011 | Launching
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I’m Anne, I’m Sally, I’m Breana and we're three coxswains with over 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.
BREANA: Today we are diving into the topic of launching. And we know that for a lot of coxswains, docking and landing (the kind of reverse of what we're going to talk about today) is the more stressful piece of the process and an element that probably you think about a lot more often. So what we're hoping to do today - we finally learned our lesson and we know that we're going to talk for a long time about one given topic - so we've already preemptively split this episode into multiple episodes. And our goal is really for us all to examine our launching process and potentially maybe fine-tune it or improve something that has been a challenge for us … or maybe just think more deeply about optimizing a part of the process that we hadn't considered before. So since this is an area that doesn't get a lot of love or discussion in the coxing world, we hope that you will be able to get something out of it. We also want to say that if you - in your day-to-day coxing life - don't use a dock, we are going to have a mini episode about launching and landing in a wet launching situation (or beach launching situation depending on your terminology there). So look out for that to be released as well. And we will kick it off here with our discussion of the process of launching boats.
ANNE: How about if we start at the beginning - chronologically speaking? So we are planning the launching and the first thing that comes to my mind is how important it is - when you are at your boathouse (or wherever your boat is before you head down towards the dock) - is to really explore the environment before you start walking down there. Even if it's something that's very familiar to you, there are a lot of factors to consider. There might be other people. There might be weather factors. So let's talk about that process of getting that boat down to the dock. At my club, it just magically floats down. I don't know about you guys, but uh, there's never a stressful moment. There's never a problem. It just floats down but …
SALLY: … because Massachusetts is known for being a magical, wonderful place.
ANNE: Precisely. But let's hear how regular situations unfold.
BREANA: Yes - for us mere mortals, we have to consider the rest of these elements. One that I really try to reflect on anytime I’m launching - and as we were just talking about - even before anyone gets hands-on, your role is to be assessing the environment … which (exactly as you said, Anne) can change every day … whether it's your home course or it's a course you've never been on or a course you're only at once a year. It's something that you need to pay attention to as if it's fresh every time because it will be. So one consideration I always have is making sure that we're not going to be holding the boat for longer than we need to. So if you launch into some extremely long line and immediately - as soon as you're out of the bay - end up kind of standing there holding the boat, that process is very taxing for rowers. Sometimes you do need to - you know, it's a race and you've got to get yourself in that very long line on the way to something. But sometimes I notice coxswains going over-heads with the boat and then not being sure where they're going next, or having a long conversation about what to do at that point. And that - if you've never carried a boat - it's excruciating to be in that position with carrying the entire weight of the boat over your head. And sometimes I find that coxswains who haven't personally experienced that (and we probably haven't much because we're tending to be shorter than the rest of the team even if we do try to help out) but you gotta reflect on the fact that that is a very challenging position for the rowers to be in so you just want to minimize time that they're going to spend in any of these difficult carrying positions. And to build on that, we also want to make sure we're considering who our athletes are. This is something we've always emphasized here. So - are our rowers a bunch of college aged guys who could totally go down a ramp the whole way over heads and have no issue, or are they a mix of heights … are they a mix of physical abilities … are they really young and all very short (maybe this is like a middle school team that's carrying that same exact weight of boat that those huge guys would be carrying)? Those are all things that we need to be considering before we even get hands-on and start moving around.
SALLY: I have often coached masters and especially if there's a long walk or a situation I perceive to be treacherous, I usually have more rowers carrying the boat than are rowing in it. And oftentimes that's looked down upon because (you know) ‘if you can row, you can carry your boat’. That is - I want to put in a word here that's going to be unmonetized, so I’m going to say - that's a load of pterodactyl, dang it. There's no shame in asking for help. There are some physical impediments that will preclude eight people from carrying a boat down safely, and that could be height … that could be physical injuries … that could be a whole host of things. If it's safer and it gives the rowers more energy to race or more energy at the practice, there's absolutely no shame in asking for help. You have to remember that things happen while launching. The boat is expensive. Is it better to ask for an extra person to help you carry it down rather than risk injury to the boat or injury to your rowers? A temporary injury to a 23-year-old can become a permanent injury to a 55-year-old. So take precautions and ask for help. It's a perceived weakness but is it a greater weakness to succumb to other people's perception or is it a weakness to acknowledge who you are and use what you have and use a little ingenuity to overcome an obstacle?
BREANA: I think a conversation we'll have a little bit later … when we get to that point in our chronology of launching here … about how to roll the boat in without going over heads for instance. There are methods that you can consider - depending on the physical abilities of your rowers - that will still get them safely on the water. Again, as you guys have stressed, the important thing is to consider the rowers’ safety and make sure that they are able to row for the rest of their lives … as long as they possibly can. That's more important than the momentary embarrassment of having to ask (you know) some nearby tall person from another team to help you out if that's available.
ANNE: Right. These are some common scenarios that happen in my club and in my experience. As we are carrying the boat down, I think it's important to think about some comments that my rowers have made - which is that they're not sure whether they should bunch up you know … I’m sometimes hearing from them – no, we don't want to bunch up … other times that they all want to be bunched up. What are your thoughts on bunching people stern and bow?
