012 | Wet Launching & Landing
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I’m Breana, I’m Sally, and I’m Anne. 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.
SALLY: Today we're going to be talking about beach launching -or wet launching - or basically how to put the boat in the water without the benefit of a dock. There are many, many similarities to launching with the dock and we went over many of them in Episode 11. Without a dock, you have a lot of creative freedom which allows for a lot of fun things. But it also allows for a lot of mishaps and mistakes. So we're just going to talk about the basics of beach launching - wet launching. And if you understand them and understand the fundamentals, it does open up a lot of other potential options for you both in practice and regatta situations.
BREANA: I think you did a great job kicking us off there, Sally. And I'll say - for us - this is not our everyday docking situation. We are most accustomed (in our typical coxing lives … the three of us) to launching off of a dock and returning to a fixed dock. But for some of you out there who are listening, this is your everyday experience. And again regardless of what you're doing on a day-to-day basis with your team - exactly as you said, Sally - a person may find themselves at a regatta and need to do the other type of docking and launching and landing. So it's definitely worth having this conversation I think.
ANNE: Yes. I have the experience of only needing to do a wet launch and landing when I’m at specific race courses for regattas. It's not part of my daily work and life, so I really enjoy the fact that we are bringing this up and I look forward to hearing from our listeners who may have a lot more experience than I have about tips and tricks … and maybe some other thoughts they might have on this subject. So we're not going to spend a whole long time on this subject, but let's dive right into it. I mean … maybe I shouldn't say the word ‘dive’. Let's explore this as we talk about wet launching or water launching.
SALLY: As is with everything else in coxing, an ounce of preparation is worth a pound of cure. So when you know you're suddenly going to be launching without a dock, it behooves you greatly to walk down to the water's edge and seriously sit and look at the water. Look at and consider where are the shoes going to go … are you bringing the shoes into the boat? Where are the oars gonna go? How are you going to maneuver this because every situation is a little different and the more you think about it now, the easier and better it's going to be for you when you're trying to maneuver the boats and you're actually trying to give orders. So definitely go to the water's edge. Talk to people who've launched from this particular site before. Get a plan and understand how they've done it. Things that are going to be very different are: do you bring shoes in a boat? As a coach - as a rower - I am generally anti-shoe in a boat but if you are walking over (you know) oyster shells or if your beach launch is particularly rocky … for the health and safety of your rowers, they have to bring the shoes in the boat. So that is a consideration and making sure you know about that ahead of time. Because you don't have the restriction of having to put the boat right next to the dock, you have some leeway about how far out you go. Sometimes you can only have to walk a couple feet into the water and have the bow pivot and the skeg is deep enough. Sometimes if you launch at low tide - and for the life of me I am always launching at low tide - you have to walk (like) a quarter of a mile in before the water is deep enough to put the skeg in. So these are things you need to think about… you need to understand. Another consideration is: are you beach launching on a lake or are you beach launching in a tidal ocean area where you have to consider breakers and rolling waves? You can launch an 8+ into a bay or into salt water with mild breakers, but that does change how and where you align the boat. You have to pay attention to the current. You have to pay attention to where you need to go once everybody gets into the boat. So all these things you should have figured out prior to getting in the boat.
ANNE: I'd like to circle back for one quick second about something that I think is really important that you've touched on that I want to add to, which is: evaluating whether or not you're going to need to wet launch and land is pivotal before you even get to wherever you're headed. The reason is because you need to inform your rowers that (in my case at this particular regatta) it's going to be wet launching and that's going to change what they select (in many cases) for their footwear and what I bring in my car. So it's nothing like getting to a regatta and the rowers go, ‘I have sneakers’ and they're dressed in a certain way and finding out, ‘Uh oh - it's a wet launch’ and them also not having brought optional clothing for after the regatta is finished and they've got wet clothing on. So I think that it's really important to know if you're going to be wet launching/landing and informing the rowers (as well as yourself) about what you're going to need. My experience for this situation is that there's often a long walk from where the boats are trailered - over hill and vale and fields and all sorts of terrain - even before you get to the water. So it does behoove you to plan ahead and then execute based on what you have for terrain and conditions.
