022 | Stakeboats
Welcome to CoxPod - a podcast for coxswains. I’m Breana. I’m Sally. I’m Anne and with three coxswains with over 50 years of experience in the seat. While there are many rowing resources out, there we decided to create a venue that's solely dedicated to coxing topics. We learn from our shared experiences and want to foster our community that encourages innovation and discussion.
ANNE: This episode - all about stakeboats - is an outgrowth of Episode 018 where we focused on maneuvering. Navigating a stakeboat in the sprint situation is the implementation of all the maneuvers we discussed in Episode 018 ... all the while, while we're in a stressful situation.
SALLY: Now as we get started, we just want to make sure we're very clear about what a stakeboat is. A stakeboat is basically a starting platform. I’ve heard it referred to as a pontoon. It's basically a linear place that everybody can begin the race from the same position. It's the coxswain's job to get the stern of the shell locked on - or attached or fixed - to the stakeboat. A regatta volunteer … a very amazing human being … will be lying on their stomach for the large portion of the regatta on whatever the stakeboat structure is, and then the coxswain's job is to back the stern of the shell up to where they hold it. And they will adjust - moving it six inches out, two feet back or something - so that everyone's bow ball is approximately at the same position. And you're holding it there until the start is called. It's as easy as that. Right, ladies?
BREANA: Piece of cake, really. And we'll take our episode today from the point of being in the marshalling area just before you are called forward for your race to the point of the start of the race being called. And we are also planning an upcoming episode that will cover the rest of a sprint race after the starting point.
ANNE: Well, as we get started, I’m going to refer back to that sarcastic comment that you made, Breana - which was about ‘piece of cake’. I have to say that … what are we, a couple minutes into this episode already … and I have this lump of anxiety in my throat. Anxiety and excitement. I find stakeboats and the topic of stakeboats a very emotional experience and generally one that is high, high anxiety but also a great challenge. And as time has gone on and become more familiar with that anxiety and can manage it better. But I wonder about other people. What do our listeners say? If we say the word stakeboats and getting into a stakeboat, what do all of you experience? And maybe it's just sheer fun. but for some of us - I’m just going to say - it can be stressful. Or in Breana's case, a piece of cake perhaps. Right? So Sally … you want to talk about that a little more?
SALLY: Well I do believe both of our heart rates have gone up but possibly for different reasons. As we're talking about this, I find myself sitting in the coxswain position … squeezing my abs … a glimmer in my eye. I’m ready. So definitely emotion, Anne, but different. We should talk about - there are many, many different types of stakeboats and depending on the availability and the resources and the conditions, regatta organizers will do everything from a moored and anchored launch to an actual physical floating pontoon - or perhaps a solid platform that runs the entire width of the race course. There can be all types of things you're trying to back the boat into. Each come with their own unique set of pluses and minuses. But it's not going to be a one size fits all for every regatta. And as an added bonus in some races - particularly those on international courses - there's this little thing called a shoe or a cup that you kind of have to finagle your bow into that holds you in place. It's something I live for.
ANNE: I’m glad you described that, Sally, because to me that seems to be the epitome of challenges in terms of using all the maneuvering skills. I’d like to just back us up just a bit to what happens before and the considerations that we have before we even get to moving in towards the stakeboat and locking ourselves on as you've described. I think that for the marshalling area in a sprint race, it's really important - as you finish your warm-up - to bring yourself and your boat as close as you can to whatever lane it is that you're going to be locking onto.
BREANA: As Anne mentioned, one of the really critical pieces of information that you can often get from the race packet - or from the coaches and coxswains meeting if you don't see it reflected in the packet - is information about whether the leftmost stakeboat as you're facing the course is zero or possibly or one … whatever numbering system they choose … or whether that's going to be the rightmost and that can vary according to the regatta venue. So that's really important to know so that as you approach, you position yourself appropriately. Another thing to note from the race packet that's really important (especially in a sprint race) when we're in the marshalling area is to be aware of your race number and your heat number potentially. So if it's a large regatta with multiple girls junior eights for example, or mixed masters E age category boats, there's going to be more of you than fit in a single heat. And so it's really important to understand because the next thing that's going to happen is you're going to be called forward by your race name, number, etc. potentially. So it's really important to note that information down in the race packet before you get on the water.
SALLY: It's absolutely crucial to know what heat you're in because if not, you could really screw things up. And I personally have caused many a screw-up when I show up for the masters four D event and there are three lane 3s trying to get onto the race course. So knowing exactly what heat you're supposed to be in is exceptionally helpful - it can be really confusing.
BREANA: Another piece of information to glean from that packet is the race centers. And this is a term that refers to how much time there is in between each race – so, how much time in between letting each line of boats go off of the stakeboats. These can vary - from we've seen - as short as three minutes in our time in masters sprint race coxing where the races are only a thousand meters … and that can be up to (you know) 10 or even 12 minutes in longer 2k events. So that will also inform how quickly you're going to need to get locked on to the stakeboat because again, it gives you a sense of how quickly they're intending to get your race off after the previous race has launched from the stakeboats.