BREANA: I am pro bunching. I think maybe because it's easy to train novice rowers this way, there kind of becomes this mode of launching which involves standing at your seat - so it's easy to teach them the seats and say, ‘Hey, go stand by your seat’. And that gets everyone in line and it's the least chaotic way (maybe) to have the rowers all get hands on and launch. But there are a lot of advantages to - instead of having eight people spread fairly evenly throughout the boat or four - have them bunch up so four at each end (or two towards the ends in a four). And one of the advantages of this is that if a rower were to slip on a wet dock, on an icy dock, or just lose their balance for a second, trip on something - and they were to lose their ability temporarily to be contributing to the carrying of that boat - the impact of that is less severe if the rowers are all bunched together. So if you drop out and you're all spread out, the people near you are feeling a lot more weight pretty instantaneously, whereas that impact is lessened. And these things have happened in our experiences. A rower has slipped and totally fallen off of the boat that's being carried at the moment, and is no longer contributing to carrying it. So we've found personally - in our own experiences - that bunching up has helped mitigate that particular concern as well as just making it easier generally to carry.
ANNE: Many times I’m with a crew that is comprised of people with different heights. I’m hoping we can come up with some suggestions for people who are in that circumstance - where they have people of varying heights who are getting ready to carry the boat. What are your recommendations and why?
SALLY: You want to make sure that your hull is level, right? So if you imagine your hull tip down - so that your bow is lower and your stern is higher - the weight is going to be in the bow. So the people in bow … the people in the lower end … are going to get the bulk of the weight. So it is best - however you carry the boat - to make it as level as possible and which is challenging at times when you have people who are 5'4” in the same boat where you have people who are 6’1”. And the challenge is then - not everybody carry it on your shoulders because that's not gonna work. And if you bunch up and have all the short people (or the vertically challenged people) in the bow, the taller people are going to have a lighter effort because they are using that angle so the shorter person will be getting (in the scenario) a disproportionate amount of the weight of the hull. So you want to spread it out so that the hull is even. In that case it might be the shorter person carrying on their shoulder and the taller person carrying at high waist. It's happened. The other thing to think about is oftentimes when we are marching the boat down, the terrain is uneven and the closer we get to the water the angle gets steeper. Like there's a particular drinking reservoir - the Occoquan in Virginia - where (I swear) it's at a 95 degree angle. It's horrible and having the shorter person on the downhill side - you're working against gravity and the fulcrum of the boat. It gets heavy. But if you manage a way to keep it level even walking down the hill … so that might be having the bow in this situation at shoulders and the stern down to waist and carrying it that way. It is so much lighter than just everybody on your shoulders.
ANNE: That's very helpful because I had never really thought about the taller people going down to high waists or even to waist at certain points depending upon the degree of the slope. My personal strategy had been - because our dock is downhill when we launch - is to have the taller people in the bow going down and we reverse the process when we land. And that seems to have helped that horrible, horrible weight that drives down on the short people when they're in the bow going down the hill. It's unbearable. So that is how I have managed that, but now I have an additional strategy that you pointed out which is the tall people carry routinely at a lower level to keep the boat level, right?
SALLY: And there are things they can do. If you're truly a taller person carrying a boat with shorter people, you can dig your elbow into your hip for that extra support so you're carrying just a little bit off your shoulder. You can use two hands. You can carry it in the crook of your elbow. You have ways of modifying it so that their height in this situation isn't a disadvantage to their teammates.
ANNE: Right. We all know the crew where there's that one extra tall person and they try to have it on their shoulder and everybody is suffering from that, so I think that's a helpful tip.
BREANA: I think everything you guys have said is great. Hopefully listeners are coming to appreciate - or reappreciating - or agreeing with us - that none of this works with a stand by your seat strategy that's prescribed (you know). And this also speaks to why we can't just say ‘hands on’ and just start walking away. We need to assess exactly what's going on, you know. It's more likely that your lineups are changing on a routine basis so if that super tall person is in your boat that day, you need a second to think about where to put them … to maybe counsel them on what to do as they walk down … and that extra second of effort is potentially going to protect that person from a permanent injury or some adverse consequence like that. I really think that this speaks to the value of taking a moment to assess the strategy that you're going to deploy as you walk down because it really will change on a pretty much daily .
SALLY: And in these situations, don't be afraid to try something new. We're giving you general, broad paint strokes on how we handle these situations, but this knowledge came to us through a hard-earned trial and error process. So we're hoping that you use these tools, look at what you're facing, and try something new. Things are going to work. Things are not going to work. But you won't know until you try. Just be inventive. The difference between a cox and a good cox is - a good cox is the one that's thinking ahead and trying and using strategies. There's nothing wrong with saying rote things if you would like to stay a cox, but if you want to be known as a good cox - if you want to achieve more for your crew - it's situations like these where you're looking at the water … you're looking at the terrain … and you're plotting ahead. So please, please take what we're saying. Use it and do your own thing - and then come back and teach us what you have done.