BREANA: Exactly. That's a notable thing especially for those of us who are not accustomed to this type of launching and only do it sporadically. There's additional equipment that you may need to consider bringing. So my wet launching experience was in Florida in January and so while we could go out (unlike in the north at that time of year), it was still very cold. And so I was warned in this - you know, this is not my home course - I was warned to wear shoes because there are barnacles on the rocks and so that was one thing I had to bring. Crocs are a great option. If you have water shoes … I noticed a lot of their rowers living there we're wearing those. And then also I brought really thick wool socks to put on my feet after I waded out barefoot because (you know) you're gonna need something warm and dry to put on. Wool is a great choice because it's one of the materials that can continue to keep you warm even if it's a little bit wet. So you may want to think about bringing something like a towel, You may even want to consider wearing shorts if you're going to have to wade very far out and then adding a layer of sweatpants on top of that (or something else) once you get in the boat because as we've discussed before, that's a really important consideration. If you are cold … if you're wet … if you're starting to experience hypothermia … you could cause damage to your own body and also potentially to the equipment, you know. You may not be focusing on the practice or the race to the best of your ability. So it's really important to think about these considerations before and really reflect on the fact that you might actually be wading up to your knees (or higher) out into this water. And think about the things you might need to bring with you to remedy that situation once you're in the seat
SALLY: Breana's spot on when she's saying you need to think about what you're wearing and what your shoes are. I wear Keds. I wear lace-up Keds but lace-up shoes is a very poor choice because it takes more time than you think to get those flippers off your feet and back on again … especially if it's wet. So crocs or slip-on shoes or water shoes - any of those are really good, smart options. You're going to want to think about … like Breana's bringing in wool socks for after she gets in. You want to have towels to wipe your legs down … like little hand towels … just to dry yourself off, to dry your rower's feet off, before they put them in the socks and put them in the shoes. I always bring a tiling sponge, a giant sponge, or some sort of bailer because people will get water in the boat and it becomes easier and lighter if you can just dump that water out or have something other than the warm sweatshirt you are wearing to absorb the water in the boat. If you think ahead of time, it does make the experience more fun and more comfortable for you long term.
ANNE: The towel thing is really helpful. And I also want to add that when you are wet launching, this is a really great time to have a wrangler or some other volunteer … or someone else who will help with any gear that needs to be left behind - or schlepping. My experience has been this is the time that I’ll even (maybe) ask another person to help with carrying footwear back. If the rowers need shoes but they're not going to take them in the boat - which sometimes they can't or won't - get to the water's edge, have them kick off their footwear, and then have that other person bring it back. Now the trick of the matter is that unless you're landing in exactly the same location, it can be a mad scramble on the other end. So again, think ahead and plan not just where you're going to be launching from because frequently that's going to be a different location than where you're going to be landing.
SALLY: Being able to beach launch does allow you so much creative freedom. You have the option to do so many things to your advantage. You don't need to launch parallel to the shore. Given the depth of the water and the height of the rowers, you can actually launch perpendicular to shore. So what you want to do is watch and ask. Figure out where the current is. You want to try to place the boat in in such a way that you're not going to be fighting current and tide. Try to put the boat in parallel to whatever current or whatever movement is happening - that's going to be the easiest to help keep the boat in place when you're trying to launch. Also something to be aware of is that the more the land slopes away, the deeper it gets. It might behoove you not to have your shortest person in bow you might want to think about stacking it based on the depth of the water. What is waist high to me is chin high to some other people, and what is chin high to me comes up to someone's knee. That is a real consideration not in just carrying the boat but the comfort and the breathing of your rowers (let's be honest). So making sure that you stack the rowers in such a way that you're able to get the boat out deep enough and nobody's going up to their (you know) … shoulder blades. For me - and this is the big crux - I hate being cold. I hate being cold. I keep being cold and wet. I spend many hours trying to figure out why I’m a coxswain. But if you beach launch, the water will wick your heat away. If I march into the water and I’m not properly prepared for it, I will wade into my boat and my body becomes whatever the temperature of the water is. It is cold and miserable and horrible and I’m telling y'all this as a human being that genuinely eschews physical contact. Generally when we are beach launching, I am carried into my boat. It is not a prima donna thing. It is not ‘bow before … me I’m a coxswain’ thing - it is … I am going to be cold and wet and miserable and this is how I stay warm. It is purely a choice of survival and if I didn't have to choose survival, I would never ever ever ever ever ever ever have somebody pick me up off the ground. But in order to stay warm, most times when we beach launch (unless I am literally in a wetsuit and sometimes even then), I am carried into the boat.