ANNE: That marshaling area - in these very dense sprint races - can be quite the thing unto themselves and our placement in there is crucial, particularly if we have such a small time frame as three minutes from when the marshals call you forward to when you're expected to be ready to start that race. It can be very, very compressed in terms of time and expectation so knowing that in advance - just to reemphasize what you've both been saying - it's really a fundamental skill and responsibility of the coxswain.
SALLY: And when you're dealing with centers, I want you to remember - it doesn't seem like a very long amount of time but you have to stay calm and controlled and think about what you want to do ahead of time so that you can actualize the plan.
ANNE: Right. So let's talk about some of the things that should be going through our heads (then) that we should be considering as we're in that marshalling area.
SALLY: One of the things that I do is - if I know I’m in an event with six other boats, I look around to see if they're all there because things happen on the dock … people get delayed on the start. Are all six boats there and where do I need to be to lock in? Sometimes you need to be coming to the left of the stakeboat - you're trying to position yourself there. Am I trying to position myself to the right of the stakeboat? Am I trying … there's a lot … I’m doing a lot of scanning. My head is constantly on a swivel.
BREANA: I also try to get a sense of the event in front of me in particular … if they are all there especially as we get closer and closer to actually being able to see who's locked on because I have had it happen that someone who's late for their race is barreling up from the back of the field in the marshalling area … urgently trying to get into their stakeboat - which might be in the lane that you're in front of now about to go into. So especially if you're very close to the stakeboats … you're maybe the next event and especially if you happen to notice that the lane you're in is empty and there's a reasonable expectation that there would be a boat there in that previous event that's now lining up, you might expect that that person will come up behind you. So just being prepared for that contingency is something that I find helpful and it's happened many a time in my experience.
ANNE: Precisely. That swivel head that Sally referenced - and the situation that you just described Breana - happen more than some of you might realize. Another aspect I wanted to bring up is that not only do I notice what race is going off the pontoon at that point ahead of us, but it's also not jumping the gun and trying to move forward as soon as that race leaves because there are sometimes false starts. And you need to wait until you are called forward by the race official before you start to proceed towards the pontoon or the stakeboat. So watch that start and make sure that it gets far enough down that you have not jumped the gun there to try to pull your boat in. Trying to give yourself four minutes when the centers are three does not generally end well.
SALLY: Yeah. You definitely need to wait. I can't convey enough - in the haste and the pressure to make the start, a lot of bad decisions are made. So staying calm and staying collected is really the golden secret to all of this.
BREANA: We've so far been talking about contingencies that might make the race start late. Sometimes in my experience, I have also had races start early. And so what that looks like is that all of us are locked onto the stakeboat and officials over the PA system at the start line may ask: “Everyone is here. Does anyone have an objection to us starting the race early?” Then I’ve always just handled that by asking my crew to voice if they have any concerns. If not, no one takes any action and they might start the race potentially a couple minutes earlier than your stated race time if everyone is there and locked on. And in my experience, rowers have not usually had any issue with that happening. They're already nervous … they're already ready … and they'd rather just go.
SALLY: This typically happens in situations when the regatta has fallen behind because of weather or some other condition … so the officials are trying to make up time so that the regatta can be as close as possible to being on schedule. Again it's just part of the strategy and thinking about what to do time wise.
ANNE: As we discuss some of the many things that should - and do - happen in the marshalling area, I also wanted to remind our listeners that this is a really optimum time to get acquainted with what the race start actually sounds like. There should be a flag but you might want to note where it is. Is it in the center pontoon or behind? It can be located in different areas. Sometimes it's a little bit to the side. Also you might want to notice how the officials are calling the start. So that's one of the things that I consider as I am there in the marshalling area.
SALLY: I think it's really important - like Anne said - to listen to the starter … to understand them. But the other thing you should know is that starting officials are instructed to vary the time from when they say “Attention” to “Go” so that nobody anticipates it and jumps the start. So if you are looking at that and studying it, please note that your “Attention. Go.” command will be at a different cadence than the one before it.
BREANA: Additionally in the marshalling area - as we discussed in Episode 017 - when it comes to head racing (that episode is about head racing covering the shoot to the finish line), one of the things that you're going to want to consider is making sure that your rowers have time to take off any layers that they might be wearing that they don't want to race in … to get final sips of water … and to also double check their oarlocks so we don't have anything awful happening to us in the first moments of the race. So a couple of things that are (kind of) on our mental lists of making sure get done before we are officially called forward to enter the stakeboat area.
SALLY: One of the things I am still doing in the stakeboat area - in addition to taking in how it's being done - is I’m watching the boats that are currently aligned. And you take a look and see how the wind and the current is affecting them. Do they constantly have to fight for their point? Are they constantly battling a quartering cross breeze? These are things I take in and I’m observing so I have adapted my stakeboat landing plan to what is happening. And in cases in an extreme wind - when it's far better to be sailing than it is to be rowing - some officials might forego the stakeboat situation altogether … line up in the lane and they will do a quick floating start. So because of wind or current or whatever, they can't back you into the stakeboat safely or in a timely manner … they'll just forego it all together and do a floating start. So watching that and evaluating the skill of the crews around you goes into a plan so that you can approach this prepared and calm.