ANNE: Right. And so many places are so different. And I’d love to hear some examples of what coxswains who are listening face either one time at a regatta that they've traveled to, or every day. Another safety thing for me is that despite the fact that it looks very cool to have rowers put hands on, lift the boat out, go to shoulders, and then start walking immediately - for those crews that practice all the time and have that as their M.O. - that's great. But I will tell you that I am rigorously holding to the fact that that boat does not have any forward momentum until I call that they can walk forward. I want to make sure that nobody's in a rigger, that all people are attentive, they're facing the right way. And even with experienced crews (people who row together all the time), I’m surprised about how many times people are not in a safe position and want to start walking. Do you both kind of handle it the same way or what do you do?
SALLY: I was under the impression that in Massachusetts the boat magically apparated in the water, so I am just stunned by this realization and grappling to understand why the rowers would be carrying the boat when it appears. So let me just kind of puzzle that one out for a minute.
ANNE: The magic carpet didn't magically carpet that day.
BREANA: I think it's a great point you make, Anne. I’m similar in that. Again, this is part (for me) of assessing what's going on in the environment, which could change a lot. And this is the point before we're even on the water where concussions happen in our sport because someone unwittingly is standing there having a conversation at the door of the bay and you need a second to let them know to move before you start walking. Or maybe the rowers, when they brought the boat to the center of the bay, one of the riggers would hit if they started to move forward. There's constantly situations like that, so I totally agree that it's worthwhile to train the rowers that nobody moves until (you would take a moment to assess that) and then they can start walking forward.
SALLY: You’re absolutely right - both of you. There are too many changing variables. There are things that we can see because we are off the boat that are oblivious to some of the people who are buried in the back and their vision or hearing is obscured by boats and riggers and whatnot. So making sure that once the rowers touch the boat they know that they are relinquishing a bit of control to the coxswain. More injuries happen carrying the boat than on the water.
ANNE: Right - and a lot of that can be avoided. Well, hopefully 100% of that can be avoided. And so now the boat is on the rowers’ shoulders - theoretically speaking. Now they're starting to move the boat forward. So what are your thoughts about where you need to be positioned as the coxswain? You know - is there a magic (which I’ve heard some coaches say) always be at the stern … always be at the bow. I mean I’ve heard it all. So what do you think?
SALLY: Not to discredit any coach that says ‘always’, but to say always just shows that they don't appreciate the gravity of the situation. I can always stand at the stern but if we're moving bow first into the crowd that's not the best place to be. I suggest that you stand wherever you need to where you have the best visual and auditory ability to understand and assess the situation. You want to be close enough that your rowers can hear you and distinguish your voice from the din of other coxswains, but you want to be far enough away that you can see impending obstacles as they're coming at you.
BREANA: Totally in agreement with you. I similarly have not a prescribed location that I stand at. It's more of a strategy depending on the circumstance - exactly as you described. Maybe we are walking through a very crowded regatta where the most important thing is to kind of clear a path for the riggers that are coming right behind the bow ball and that's where I’m standing. Other times I know that it's a novice crew and protecting the skeg is the most important thing … that's something coaches talk about a lot. Other times, I’m kind of standing back and assessing from (you know) the side of the boat where I can have my eyes on both ends. So it really is a dynamic process where I’m moving around the boat - watching and seeing what needs to be done. And I think it's really critical for coxswains to recognize that that is part of their role as well (as we've always been saying) - that constant mental flexibility in deploying your skills for the optimal safety of people and equipment involved.
SALLY: I do find that when I’m walking with a boat - particularly navigating or swimming through a sea of people - I usually have one hand on the boat so I can feel that it stops, or I can feel what's going on, or accurately judge the speed, and that allows me to keep my head and eyes moving about so that I’ve got at least one tactile reference of where the boat is … where the riggers are. I just find that to be a very useful tool especially at a regatta site when there's so many other obstacles and variables that my crew isn't used to.
ANNE: Yeah, that's a great suggestion, Sally. Thanks for bringing that up. And speaking of regattas - and there's some boathouses of course - that have a much, much longer walk than at my club. We are very fortunate - we're basically right on the water. So no matter what it is, if there's any discomfort involved in launching the boat, it's going to be short-lived. But let's talk about those … the miles - it feels like miles and miles and miles. What do you do in those cases?
SALLY: There are many, many strategies to use and a lot of it's going to depend on how long the walk is. If it's a regatta where you are waiting to launch because you know they have to do the foot stretcher check and they have to check your numbers and they're only letting ‘x’ number of people on the dock, your rowers could conceivably be holding onto that boat for 45 minutes to an hour. That's heavy and that's draining their muscles and that's taking just that little bit away from their performance. In situations like that, I bring along a pair of slings and (you know) if I have extra people, we just carry it at waist … put it in slings … then we move it 20 feet. We pick up the boat, we pick up the slings. Because I am oftentimes without help at regattas, I sometimes strap the slings to a boat and the rowers just carry it at waist so they have (like) a built-in resting place wherever we put the boat down. And in situations where there's a long walk, if you have teammates … if you have friends … if you have significant others … more people carrying and that long walk is just that much more energy your rowers can put into the race.