ANNE: Yes. That's an absolutely legitimate request to be made by a coxswain. I think that that's a great idea for you, Sally, since you are really averse to putting yourself into a situation that you get chilled. So don't hesitate to ask your rowers to do that - or other people to help you with that. If you are wet launching, it's absolutely legit.
BREANA: The other consideration for getting yourself out of chilly water as quickly as possible would be for you to be the first person who gets into the boat - at which point you can plug your equipment in and that enables you to also communicate with the rest of the boat effectively through that equipment - and gives you time for this drying off process and managing everything from there. So typically on a fixed dock, we are the last person in, but in this scenario you could make yourself the first person into the boat to also minimize the amount of time spent in the water.
ANNE: I’m glad you mentioned that, Breana, because I think we should talk now about the actuality of getting in and out of the boat … and who does what, when, and where because it is quite different for a number of reasons than using a dock. So let's walk that in - literally and figuratively here - where we're on the shore and you've got your rowers according to Sally's suggestions and you put the boat in the water as you would off a dock. But this is where it all changes up, right? There are considerations about who holds the boat still … where are you positioned as a coxswain … what is the sequence of getting people in and out … and how and when are they going to put the oars in the oarlock. If there's a deeper side on the one that's towards the middle of the body of water (right), it's like you can't reach and hold the boat and lean over. It's a whole lot of different mechanics that are involved. So Sally, if you could just start us off with how you maneuver this and then if we have some suggestions too, we might kick those in.
SALLY: So again it's going to be a lot about evaluating ahead of time. If some of my rowers are more flexible - or just a little bit quicker - they can walk in and out of water the easiest. I’m going to have them be the ones who bring the oars in and out ... so it might not be the traditional ports and starboards. Really and truly - just evaluate your rowers at this point. Especially when you're beach launching, you want to have a couple of hands on the boat. You never know when something like the Loch Ness Monster or a submarine is gonna go by … or an aircraft carrier or something is gonna cause an unexpected white squall or wake that's just gonna pick up the boat and float away. So when the boat is floating, make sure there are a couple of hands on it at all times. So you send your rowers off to pick up the oars. The oars have been placed in such a way that the handles are not in the sand or the dirt. You really have to make a priority when you're carrying these oar handles in that the handles stay out of the water and stay dry. If the handles get wet it's not fatal - it's not like they're going to turn into a gremlin or dissolve instantly upon hitting salt water - but if the handles get wet or dirty, they're going to have a far worse effect on your rower's hands. If they're dirty when your rowers inevitably get a blister, that dirt is going to go into their hand and that causes all sorts of fun and fabulous MRSA infections. You really need to prioritize keeping the handles dry - it is more important than ever. So when you've got your … you know, I feel like when you summon the council and send your four fastest horses out … and you bring your oars back, it is trickier to get the oars in. When you extend the oars (typically) on a boat is right before when you're ready to shove. So you need to think about from how you've placed the boat in the water - can people enter and exit the boat from both sides because again, you're not limited to that. It might be a little bit deeper on the far side than the shore side. It might be the same depth. So you have to evaluate - can people enter and exit from both sides? If they can, that's awesome. If they can't, then you're going to have everybody lying on the more shallow side … put their oars in and extend them. but the trick is once they extend their oars they can't let go of the handles. So they have to maintain an absolute contact of their oars at all times because if not, it's going to go bouncing around and it becomes impossible to get. And when those oars aren't in control, the stability of the boat isn't in control. And you have a lot of ability to affect a lot of things when you control those handle heights - including if we're launching a boat, I can have everybody on port side lower their handle and starboard side lift their handle to rock the boat just a little bit to make it easier to get me and my scrawny legs into the boat. You can do all these amazing things to help make the boat and the situation adaptive to you, but you need to be in control of both the hull and the oars at that point.