ANNE: Yes. There's so much that goes into what should happen while you're in the marshalling area. You know, the title of this episode is Stakeboats but I think what we're trying to convey is that there's so much about actually approaching the stakeboat and locking on properly that requires advance planning and observation while you're in the marshalling area. And in truth, I often find how I manage my boat in the marshalling area to be even more challenging than actually approaching and locking onto the stakeboat. In the marshalling area, I often deploy even more skills of maneuvering that we are building off of than I actually do backing into a stakeboat. There are boats - as we've mentioned- not just from your race but other races. You get close quarters and depending upon whether the wind is pushing all of those boats that are lining up in towards the stakeboat, a lot of times you're backing up … you're turning … you're pivoting to the wind. There's a lot of communication with other coxswains that goes in there. I think you're going to find that every maneuvering skill you possibly have will get a workout even in the marshalling area.
SALLY: I think you're brilliant bringing that up, Anne. In the marshalling area, you really need to be defensive and you need to be looking around. And you need to trust the other coxswains around you but verify they are actually going to do what you think they are. There might be a language issue … there might be a hearing issue … there might be - I didn't see you because my eight seat is blocking my view. Just because they shouldn't hit you, they still might hit you. So be very defensive in the marshalling area - being looking around. Anticipate: all the boats are going to hit you … all the boats are going to get in your way … and have a plan to maneuver and keep your crew safe and getting on the line. It's a bit harrowing at the least.
BREANA: So given that, maybe our listeners will now be feeling relief as we depart the marshalling area and are called forward to officially get into the stakeboat area and start our race. So as a reminder - as we've mentioned already - you do want to wait for the officials to call you forward generally. And then you'll move forward as a group with your entire heat who's going off the stakeboats next. So there are some different approaches that will come into play now for the different types of stakeboats that are out there that we introduced at the beginning. You may be pulling through a line of individual stakeboats - so each lane has its own floating platform. Or you may be approaching the course from the side in those instances where everyone is going to line up on a single platform that is spanning the width of the course as Sally mentioned at the outset. And in that case, instead of everyone passing through the line of individual state boats, when we have this connected platform, everyone approaches sequentially from the side and loads in individually. So there's a couple of different things to be prepared for based on what stakeboat configuration is there when you get to the start.
SALLY: I would like to take this moment to make my life a cautionary tale to all of our listeners and say (purely hypothetically) never happened to me ever. Please watch out for the anchor lines for the individual platforms or launches. Let's pretend - again purely hypothetically - that you perhaps got your boat snagged on the anchor line that was affixing the big heavy launch to the very solid bottom. Things that could happen are: you could lose a fin you, could get your oar or someone's oar tied in the anchor line which pulls everything off and doesn't really help, you could get your rigger caught in an anchor line which is an even greater trick. Just basically, it's not … it's not fun. So be careful the anchor lines y'all please, please, please. This is not how you want to be remembered on Instagram. Please watch out for the anchor lines.
ANNE: And Sally - I’m sure that you were the only one. This never could have happened to me, for instance. So I don't know. Maybe Breana has actually successfully navigated every stakeboat situation without making an acquaintance of either the anchor line or the tie down line. What about you, Breana? Tell us the truth.
BREANA: I actually don't think that this has happened to me yet. I’ve been caught in lines in other places but I could …
SALLY: Knock on wood, my friend.
BREANA: Yeah, really. But I am learning from your guys' cautionary tales and I hope everyone listening is as well - or they're prepared to share their similar horror story with us.
ANNE: So there we are - getting ready. We're being called forward. We're going to avoid those anchor lines. But how do you decide like which side to approach? How do you get in?
BREANA: Again, this is a place where the race packet might support you or if you don't find the answer there, that might be a question you bring to the coaches and coxswains meeting at this regatta. It may stipulate - either the packet or the meeting - a particular side that you should be going on so that all coxswains are on the same page. You might end up in a situation where you're just communicating on the spot when you're approaching with other coxswains. So just make sure that you guys aren't intending to pass through the same space. So if you notice the coxswain in the lane next to you is also kind of hanging out towards the left side of their lane and you're hanging out towards the right side of your lane and there's a chance that you're both going to be approaching in the same area, you might want to just have a quick conversation with them and make sure that you guys are in agreement about who's going first. You know, sometimes there is a giant starting platform where the officials are standing that's blocking several lanes and you have no choice but to go through one by one in the same spot. But ideally, you can all approach on your own side and have the full amount of time to lock onto the stakeboat. And then sometimes it's important to note - especially if you're in one of the lanes at the end - you know lane zero, lane one … lane eight, lane nine, you may end up being constrained in your approach because there might be a travel lane on the other side, for example. So if you're in the lane that is closest to the travel lane, it doesn't make sense for you to approach on that one side of that stakeboat because you're going to end up (you know) being hit by boats that are on their way to the start. So lots of different considerations here. And the goal is that as you're getting ready to be called to the start you're managing all this and you're watching all this and you're planning for the best approach that you can possibly make … as you avoid those anchor lines.
