you're jumping into in a given time.
ANNE: Exactly, Breana. It's that we've acknowledged the fact that there's this stereotype out there, and we've shared about the fact that one of the things the three of us have in common is that we're all introverts. And therefore some people might say being an introvert is a real disadvantage. Well, what we've talked about is that there are ways of building additional skills and also celebrating the skills that come naturally to us, and as introverts, we've had a lot of conversations among the three of us and it's something that (because we are so fascinated by this topic), we do hope to explore it in a future episode. So stay tuned for that one.
BREANA: Absolutely. And for today we are nearing the end of this particular episode, and as we hope to do on many of our future episodes, we don't want to close before kind of touching on how what we've shared today can impact the other constituents and the rowing community. And so we have a couple of takeaways for coaches and for rowers. And then we'll bring it back home for our coxswain listeners before we close.
SALLY: I had the very great privilege of (I'll pretend to say) coaching both of you, but really it was working with you ... and one of the hardest things for me as a coxswain to do was hear how you would say something, Anne … or hear how you would phrase something, Breana ... and recognize just because it wasn't what I would say didn't make it wrong - it was just different. It was a different flavor - a different characteristic. And acknowledging there are things that I think I do that motivate my crew (I can quote Caesar crossing the Rubicon or Richard III speech or something like that) ... and Breana literally just rolled her eyes - literally guys - you can't see this, but Breana rolled her eyes. And trying to make Breana do this stuff is just wrong. It is, well it would be funny, but it would be really wrong. And acknowledging that Breana's gonna have a completely different way of phrasing things that I really need to respect, and acknowledging just because it's different doesn't make it wrong It's just different. The whole Myers-Briggs thing is based on Jungian philosophy and an archetype about who people are, and the truth is: we're all different people with tremendous amounts of strengths and weaknesses and whatever, and all that matters is when we get the boat is that we celebrate each other to make our weaknesses better so that we become greater than the sum of our parts. And understanding who we are and understanding what we are, really goes a long way into helping that happen. I can think of myself as this kind, compassionate person but in reality, I come across as this really unpleasant, caustic word that would get us unmonetized ... and knowing that that's my natural personality, I can bring other, better parts of my personality to light to help push the boat forward ... to help push the practice forward. And I think understanding and acknowledging that is really important for coaches who work with coxswains ... for working with the team ... for working with a greater dynamic.
BREANA: I guess to bring it back to probably our main audience of coxswains, it's also worthwhile to take what Sally just said and recognize that what works for one coxswain, is not necessarily going to work for you, and it's not something that you have to copy exactly. So if you listen to a recording of Sally and hear her quoting all kinds of ancient literature, that isn't necessarily going to be the strategy (if you just plug that into your own coxing), it doesn't mean that it's going to work. So again, part of the point of this is to celebrate what you naturally bring to the boat and the strengths that accompany that. And it frees us up to be able to kind of learn from each other, and take what works and leave the parts that don't work, and let them shine for that particular coxswain. And so there's no need to, you know, reproduce exactly what you've heard on a recording. And that's something that we hope this environment (where we're encouraging coxswains to share maybe a little more than they are raised to do in their home environments), we're hopeful that doing that rather than kind of competing against each other, will make every race that happens out there just be a better experience for us and for rowers.
SALLY: Whatever you do. don't quote Jane Austen - no good can come from that.
ANNE: I know I'm rolling my eyes now, Sally.
SALLY: How to try to get every one of you.
ANNE: How about uh, how about tips for rowers?
BREANA: Yeah, I would say to them very similarly ... along the lines of what we've been talking about so far. Rowers, I think, can sometimes fall into a fallacy - especially if they've been on an established team and a new coxswain joins them. They can hold that coxswain to the same stylistic standard as their previous coxswain who, you know, was on the team for a long time and that can be a mistake. Again, we're really highlighting that two people who are both super successful, can sound very different in the boat, and both of those approaches can lead to a lot of success. So I would say if someone new joins your team, resist the temptation to kind of mold them into the exact style of your favorite coxswain. Absolutely share with them what you like and don't like to hear from a coxswain, but be open to the fact that they maybe are going to bring new things and new approaches and new quotes and other expressions and parts of their their job as the coxswain that may really work well for your team that you hadn't yet considered. So that's the advice that I would give to rowers.
ANNE: I really like the way you phrased that, Breana. And I'm going to work on bringing us towards the end of this episode. And one of the things that we had talked about - the three of us - and what we'd like to offer in these episodes (every time) is some kind of 'quick pick'. And we've dealt with some heavy topics ... some light topics in here, but I want to toss out a quick pick that is, to me, hilarious. And I think the three of us watched parts of it together and we were enjoying ourselves ... and what this is is a quick pick for silent film. If you haven't seen it yet, gonna recommend ... it's called 'The College' and features Buster Keaton. It's a black and white silent film, and there's a specific rowing section in there where he is a coxswain and if you'd like to watch it yourself (if you haven't yet), find the link on our show notes at coxpod.com 003, and let us know your reaction to it. We just throw it out there as sort of a fun light-hearted item for your consideration.
BREANA: It's worth a watch. It's incredible all right.
SALLY: So in closing, one of the shared letters in all of our personality types was 'I' for introvert. Despite the fact that three of us share this other uncommon personality type for coxswains, we do still want to emphasize the fact that it's not the only personality type for coxswains - and anybody who works hard can do an amazing job in that seat! In the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack where your questions might get featured in a future episode. And if you have any, any advice on that crying rower thing, please (yeah, please, we need help). We would also love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you, for our patrons, we'll be offering early access to upcoming episodes and the chance to have input on what we talk about on future episodes. Breana is promising a blooper reel. I'm not sure I gave consent to that...
ANNE: Nor I, nor I.
BREANA: Or Sally's gonna do a dramatic reading of some literature. Oh boy, all kinds of things for you on the Patreon.
SALLY: "Once more until the breach, my friends - once more". Anyhow. You know what I think? We should end it there. Until next time, I'm Sally, I'm Breana, and I'm Anne - signing off for now.