ANNE: I would totally agree with you about the importance of the rowers maintaining contact with the handles. Especially in the situations I’ve been there's been a current, and that'll just start a nasty cascade of uncontrolled boat activity. So yes, definitely. And you're going to need to tell them this and why it's important. So for stability, they all really need to be perpendicular to the boat and in control. So then - how do they get in?
SALLY: Now I will tell you it is a very bad idea to have all starboards get in and here's why. It is more likely to flip because you have all starboards get in and suddenly their oars are on their lap and then ports are trying to get in and the oar handles are out of their reach and they're standing on tippy toes and the boat is getting all cattywampus. Now again - depending on the depth of the water - you might have to have everybody get in on one side, but if the water is not that deep on either side of the boat they can enter and exit from any side they choose. I typically have myself or stroke - if I am brave enough and warm enough and close enough to the equator to dare beach launch in. But myself or stroke and bow are the last ones in and out. And depending on the flexibility and speed of your crew and who needs more time, I usually load them in a pair at a time. You know … three and four or five and six - everybody but those two and here's why. They are helping to hold the boat because we are still a victim to tide and current. So if something comes by and pushes that boat into shore I can still lose that skeg. A really, really important thing to consider is: (shockingly) the boat weighs more with the rowers in it. When the boat is sitting and bobbing without anybody in it - without rowers in it - the fin is going to hit a certain depth. It's going to go down a couple more inches when everybody gets in, so you want to still watch the fin this entire time and make sure that when everybody is getting in and out that there is still going to be clearance. And sometimes it sucks because I am happy and warm and under blankets and all of a sudden we realize that the fin has hit the ground and I have to get my cold reptilian butt out of the warm coxswain's cocoon that I have created and immerse myself in the water to get some of the weight off the stern of the boat. So I really cannot stress enough - as all this is happening - always be vigilant of the fin.
ANNE: I absolutely agree with you and it's an important part of your reconnaissance before you actually bring the boat down (right) … is to find out - once the boat has all its weight in it where are you going to be so that you can clear the ground. The other thing is, in New England, there are often things like rocks that will be either things that rowers might step on or you might find out - if I launch from here, I’ve got to really watch out that two strokes down, there's this boulder that's under the water and I need to go around that. So make sure that you do take those factors into consideration. These are things that you don't generally experience with a dock. And I’m also a fan of the two at a time method. And I would follow Sally's advice on that as well - I would recommend that. I personally feel like it's my responsibility to have my hands on the stern of the boat and guarding that skeg or that fin. That's just how I do it but then again, I’m not as sensitive to the cold water as Sally. I think we should also touch on something that's important as we sound like we are complaining and pointing out all the challenges with wet launching - but it does have some benefits (right)- especially for some rowers that may have hip issues. I mean sometimes it's just easier. You can get closer to the boat and they can get right in and out.
SALLY: I think you're spot on, Anne - I think it's amazing. And if you think about it, if you have somebody who recently has a hip replacement or a knee replacement, wading in and out of the water is so much better because they're not crouching down to their ankles to climb in and out of the boat. The boat’s sitting at their waist. As an adaptive technique, I think it's very helpful. And I do think it allows for so much flexibility because now you can row anywhere - not anywhere where there's a dock – anywhere.