SALLY: Now you want to take a look at the weather conditions when you're approaching. In a perfect world, if I can choose either side of the stakeboat to approach on, I’m going to take a couple things into consideration. One of them is going to be the wind. And if the wind is coming from the starboard side … blowing me down to port so it's physically pushing the boat to port … I’m going to try to come in on the starboard side of the stakeboat so that I’m working with the wind and it's pushing me onto the stakeboat. I might swing really wide so that I have more time to spin the boat and be blown in as we're backing down. If the wind is blowing on the starboard side and it's pushing me to port and I approach on the port side I’m gonna have to make a more aggressive turn and I’m gonna be fighting the wind as I’m backing into the stakeboat. And then when I back in, I’m going to be probably rather significantly out of alignment. So I use the wind. The other thing I’m going to think about is the backing strength of my stern pair or stern four. If I know that I have a really, really strong person who could bench press a European car on one side and another person who gets winded opening the pickle jar as their pair partner, I might try to favor the less powerful person as I’m backing in. And I might put myself in a position where the stronger person pivots more or is handling the wind as I back in.
ANNE: I look forward to the episode where we actually take sprint racing as our main topic. Here we're focusing on getting into the stakeboats primarily but given that scenario of those two contrasting rowers, Sally, I look forward to hearing about if that's your stern pair as you start that race. Stay tuned everyone - to see how that that turns out. But anyway - coming back to where we are here and approaching. Understanding that our key objective is to get the stern of the boat locked on to our appropriate lane, how about if we each share how we approach and get our boats locked on. And let's take the situation - hypothetical situation potentially - that this is not the solid stakeboat situation … that we have floating platforms onto which we need to get squared away and centered.
SALLY: I’m just going to make sure it's sunny. It's 85. We have a working cox box.
ANNE: You're demanding.
SALLY: And there's no wind, correct?
ANNE: Right. Of course - of course not. And the race is – uh, the officials are very relaxed and all of the coxswains near you are your friends and they acquiesce to whatever you'd like to do. You go first.
SALLY: I really like this scenario.
ANNE: In our little imaginary CoxPod world, right?
SALLY: Yeah … there we go.
ANNE: There you go. Sally, how do you … how do you do this, Sally? Do you come in all eight? Come on - tell us the truth? Just like you dock - you come in all eight?
SALLY: Yeah. I – uh – no, because this this to me requires a little bit more finesse and a little bit more control. And I’m going to assume in this perfect world that the anchor lines are really far down. So what I would do if I was in an 8: I would use either my stern pair or my stern 4 … depending on the strength of the rowers and how far away I am … to split the distance in between two stakeboats. The distance between the two fixed objects - I’ve split it down the middle. What I usually do is I will come in arms and body … so I’ll slow down the rowers … not full strokes but go down to arms and body strokes. Just before the stakeboat, I stop rowing and then drift past and when my coxswain seat is passing the stakeboat I hold on the side that I want to get into. So in this situation if the stakeboat that I am desirous of is on my port side, I will drift past the stakeboat and have all of portside check it down basically just to avoid being in someone else's lane and to avoid big dramatic turns. And then what I will do is I will have port side hold water and then I will have stern four … stern pair … back it arms and body. Usually that brings me in close enough and then to make adjustments I may have my seven seat back and my two seat row in a standard port rigged boat. That's kind of how I would do it.
ANNE: Sally, I am always interested to hear how you handle things because - as our listeners will probably guess - I approach things in a different way. So the stakeboat is going to be on my port side. I think - similarly to you - I’m going to aim my bow initially to midpoint between the two … the stakeboat that I’m aiming for and the one on the starboard side. However, I’m going to be angled a little bit towards the port side which is the side that has the stakeboat. And in an eight, I’ll come in probably with bow pair depending upon the conditions. I am quite a cautious person as you all probably realize. I’ll probably come in with bow pair … possibly bow four … generally very light … just keep the boat moving in a smooth trajectory. And then what will happen is: as my bow passes the midpoint of the lane, I will then have starboard side hold water and to me, that swings my bow back towards the center of the lane. I will then try to get the boat straightened out just a little bit and then I will ask bow four to prepare for backing and stern four will start the backing depending upon the distance that has to be traveled. If it's just a short distance, I’ll only have stern pair backing arms and body. Sometimes I will even sort of lean forward so that the stern pair can see over my head to the right spot where they're aiming. The main thing that I also try to remind myself is that before I start backing, as we've mentioned in prior episodes, I’m going to make sure that the rudder is squared up and just straight in the boat so that it does not affect the movement of the stern of the boat. So I do approach it a little bit differently than you do. So that would mean it's Breana’s time to share her approach.