BREANA: Strapping slings to the boat is a game changer I highly recommend. I’m just remembering some very long waits in lines at things like the Dad Vail regatta in Philadelphia. Man, that is unpleasant. But that is one of those situations where you do have to get in that line and kind of hold your spot or you're not gonna make it to your race. Another technique that I’ve taken advantage of is to - part way through the walk - have the rowers pause for a second, go over heads and then split down to the opposite shoulder. And that's something that I’ve gotten good feedback about - that it helps relieve some of that pain and pressure and body stress by giving your other shoulder the chance to do something. So you got to be careful and make sure people aren't in riggers, but I’ve found that to definitely be a helpful strategy and it - I feel it shows the rowers that you are aware that this is uncomfortable and painful potentially for them … and challenging … and you're just giving them this one little lifeline. You can't … we can't apparate the boat over here in other states. If you can't do that and your magic carpet failed that day, then this is at least one little, small thing that you can do to help alleviate the burden for the rowers a little bit.
ANNE: Wow - we have not even gotten to the dock yet, so let me (in quick) summarize and make sure that I’ve covered the key elements so far that people may - or may not - have thought about. Number one - making sure that you understand the physical capacities of your team. Do you need to have extra people help you? Do you have people of different heights, in which case the placement of those individuals will be pivotal. Also that the boat doesn't move forward until you have assessed and made sure that everybody is in the correct position that you need it to be. There is no magic spot that you should be in as you're launching on getting the boat down towards the dock - you situate yourself where it's going to be most advantageous for safety factors. We need to make sure that the general concept is keeping the boat level so that has to do with rower height as well as terrain differences. Finally, there are strategies for distance and time that this walk down to the dock entails. And I do think - to Breana's last point - I have had feedback from crews that I’ve coached also that my awareness of the weight on shoulders of the boats even for short periods of time. You know, there are a lot of women who are just nothing … but their collarbones are just right there and it's very uncomfortable even in the shortest time frame, so my awareness of that and enabling them to either: if we're standing still … to turn around and use the other shoulder, or to Breana’s technique … up and overheads and just switch the sides - that's a value add. That's another creative thing (that Sally would say) brings that level of coxing up a notch or two. So let's pretend that we somehow – magically - got down to the dock and everything is well. Now what?
SALLY: When you're launching, there are a couple of things that I like to nag on. You want to make sure that the toes are to the edge and that nobody starts rolling until everybody's ready, because if one person starts rolling - that height, so far away from the center of gravity, has the potential to be very, very bad. And I have seen rowers who have ripped the muscles out of their forearm because they were the only one holding onto the boat when it was going in the water. There is tremendous potential for disaster there. So not to put the fear of whatever supreme deity you respect here, but just respect that this particular maneuver is very dangerous. I have my rowers pause at waist. Some people go right from up over heads. And I knew one coxswain who said, ‘Okay - toss it’… which was very brave but inspired a lot of fear. So pause at waist, because that way they're collecting themselves. Most times, especially novice rowers, when they're pausing at waist, take a look at the boat. They will have the inside gunnel higher than the outside gunnel which that does is, that rocks the hull of the boat and that puts the skeg right on the dock. You want to make sure that they push the gunnel closest to their body down and roll the outside gunnel up what that does is it rotates the skeg which allows it to clear the dock. Now - I have a pet peeve about people that bend at the waist. If you bend at the waist, y’all are taking the weight of the boat on the small of your back and bad things can happen. What you want your rowers to do is to keep your chin up, chest out, and use those great and almighty quads to put the boat in. It's a larger muscle … it's more powerful … there's more room for error. So when they're putting the boat in the outside gunnel is up … inside gunnel is down … and they're squatting to put the boat in. It is more controlled. It is safer.
BREANA: What is your philosophy if rowers mess that process up? So I’ve seen reactions as extreme as coxswains who kind of make a scene or coaches (you know) help with this as well and are like, ‘Okay, well, you bumped it on the way down so now we're going all the way back over heads and we're repeating the process’. How would you handle a situation where maybe (you know) we don't rip the skeg off but we had a little bit of a dicier launch than we hoped. What is your reaction in terms of (you know) … how do you respond to the rowers and how do you handle that situation?
ANNE: I think that's a great question because it will happen. If it hasn't happened to you yet it will happen, and being judicious about our response is very, very important. Me (personally) - I cannot imagine a time or a place where being dictatorial and making people repeat the process at that time would be helpful. Not with the kinds of crews that I am with. I do definitely pause before they go and grab the oars. I say, ‘Stay put’ and I explain to people the consequences of how that happened and say the next launch that we have, we are going to do something different. What about you, Sally?
SALLY: When I’m coaching novices I usually make boat handling part of my protocol. I have them practice getting the boat out and putting it in the water and then taking the boat out and putting the boat back so that they know ahead of time what is expected of them. With college kids … with juniors where discipline is really important … I give them like (you know) - they mucked it up the first time they get a warning … they muck it up a second time, they give me 10 push-ups … they muck it up a third time, they give me 20 push-ups. So I set the expectations that boat carrying safely is part of rowing.