BREANA: We've been very focused on launching here and I think it's worth it for us to take a moment to address the opposite end of your row - when you return. Our next episode will be devoted all to talking about the particularities of returning to a fixed dock … which we all know can be a harrowing experience for coxswains. There's a lot of considerations there. So why don't we close today by talking about the (perhaps) not as harrowing process of returning and a beach landing as the final step.
SALLY: So many of you know that the San Diego Crew Classic is a beach launch. And for those of you who have the great privilege of competing there, it's a tricky beach launch. There is a storm culvert right at the apex of where all the launching is and over time, as the water comes down, it erodes a bit of the beach. So the section where the water is immediately dumping out is (like) six feet deep, where all the surrounding area is like 18 inches. You could have your oars overlapping the sand … out of the water … and you could still be in a giant abyss. I know. I have personally lost rowers over the side of it. It's tricky because you don't have that marker when you're coming in and out how deep is the water. And you can't trust that how deep it is in the stern is how deep it is in the bow - because remember, it's 70 feet between you. But again, I make sure that bow and stern-most person are out first to protect the boat. That's what's going to give me the most maneuverability. But it is so tricky because sometimes in some water - depending on the silt quality - if you're 18 inches deep, you can't see the ground. So it might be 40 feet deep. Things you want to pay attention to are: 1) are the ducks walking around because they’ve got short legs and 2) look for things like storm culverts. Look for things where runoff is going to be eroding part of the beach away because the water is going to be much deeper there than it's going to be in other places. So you want to get yourself close enough to the edge where people can comfortably stand but not so far out that they're literally (like) flutter kicking the boat into shore.
ANNE: I enjoy landing at a beach. Why? Because there is no danger of bashing your boat into a dock which makes me concerned every time. Which is why I’m already nervous about talking about landing at our next episode. There are some real pluses. Again, I find it much easier - much less stressful - because of the lack of a solid object. However, my experience is also where it is water that you can't see through and to your point, Sally, many a time I’ve (like) had to sacrifice my bow seat. I say, “I believe that we're close enough. What do you see?” and check with them. And so we give it a try and it turns out that they go up to their chest … well, the fact of the matter is at that point they pull the boat closer to shore and then we try the next person. And then you have an idea of where you're at. And in reflecting about the weight of the boat (right), let's remember that as each rower gets out of the boat the boat gets lighter and lighter and lighter so we need to do a couple of things. We need to make sure that they're not pulling their oars across as they might when they're getting out on a dock. Leave those oars out is the way I approach it. The people get out one or two at a time. They continue to pull the boat forward so that me (in the stern) … I’m not out too deep. That is how I approach it. I make sure that they pull the boat closer every time somebody gets out and then by the time that I am ready to get out I’m at a water height that's appropriate for me - but yet the skeg is still safe. Again, only after everybody's out do we then pull the oars across and reach over and undo the oar locks on the non-shore side.
SALLY: Yeah, I think that's such an astute point, Anne. It gets tempting that everybody rolls out of the boat and they take their oar with you. They need to hold on to those oars for stability and if you're being carried in and out, it is really important that all the oars are still in - and extended - when you are carried out of the boat.
BREANA: We've been focused on stern-loaded boats here primarily, which is my sole experience of wet launching. I’ve not done that in a bowloader situation yet. Are there any special considerations that you would highlight here for wet launching and landing in a bowloaded boat?
SALLY: So it's tricky. You still need to have the stern-most person and the bow-most person standing to keep the boat from rushing the shore. But in the bowloader especially, you are going to kick water in when you get in the boat. You're always going to be lying in a puddle and if your boat doesn't have sealed deck wells, you're going to be lying in everybody else's puddle, too. So I really, really advocate - especially if you're in the bowloader … don't bring extra blankets or towels because that can be an impediment to getting out quickly … but if you bring sponges to be able to mop up or absorb the water, that's going to help you a lot. And again, recognizing that you're going to need help getting in and out and you do need to have stroke or three seat standing near the fin and they're going to be your depth guide. Anne, what do you think?