SALLY: Come on Breana.
ANNE: Come on Breana. It's one to one. Give us your story.
BREANA: Well, my approach - I have to say - is very similar to what Anne does and I think listeners might perceive that the primary difference there really was in which side we asked to hold once we are in our lane. So Sally has opted for a strategy that keeps her in her own lane primarily so there's minimal risk of interacting or interfering with other boats. In Anne’s and my case, we take the approach of holding on the other side so that our stern is kind of swung towards the stakeboat … is our approach there, which does potentially leave you a little more towards the side of the lane (perhaps) than holding on the other side. So I similarly approach it as Anne does and I am also a very cautious person. I think one thing we can make a little more explicit here is that you want to avoid floating an entire boat length or more into your lane. So when we say that we're coming in with only a pair or only a four and then we're stopping and floating the rest of the way as soon as we pass the stakeboat, that is the reason why … so that our rowers don't have to back a large distance on their way back towards the stakeboat. So that's one thing I’ll just highlight here. And another thing I’ll say - when it comes to being cautious - is that you want to be very careful in your approach to the stakeboat. I have damaged a boat before from allowing my stern to slide too far under a stakeboat that didn't have room for it and scraped the stern. So you need to be very careful about the setup there. And I’ll also say that that stakeboat holder – again, we said there's a person lying there … a regatta volunteer who is going to grab on to your stern - those individuals are wisely and correctly instructed not to sacrifice their bodies just to help you get locked onto that stakeboat. So if you come in too fast because you had an entire four backing it in or your entire boat backing it in or people who are too powerful backing it in, and that person doesn't feel they're gonna be able to safely catch you without their hands getting smashed or (you know) their shoulder torn out of their socket, they're not gonna do it. They're just gonna let you hit - as they should. So that's something to be aware of, you know. I typically start with stern pair backing arms and body. Or if I’m close enough, maybe even just arms only. I’ve learned basically from these circumstances where I came in a little too hot. So that's just another kind of note that we’ll say: caution and taking your time are valuable here.
SALLY: I think it's really ideal when you're able to approach the course from your lane behind your stakeboat. in the situations where we have to approach a starting platform that covers the entire width of the course, we are unable to come from behind so we're all coming from one side. And let's say we are approaching the stakeboats from lane one - what I do if I am lane six is: I approach and I go up maybe 100 meters and I pivot the boat and then I will take it across. And the reason I go up that far is because if I’m in lane six, you've gotta have lane five, lane four, lane three, approach the course and turn in, so I’m going up far enough to give everybody behind me room to turn. So I turn my boat and then I have my bow pointed slightly towards the starting platform because as I row across the course I want to make up some of that distance. I typically have my eight rowing by fours because I want to move expediently across the course but I don't want to move very quickly across the course. Usually if I’m going to lane 6, by about lane 4, I have either dropped it down to a pair or I’m gliding in. And as I’m gliding in, I will try to make sure that my four and five seat are right about where the starting platform is. I’ll have my boat checked down so that we're stopping and pivoting on four and five seat. And then I’ll swing my bow in and back it in.
BREANA: I have also contended with this type of starting platform a lot in the venues I’ve happened to be at in my coxing career and I approach it a little differently.
SALLY: Wait. I’m shocked.
BREANA: Let's again go with the scenario here - the luxurious scenario - of being the first boat called forward. In that case, so you're in the farthest lane from where everyone is gathered and where everyone is entering the course. And in those circumstances, I will keep my boat pretty close to that starting platform and just travel parallel along its length. When I get to my lane – again, let's assume here I’m the first lane getting in - so I’m all the way at the far end … so I’m passing through every lane very similarly to you, Sally. I’ll know that I need to stop a little bit sooner … so my body - if I’m in a stern loader here - is actually still in a prior lane but I’m stopping at about the halfway point of the boat knowing that's the point I’ll pivot on … one of the things we emphasized in Episode 018. In my case, the place where the difference comes in is that I’m a little closer to the platform – again, in the luxurious scenario where I’m first which we're describing here. And then I will point my bow towards the finish line a little bit to bring me out far enough and get started on that curve… knowing that I have to make a 90 degree turn into my lane basically. So I’m pivoting the bow - swinging it out just a little bit towards the finish line. So that's the opposite of Sally's approach … just for anyone following along at home. Usually in my experience, the platform is on my left - it's on my port side - so I’ll come in and I’ll have my starboard side hold and then from there we can back, get ourselves centered in the lane and get locked onto the stakeboat. So just (again) a couple of different options for how you might choose to approach that.
SALLY: When you're entering the course and you have to wait because you're in lane one and they're loading lane six first … then lane five … line four … there's a certain amount of anxiety. If you're in lane one, you have to wait for all these boats to get up to the course before you can move in. And I just really want to reinforce - you have more time than you think you do. So while everybody's moving and locking on, you have less distance to go than these other boats so you are able to approach calmly - knowing that you're only going to move from the travel lane to your lane - versus lane six that has to cross the entire course.