BREANA: Well thank you, guys, for those thoughts. Hopefully those situations happen less often if we do - and I think you have a great insight there - we coach boat handling as a critical part of the sport. And then when those things do occur, I think Anne offered a really great strategy there. And I have a similar philosophy that it's definitely not my approach to scream and make a scene about it, but I’ve seen that strategy deployed even at (like) busy regattas and I don't find that that is productive. So it's something to consider and just prepare yourself - what would I do if they messed up? What would my response be? And if you take a little time to think about that, that could give you the preparation to handle that situation when it does come up.
SALLY: I believe that humiliation is a very powerful tool. It's one we all have in our possession. Whether or not we should wield it is something else. And what are the consequences of humiliating your rowers at a regatta? What is the long-term effects of embarrassing them in front of everybody about not putting the boat in properly? Yeah, we can make them do it again and that satisfies what? What does that do to their performance in the race? What does that do to their feeling of self-worth? It's a tool we all have and it's not one I’m comfortable dispensing.
ANNE: Well, and our goal is to explore and promote as many positive outcomes as possible, and I don't find anything about that being positive. But that's me. So let's say that we are at waists, right? And I’m not going to toss it in.
SALLY: Thank you.
ANNE: That's just me. Also, I’m thinking now about where physically the coxswains are. I personally (with most of my crews), I end up being at the stern of the boat because I feel that that's my job - is to protect not just the rowers but also the boat and the skeg. And there have been multiple times when I’ve had to push the stern of the boat - at the last moment - away from the dock just to make sure it clears. But I’ve already heard from you that we don't do the ‘always’ or the ‘never’ kinds of things, right? So when would you potentially be somewhere else than at the stern of the boat?
SALLY: You know, I don't have to be standing right at the skeg to watch and know from what they're doing where that fin is in the relation to the dock. If I am standing at the fin, I have the best chance of pushing it off - which yay, good - but also that's like a training wheel, you know. If the rowers are accustomed to you always standing there, they might not always be careful about making sure that that outside gunnel is up. It's not a bad place to stand with novices, but if you are in a crazy regatta dock and there are boats in front of you, boats behind you, helicopters coming, there's probably a camel on an odd shore - you want to (maybe) stand where the boat is most vulnerable and is that going to be in the bow … protecting the bow from another boat launching or landing … is that in the stern? And again, this is going to be an assessment of your rowers. If you know that bow pair isn't that strong, right, you might want to stand at bow because you have greater ability to help them get the boat down by touching it at the very far end of the bow. You have to evaluate the situation and you have to know what's going on. I mean, I have had coaches say, ‘That is your job. You stand by the skeg’. And you know – yes, the skeg is in a very, very vulnerable position when you're putting it in the water, but is that the safest?
ANNE: I really appreciate your experiences and sharing that kind of information with us, Sally, because you are 100% correct in my book. And those are circumstances that might have you standing and helping the boat in a spot other than right at the skeg. So thank you for that.
BREANA: On the topic of rolling the boat in, (you know) one of the considerations we've discussed so far is that you might have rowers of varying physical abilities - whether that's due to injury or strength or age or whatever size. Sally, you have a really ingenious technique that you have shared with us in the past for how to roll the boat into the water off of a dock without going over heads. So that's often the most vulnerable spot (as we have been talking about) for a team … when everyone's just got their arms up in the air holding this weight well above their heads. So could you walk us through – and our audience through - that process of how one could accomplish rolling it in if your crew is not capable of that for whatever reason?
SALLY: I’m happy to. Again, looking at your crews … studying who they are … studying what their capabilities are … and then making judgments and trying things to bring out the best in all of them is what separates coxswains from great coxswains. I have worked with crews who have had shoulder impingements or recovering from surgery, and the ability to press any weight over their heads for any length of time is just not only unfeasible, it's potentially dangerous. So the hack that I used - as it was a workaround - rather than pushing up over heads and then rolling into the water is: I will have everybody split down to waist. So everybody's holding the boat at waist. Then I will have the boathouse side (or the dock side) go up to shoulders keeping the water side down at waist - so what that does is it flips the boat 90 degrees so that the oarlocks are now perpendicular to the ground where they previously were parallel to the ground. So with the boat perpendicular, I have one at a time - and this is really, really important - have them move one at a time to the other side of the boat where the rowers are holding it at shoulders. So as people run around to the other side, they are now grabbing the boat by the gunnels and whatever they use to lower the boat in. So gradually as people move one at a time around the boat the boat is now still perpendicular but I have all eight rowers holding it with the guts facing them and the round shiny part and the skeg facing away from them. With everybody holding it like that, I have everybody very carefully take their toes to the edge and then roll it down to waist so the boat is relatively even, with the inside of the boat a little bit lower the outside of the boat a little bit higher. And then with their knees, chin up, chest out, I have them bring it down together. So that's how I would have them bring the boat without going up over heads. In extreme cases, you are able to roll the boat into slings first before you put the boat into the water to make sure that everybody's got a good grip. I mean (again) it depends on the strength of your crew. If you need to, using the slings is an acceptable hack. So that they roll it into slings, then just pick it up at waist from slings, and then place it in the water.