ANNE: I have experience in this and I find it very challenging to be in a bowloader in a wet launch and landing situation - particularly the landing because it's difficult to shimmy yourself up and get your foot out successfully. And so it's vital that the rowers hold the boat - all hands on the boat and holding it as stable as possible - while I climb out. I almost have to stand up in the boat and then lift my leg out and over. And I’m the first one out.
BREANA: I think by way of recapping here, we can highlight a couple of the key differences. Again, especially if you're like us and this is not your everyday coxing scenario, there are a few things you might want to be aware of whether you encounter this at a camp, at a clinic, at a regatta guest coxing. If a dock is your typical situation, you're going to want to consider the additional items that you need to bring in this circumstance. This could be towels, clothing, socks, particular types of shoes … anything of that nature. Make sure you think about that before you get to the site - where you're going to be launching and then (again) the consideration … we know we're always going to get wet in this sport especially as coxswains. But you will definitely get wet - and you will get wet right at the beginning of your outing, your race, or your practice. So an additional consideration you need to make is using the equipment I’ve brought/ How can I stay dry and warm so that I can do my best when I’m out there coxing? And then I think the other main difference to highlight is that (you know) everything else is similar in terms of we're going over heads, we're rolling into the water, etc. But the primary difference - in my view - is the order in which people are getting in. So there's no “One foot in and shove” like we would do off of a dock. There's some substantial differences there in terms of loading people sequentially. And I would say if you are in a situation where maybe you've just joined a team that does this all the time, ask them about the order that they use and just use that load order for the athletes. And if you're at a regatta, you can observe what other people are doing - so are they leaving their bow seat, are they leaving their stroke seat, are they loading from the middle out, are they loading front and back and then middle? Just take note of what others are doing and use that same strategy with your crew. Similarly, coming back you're going to need to unload sequentially. There's no “One foot out and out” for everybody kind of situation. But other than that, it's a more positive experience perhaps.
ANNE: And I’d like to add that I’m really curious to hear from our listeners because I’m sure that there are lots of people who are going to be listening who have this as their (either) daily experience or one that they would like to think more about and implement some of these suggestions. So please let us know on any of the social media. And let's get that conversation really going because this is not a topic that I’ve ever heard really discussed much … just like our bowloaders episode. We kind of are thrilled to discuss the nuts and bolts of something that some people just never even parse out in this way.
BREANA: Absolutely. We definitely welcome audience commentary. Please, again, if this is your experience on a routine basis, we really want to hear from you and how your team does it and we can all learn from each other about how to optimize this process. So we'll conclude today with a combo Quick Pick / Shout Out - and we would love to Shout Out a really awesome coxing blog and YouTube channel called ‘Let's Talk Coxing’. It's LetsTalkCoxing.com. And you can find their YouTube content on that platform as well. And we will also link that in our show notes - you can find those at CoxPod.com/012. On Instagram, we heard from Carolyn - one of the co-creators of ‘Let's Talk Coxing’ along with Valeria. And they are both coxswains at CRI up in Boston. I thought their content was great. One of their YouTube videos that I really enjoyed was called ‘How We Layer Up for Practice on the Charles’. And Valeria does a speed run of layering up and seeing how quickly she can do it … so I thought that was awesome. Definitely recommend lots of great content on their beautiful website. So check out their work. We just want to highlight other coxing content that is out there. And in the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media (as Anne said) and on our Slack channel as well. It's a great place to keep the conversation going. You can always find that at CoxPod.com/slack. We have an invite link there. We have already gotten some great questions from our Slack community that we are excited to incorporate into an upcoming episode. So keep those coming - including any about launching and landing related to these recent episodes. And we also invite you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. Up there we have a few behind-the-scenes elements recently - you can take a look at editing an episode with us and creating some social media content as well if you're interested in those back-end elements of how CoxPod comes together. And there's lots more to come there for our patrons. So we are so excited to bring you more content soon. And until next time, I’m Breana, I’m Sally, and I’m Anne - signing off for now.