ANNE: And I’m a total fan of everything that we can do to calm ourselves down and to feel that we are able and capable of handling this situation. That's really important for us to try to keep in mind - let's just gain those skills so that each little aspect that might pose a challenge - we have a counter measure available to us. I think that we've described a couple of ways of approaching and then swinging into the lane and then backing into the stakeboat, but we've used the scenario where we're in an eight - a stern loaded eight. I am often in a bow coxed four and it is a different animal altogether and the key reason is because - unless you've had lots of experience with those - as you are swinging into your lane, you don't have knowledge … concrete knowledge … of where your stern of your boat is in relation to the actual stakeboat. Only pretty much the stroke seat can tell when it's cleared, so it requires a little more communication … a little more sense of how long your boat is. And also when stern pair is backing, it's a lot of faith in their capacity to actually engage that stern of that boat into the hands of the stakeboat holder.
SALLY: I think it's important when you are backing in a bow loader four, that you set your stern pair up for success. So you want to minimize how much backing they have to do and that goes with an eight, too. You don't want to go 500 meters away from the stakeboat before you back … it's just going to take forever. So you want to make sure that you're positioned so they have minimal amount of backing. And you are going to have to cede a little bit of control to the stern pair - like Anne says - because we can't exactly see where the stern of the boat is. Some of the issues that happen - especially when you have a more novice stern pair backing - without the control of the coxswain is they have their eyes fixed on that single point of getting locked on. So they are locking you on but they are not necessarily locking you on straight. So they might be backing and their sole objective is to get you onto the stakeboat and they are not playing with pressure … they're just getting you locked on.
ANNE: So wait, Sally – wait, Sally. Are you saying that we are finally locked onto the stakeboat? Finally?
SALLY: Yes. Yeah. However instead of at the finish line, you may be pointed at like … oh, I don't know … lane two. So while we are attached, you're going to have to start making adjustments to point your bow toward the finish line. And to do that, I highly recommend sculling around, which is something we covered in our maneuvering episode … or taking short, tiny taps of the oar … arms and body pulses. You don't want to do anything too aggressive. You don't want to do anything too strong that's gonna rip it out of the stakeboat holder’s hands and you have to do it again. You want to make tiny adjustments to push your bow back into the proper position.
ANNE: Absolutely. And that's particularly important when there's going to be a quick start - which in my experience, has been at least 50 percent of the time. So you want to not do anything too dramatic but yes, Sally, you pointed out that the prior episode on maneuvering has some real tips on how to execute those finer movements without pulling the boat away from the stakeboat holder’s hands because you want to maintain that no matter what. That precious stakeboat holder that we love and adore.
BREANA: A couple other things to be aware of that might be happening – really, the way this is going to play out especially if conditions are bad - is that you're going to spend the whole time … right up until the start is called … adjusting your point, potentially to combat for the wind and current. You know, anything that might be pulling your bow out of the direction you want, which is dead center going down the lane. So it's okay and that's normal and expected that it would take constant adjustment. And in the meantime, one thing to just be aware of that will be happening is that the stakeboat holder might be moving your boat in and out in the lane. So again, we set up that the goal is for all bow balls to be perfectly aligned at the starting call. So meanwhile - while you're making all of these adjustments to move your bow in one direction or another - that stakeboat holder might also be pulling you in towards them or pushing you out a little bit. And it's okay. You can do those things simultaneously but just don't be alarmed if you notice things changing a little bit. They often have an earpiece where they are connected to someone on the side of the race course venue who is doing the aligning and communicating with that person. So they're doing their own thing and you can simultaneously do what you need to do as well to make sure that you start the race in the best possible position.
SALLY: I think it's important to point out that if it's a situation where you're constantly battling for your point, those three minutes - or those two minutes - that you're locked on can seem like an eternity and that you have to stay calm. And if you have to have bow seat tapping it constantly - if they let go, you drift five degrees - just remind bow seat it's okay if they miss the first stroke of the starting sequence because having your point where it needs to be is more important. They can trust the other seven rowers in the boat to get that boat up to momentum and they can pick it up on stroke two.
ANNE: There is so much that happens between getting into the stakeboat, finding your point, maintaining that - do we have any thoughts that we can share with our audience about recognizing hands?
BREANA: So in the United States where the three of us primarily cox, a number of years ago our official governing body of US Rowing changed the rules of rowing to stipulate that hands would no longer be recognized. This is a practice where - if you were still maneuvering and you raised your hand as the coxswain - the official would know not to start the race yet because you were still getting aligned in your lane. And sometimes you'll even hear relics of that in statements like, “My hand is up” … you might hear in a recording or “My hand is down”. So officially, that is not something that is recognized any longer by our governing body. However, it doesn't hurt, in my opinion, to still give that visual signal of my hand straight up in the air to say I’m really not comfortable with the point that I have right now and I am still working on adjusting it. They can choose to totally ignore that and just start the race and I accept that that's a possibility, but it's a practice I still personally engage in. How about you guys?