ANNE: That's brilliant. And you have explained it in a way that I think that I actually could execute on that. So thank you. So … the boat is in the water. At that point then, the rowers all tend to depart in sometimes a scramble to grab the oars … wherever those oars are located. I personally make sure that I’m in control of who goes to get the oars because otherwise, you may or may not be standing there with no crew at all - they've all gone elsewhere.
SALLY: Technically you could have two people get all eight oars depending on where you've lined them up. It really is how fast do you need to launch and what is the ability of your crew. Usually I will have ports get oars, starboards get keepers assuming that the rowers have been given enough time to fiddle with their foot stretchers on land. If I know that six seat is 5’11” and she is rowing in a seat previously occupied by someone who is 5'2”, I might give her a little extra time to adjust your foot stretcher or adjust her spacer because it's easier to do on land. It's going to take time on the water and that takes time away from practice. Also if you have a particularly novice crew - this has happened to me on more than one occasion - make sure they know what your team's oars are. I have had enthusiastic novices put other university’s oars in the boat, or I have had relatively experienced masters (who should have known better) put sculling oars in the boat. Also if you have a person who regularly rows port and is suddenly on starboard, watch them because dollars to donut says they're going to put the wrong oar in the oarlock … or they'll put it in backwards. So do not assume.
ANNE: That's a key point. I can't tell you how many times experienced (even) rowers have put the wrong oar in and if you don't take the time to actually look and assess that, you will try to leave the dock and things will go awry. Right?
SALLY: Oh no. I’ve left the dock - I take full ownership on the fact that I launched with two sets of sculling blades in an eight and I am sorry. But yeah, learn from my mistakes, y'all. That was … that was (disgusted sound).
ANNE: That's sad and funny and hilarious all at the same time … sorry Sally.
SALLY: You think they would have noticed, right? Like what sweep oar has a handle? Also it pulled into their (like) - didn't even make their rib cage.
ANNE: Well okay. So we now have ... we've got the oars in the oarlocks, right? And we've got them pushed out in whatever fashion your crew traditionally does that.
SALLY: And check the oarlocks, too. “Stars to the stern.” The keeper on the oarlock - the bolt that ties it down - always make sure that they're facing the stern. In the United States, the old school oarlocks used to look like a five-pointed star. So you always make sure that the stars are facing the stern, because if somebody puts a boat in (especially now with the wing riggers), it is very easy to twist those oar locks around 180 degrees and it's very easy to have put the oar in backwards. It can be done. It doesn't look terribly wrong and I’m horribly dyslexic, so that's why I need these mnemonics. But it will really mess up someone's row because the angles and the pitch will be significantly off. Pay attention to these little details.
ANNE: These are real life scenarios that you can't make up and that the rest of us can benefit from, right? So thank you very much for those examples. And before - when we had talked about preparing for this podcast - we had not even talked about this particular aspect of launching and yet we're diving down to the details and there's important content there. Right? Things to consider that we take for granted if we've been doing it for a long time - and we should never take for granted. So - and if you haven't had a lot of experience, pay heed because these could be some tips that can save you some real aggravation.
SALLY: So, we're on the water … pushing off the dock. I think it's really important for listeners to hear how Anne pushes off the dock in a still water lake versus how Breana pushed off the dock in a current filled water. So Anne, why don't you explain how you did that in the calm, and we'll juxtapose that to Breana's method in the current?
ANNE: Okay. And to our listeners before we even get started, these are just examples and the more ways that you have of launching and pushing off of the dock, the better you will be for it and so will your crews. In my situation most of the time, when we are launching, the dock will be on starboard side and again it's a quiet lake, so generally (especially at 5:30 in the morning) we do not have any current that we have to deal with. Maybe there's wind but that's not a factor. There generally has been (though) a lot of goose poop that's been on the dock and so whereas sometimes people will ‘walk the boat down’ before launching (so, they'll put the hands on and walk it down the dock pushing the boat forward with their hands), we like to have our hands on the dock as little as possible. So what I will do is have everybody put their hands on the dock and then I count and then on the count of three - on the number three - we shove off laterally to port side from the dock. And then because it's very easy to flip an eight and it's particularly easy to flip an eight if all of one side pulls their oars in, I usually have one and seven take their oars and pull them in and then push together the entire boat away from the dock. And then we are clear … they push their oars back out into the oarlocks and then we take off. But that's me - in my lake - in that situation. Breana is going to give a counterpoint to that.
BREANA: I’m fearing that the goose poop part is almost a universal in some situations, sadly. So we have that, too. But yeah, I think maybe one thing to just step back and say that I think we would all agree on here, is that what you definitely don't want to do is have all four people on the dock side pull their oars in and shove off because that can - we've all seen it in our own experiences - that can flip the boat. It's not an exaggeration to say that you could just roll right around in that circumstance, so I encourage people never to do that even though (again) it seems cool, maybe. Or maybe you feel like you're getting off as fast as you possibly can from the dock. Don't do it. So yeah, my approach is - it's a very similar situation as our many bodies of water - with a right-hand traffic pattern where the dock is going to be on our starboard side as we launch. And ‘lean away’ is something I emphasize because I’ve been on docks where - you can assess whether this is true of yours - where there's some kind of lip … maybe it's a piece of pvc pipe … maybe it's some of those fancier newer docks that have like a groove right there … and the bottom nuts of riggers can catch in that. And nothing's worse than shoving and feeling an immediate jolt in the opposite direction because you caught something on there. So that's part of the process for me. And then having everyone get their hands onto the dock and give it a nice hearty shove and that gives us the initial bit of momentum and then I direct bow seat to pull their oar in and start pushing off so they're now squared as though they were about to take a stroke. They're pushing off the dock and then I have three seat do that next and if that's not enough to get us (you know) far enough away, then I’ll add five etc. But hopefully five and seven are just kind of sitting with their oars on the dock and then once one and three have pushed off, that usually gets as far enough away that all that's left is for seven to just pull their oar in a teeny tiny bit and push the last little bit for us so that we're clear. And then I’ll have bow pair start rowing us away from the dock. So the shove and the order in which people have pushed off of the dock has angled us out towards the center and away from other boats that are docked there hopefully, and then that enables us to make our way out.
SALLY; If you think about - with the oar perpendicular to the boat - if you're taking a stroke and the oar is as far out from the boat as possible, the boat is going to move forward and aft, right? So it'll move toward the bow … move toward the stern … depending if you’re rowing or backing. If you pinch that - or as close as you get to the hull like when we have two scull bow (so that means two seat grabs bow’s blade and they're taking these short, little, stubby strokes as close as they can get to the bow) that's going to push the boat side to side. I have seen crews who don't have the luxury of being able to shove off for various reasons - they will give two seat bow’s blade and two seat goes up to the catch and takes these short, little, choppy strokes that will help push the bow out in the same manner as using your hand to shove off the dock. In all these situations, there are different ways of maneuvering the boat so that you have multiple options depending on the skill level of your crew to do just about the same thing. And where bow is rowing, if you have stroke seat sitting all the way at the finish and backing these teeny, tiny, little, short strokes, that's going to push the stern back so there are ways of maneuvering. You aren't as stuck as you might think you are. And again, these are excellent times to experiment and try with how to get off the dock faster.
ANNE: It's interesting to see the different ways that we can actually push the boat away from the dock. And now one of my favorite things that I want to try to do with my crews this coming year is what?
SALLY: Standing shove – standing shove! Standing shove because it’s awesome!
ANNE: Standing shove! All right, Sally - take it away.
SALLY: Standing shoves are tricky but you have a lot of power because instead of using your hand or your arm, you're using your quads. So to do a standing shove properly, what y'all need to do is 1) get the oars out. Never, never, never, never put your foot in the boat unless the oars are out because you can flip then, too. And it's bad and embarrassing … so get the oars out. And what you want to have your rowers do is - you want to have them gunnel all the blades - so they'll put the handle of their oars to the gunnels. They want to put their foot somewhere in the boat (where it is appropriate to put their feet) so slide the seat all the way to bow and put your foot on that strap in the middle that you're supposed to put your foot on. And then what you want to do is - you want to (kind of) crouch low and they put their dock side foot slightly behind them and you want to make sure that they kick with your glutes engaged. Then you get to do this funky ballerina thing. And if it looks right, it looks like eight dogs trying to use a fire hydrant. So you kick and you've got eight dockside legs slightly in the air. And what happens is because the center of gravity is such, the extra weight of your foot in the air, the extra weight of everybody leaning slightly out, it's going to cause the boat to roll on its hull and just kind of drift out a little bit. And then the key is: you have to go … everybody sit down together … because if one person sits down, it's going to change the center of gravity and it's going to change the momentum. So you go, “And down”. And what your rowers have to do is, they have to swoop that dockside leg down and then they have to use their outside leg to kind of guide them into their seat.
ANNE: The dockside foot that comes down - do they put it in their shoe or on top of the shoe?
SALLY: I usually hover above their shoe. There are people who have the dexterity - I am not one - who can swoop down and put their foot in their shoe, but they will swoop down … let it hover over their shoe … and you're still holding the weight up. And when you say, “And down”, try to land on your seat. As the coxswain, I do the standing shove, too. And sometimes I do the standing shove without the rowers doing it because that helps keep the stern off. So as a coxswain, I have my foot on the on the seat and I will have my dock side leg kick off. And I will sometimes just do this by myself if I am not sure that my bow pair can get us off quickly or safely enough. Now, if you are doing a standing shove and your stroke is doing the standing shove, be careful because y'all are gonna hit heads. I have done it. Like, you'll be, “All right … ready and” - then there's this thud heard dock wide. And it hurts! So when you're doing a standing shove with your stroke, they're not gonna be watching you, so you have to watch them because you're both leaning in together. Just try to either lean out a little bit or lean under them so that you can shove off together. But yeah, the “Ready … and” hurts y'all.