SALLY: For me, I keep my hand in the air to get alignment … to make sure I’m pointed where I need to be. And once I am, I put my hand down. I still use it.
ANNE: That's why I brought that up - because I would agree that the practice is one thing. The written rules and what you can count on if there's an issue is another thing altogether. So I also - here we are in agreement, guys … just note the date and time please - we are in agreement that we all use the hand signal to indicate that we're still making a maneuver. However, we all accept the fact that that is not necessarily going to be recognized. We're not counting on that stopping any forward movement of the race, right? Sometimes it may but it's not guaranteed by any stretch of the imagination. So for all of our listeners out there, I would urge you to: a) always read the regatta packet particularly about what the sprint race start is like and what rules they'll be following and b) have a conversation with your coach and your team so that there is as little confusion as possible because it can be chaotic up there. And if you have straightened these points out amongst your crew early on and everybody knows what's going to happen, that's one less factor that's going to lead to chaos. You want to be as focused and as calm and prepared as possible. We wanted to (just) cover a couple of other - what we consider - important aspects of the last few minutes before the race is actually called to a start. I’d like to hear about how both of you approach those last moments when you might be waiting for the actual start of the race.
SALLY: I know we mentioned before that (you know) with three-minute centers, relax - you have more time than you think you do. And in this time when I am locked on, time stretches out … my adrenaline is up … I am aware and I am sensing … I am listening to the other coxswains … I am watching them. How nervous are they? Are they - and I’m gonna let you all know this is a mistake - going over the race plan with the mic at full volume? It is a good idea to rehash your race plan but maybe not at full volume … just saying. There are people who will use it against you. I am one of those people. I am observing the wind and the officials and looking at the other rowers. And I am taking all that in because how they are maneuvering indicates to me how skilled they are … how nervous they are … a whole host of other stuff that I will play on later. And then I’m talking to my crew and I am definitely changing my tone. I am trying to fire up the people that need to embrace their aggression - that need to be okay with the fact that they want this. I am trying to focus the person whose legs are tapping and shaking so that they are calmed down and they can channel that energy to the proper cause. And I change my tone and I changed my breathing and I turned the cox box down just a little bit to make sure the focus is in between our gunnels. And that focuses on them and our boat. And then I try to say something inspirational and motivational that takes these eight disparate people and energies and unifies them to something. And if it's pulling this race for the teammate who's sick and couldn't make it, or pulling this race for the coach that inspired us to be there, or pulling this race as a celebration of what we accomplished … I try to reframe what's happening and take these people from being individuals to being a team. And the nuance is figuring out what kind of team that is. So that's what I do. Breana? Anne? What do you ladies do?
BREANA: No one will be surprised that my approach is different. I am in some ways externally focused right in that moment before the start is called. In a practical sense, you know, I’m also monitoring the wind. I’m trying to keep an eye on (kind of) when it looks like alignment has been reached. Sometimes I am taking a look to the side of the shore and seeing if I can see the person who's doing the aligning but I am not one of those coxswains who whispers things to my rowers and between the words ‘Attention’ and ‘Go’ at the start, I’m pretty much quiet and focused. I view that as a distraction - an additional element that I don't want to add in for the rowers. So I opt not to use strategies like that. I know many, many, many coxswains do. They kind of like quickly mutter something inspirational under their breath right before the start and I’m just not one of those. So I will be very quiet. I will have the rowers laser focused with their eyes forward and the stroke seat’s eyes on the starting platform and waiting for that flag or that light or whatever it is and then I will let the race go off. That's my personal approach how about you, Anne?
ANNE: Before I explain what I do, I’d love to invite our listeners to share what they find most effective in this situation … in these last few moments before the word ‘Go’. I think there's so many different ways of approaching it. Yes - we would agree that it depends on your relationship with that particular crew - who they are. etc. But in broad strokes, my personal approach is sort of in between both of you. So: being responsible for where the boat is sitting physically in that environment and positioned as best I can for the middle of that lane … having myself in a physical position – braced - ready for the power that comes with those first few strokes in particular from being dead still to really powering through those first 10 strokes or so … getting that boat going. I also usually will say two other key things - if I like where we're pointed … if I like our position … if I like what I’ve been seeing of the other crews in terms of feeling confident about how our boat is going to do in this race, I will make mention of that. I’ll say either: “You know, other people are struggling with their point. We are a good. Thank you for getting us here” and lastly, I will remind them of what it is our start is because often times they are not crews that have practiced sprint starts a lot. So I will verbally say: “Let's remember -you're going to hear pry, build, lengthen”. Whatever it is, I will say that once or twice so that the next word they're going to hear is ‘Go’ and they're going to execute what I just said.