ANNE: I think I could do that. I think I could call that now that you're saying that. If I’m visualizing the rowers as their foot is leaving the dock, am I correct - they're holding their body weight up? One hand is on the oar handle which is on the gunnel and the other hand is on the other gunnel?
ANNE: And they're lowering themselves down with their arms onto the seat - is that correct?
SALLY: And their one foot, yes.
ANNE: And their one foot. Got it.
SALLY: Now it is helpful if you're going to do this to practice it once on land. It is startling and difficult - you're swinging your entire body weight down on one quad and being able to control that quad as you lower yourself into the seat. So it is helpful for your rowers to think about it on land, because it's not as easy as it looks. And that last two inches between on the seats and off the seats - it's like slide control. It's going to be a little bit harder for them to control than they think, so practicing it beforehand … also practicing it so that they know that they are going down together. Some rowers kick off and then sit down, and what you really need to do is you need to kick off and you need to work that glide a little bit for it to work. So you really want to emphasize: you go, “And “ - everybody swoops their leg – “Down”. The boat is going to be leaning precariously to one side. It is, but as long as everybody's oars are out, it'll be fine. It's when the boat is leaning and you're leaning on all four riggers on the opposite of the dock, and people start to panic and they let go of their oar - bad things happen. I’ve seen people fall in that way. I’ve seen people flip boats that way. It's not good.
ANNE: I can't wait to try it, Sally. I’m psyched. I’m pumped. I’m ready to go! Thank you very much for explaining it that way. The very last thing that I wanted to point out before we close the session is the importance of making sure that all of the boat is free from the dock before we start looking forward and executing the warmup - whatever that may be. In my case, often times there'll be a situation where the stern of the boat (particularly if I’m in a bow loader)- I have no clue where that is in relation to the end of the dock. And the worst thing that could happen (in my view) other than flipping is actually starting to move the boat forward and then the stern of the boat catching on the dock or banging up against it. So in a bow loader, I always ask my stroke seat - who is closest to the stern - to let me know when we are clear of the dock … that I have verbal confirmation that we're okay. If I’m in a stern loader, I turn my head and I make sure I’m 100% confident that whatever trajectory the boat has when it picks up forward momentum, we are not going to end up with a stern on the dock or banging into it. There's a lot to it - a lot more than we thought when we first started talking about launching. And indeed, even in this conversation we went additional places that we hadn't even paid attention to in our initial outlining. So it just goes to show us all - including the three of us with lots of experience - that there's always more to things than we think at first and that articulating them so that we can share … build our skills from there … there's such value to that (in my opinion).
SALLY: Docking looms large in coxswains’ minds as a source of stress, but today - in this episode - we focused on launching, which is equally as important but not often discussed. It's something that's often taken for granted. But this is a place where coxswains can deploy their creativity and use strategic thinking for the betterment of their crew.
ANNE: Absolutely. How about we move to our Quick Pick for today?
BREANA: All right. For our Quick Pick, we want to acknowledge the zoom white board - which, if you are a Patreon supporter of ours, you have seen some of the abominations we were drawing on there as we planned this episode … and drew out for ourselves little sketches about where people should stand and all kinds of fun things. So that is over on our Patreon page - a little screenshot of our planning for this episode. And it's been super helpful for remotely talking about coxing content.
SALLY: And maybe if you become a Patreon, Anne will tell you the magic about how she apparates her boat down to the dock, because I’m a little bitter about this right now, Miss Anne.
ANNE: I hear it in your voice, Sally. I think everybody does. But meanwhile, I agree that this zoom white board was a) very helpful, b) quite amusing as we all put down some crazy sketches in order to better articulate things that we sort of do instinctively. So that's terrific. And now - how about a shout out?
SALLY: We're going to do a shout out to our very good friend and coach -Deirdre McLaughlin - who joined us on Episode 009. You want to check out her resources and her suggestions on our website CoxPod Episode 9. So thank you so much, coach. We really appreciate all that you did and say. And we appreciate your approach to rowing.
BREANA: Yeah, definitely take a listen to that episode. You can get it directly linked at coxpod.com 009, and we'll include a fast link in today's show notes for that as well for you. And Deidre provided us with a couple of really great resources - if you haven't caught that episode for coxswains to improve their own physical strength to support us through the aspects of the job that are very physical - and (including) it could perhaps even prepare you to do a standing shove one day. So definitely something worth checking out. Again, thanks so much, Deirdre, for joining us.
SALLY: In the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and Slack. We have already had some amazing questions in our Slack community and some book club recommendations. We're planning to incorporate all these in a future episode, so please, please keep the questions coming. We would also like to thank our earliest Patreon supporters – Wendy, Allen, Liz, and Theo. Up on Patreon, we already have some behind the scenes graphics - you will know that I am truly not an artist. We are very, very excited to bring you more content soon. And until then, I am Sally and I’m Anne, and I’m Breana … signing off for now.
SALLY: Once upon a time, there was a giant who lived in the clouds. And then Jack sold his family cow for magic beans and went to visit the giant in the clouds.
BREANA: And every day, the giant would reach his giant hand down, lift up Anne's boat, and plop it right in the water on the lake. That's how it happens.
SALLY: Stupid Massachusetts.