SALLY: I think it's important to point out you have to do what's authentic and natural to your personality. If Breana started quoting Shakespeare, I doubt she would be able to do it the same way I would because it's not endemic to who she is. And if I tried to mimic Breana, I wouldn't come off as authentic because it's not me. We all have this wide spectrum of things we're bringing to the coxswain seat and it's important that you tap into who you are and what your crew needs. If you understand your rowers and you know they are so nervous they are going to need you constantly talking to them versus another crew who finds the talking annoying and they are going to be so focused on the fact that I mis-conjugated a verb that they are not going to be able to pay attention because I’m distracting them. It's a very delicate balance that you walk and you have to find a way of both being authentic and serving a need. And I love the fact that the three of us are so very different and have found a way of successfully navigating this difficult situation.
ANNE: Which is why I invite our listeners to share - in Slack in particular - other ways of approaching this that are successful because isn't this about discussing and offering different options so that you can build on the skill set that you already have, but to expand upon it so that you have more options depending upon your current situation. So Sally, I know that you probably say something very literary just before you take off. You want to share one of those with us so that perhaps another literary coxswain could borrow from that?
SALLY: I absolutely love the rally speech from Henry V and I modify it a little bit because it's the 21st century. But I love turning down my cox box and reminding my rowers to sit up, sit tall, chin up, chest out, fill your body with oxygen and then I launch into: “Once more into the breach, dear friends. Once more or we close up the wall with our English dead. In peace there is nothing that becomes a man as modest stillness and humility but when the blast of war blows in your ears, imitate the action of the tiger. Stiffen the sinews. Summon the blood. I see the noble luster in your eyes. I see you like greyhounds straining at the slips … straining upon the start for the game is afoot. Follow your spirit and on this charge.” And then usually they start. That's where I go. I love drawing on that. I get chills. Probably no one else. But it (you know) works for me.
ANNE: Those are Sally's examples of what she might say just before the start of a race. And I would just like to do a little recap here because we have gone from the marshaling area up to when that race is going to start.
BREANA: And the reason that we did a separate episode on this is really to complement our Maneuvering episode because - as we said in Episode 018 - this stakeboating experience is really a place where you're going to use all of the skills that we talked about in that episode. And on top of that, you're doing all of this in a stressful, high pressure situation.
SALLY: It is definitely a high pressure situation. And in this episode, we have described some to-do's and not to-do's and marshalling - aka watch for the anchor wire. We have discussed how to approach different types of stakeboats and how to consider the wind and the current and things that will help you get prepared for the start. There is definitely a lot to think about in those few final and precious moments before the start to set you up for success.
ANNE: And speaking of success, we urge everybody to practice these maneuvers as we suggested in Episode 018. Practice these maneuvers over and over again so that when you are in this situation – again, where it is stressful and high pressure and time limited - that you and your crew have terminology that you agree upon and that they have practiced executing these maneuvers. Practice. Practice makes all the difference in comfort level and having them apply all that they can to the actual racing scenario and not having been spinning their wheels just getting into the stakeboat.
BREANA: And if you want to see what it looks like when people practice that, we want to recommend this really awesome YouTube video out of Saratoga Rowing. It's overhead drone footage showing coxswains repeatedly approaching stakeboats. It's a ton of lanes and the coxswains are just coming in, backing into the stakeboat, and then resetting constantly. I like to watch it over and over and pick out one individual boat and kind of follow their maneuvers and see all the different approaches that coxswains take and how they successfully get locked in. So that's a really fantastic video and resource out there for anyone who has never seen this process or is looking to kind of build their skills or refresh themselves on this process. It's awesome that that resource is out there.
ANNE: I love watching it - it's so much fun. Check it out. Guys, I wanted to add one other thing because we didn't mention it. While it is true that we focused on stable platforms - that because they are anchored down might be called ‘fixed’ - there are also some sprint races that you do have to lock on to something but that something might be a john boat, a launch, a series of launches that are just kind of in idle trying to indicate a lane. So again, all the more reasons to practice these maneuvering skills because if you think it's difficult backing into a stable platform, it's even better trying to have your stern chase down a moving object.
BREANA: And we're really looking forward to a future episode where we're going to move beyond the moment that the flag drops … you hear that ‘Attention. Go.’ and what happens from that point. So we're really excited to do a future episode on sprint racing - including preparation and then also strategy for the actual race to complement our similar episodes regarding head racing. So keep an eye out for that.
SALLY: All right, ladies. Is it time to do our Shout Out?
ANNE: Yes, let's do it. I want to Shout Out to all of those volunteer stakeboat holders. I think I’ve already referred to them as (you know) as just wonderful human beings. And I thank each and every one of them. And I actually - if time allows when I back a boat into a stakeboat - if I’m in a stern loader, I turn around and I try to make eye contact and say, “Thank you very much for your service. You have no idea how much we appreciate that”.
SALLY: I think it means so much when the stakeboat holder wishes us a good race right before we start because in that moment of panic and isolation, it's nice to have a friendly face. And our Quick Pick, ladies?
BREANA: For our Quick Pick, I want to highlight a blog post from the Cox Hub which is a blog based in the UK by a couple of coxswains. And they shared a really excellent tip in their stakeboat blog post that is kind of a mechanism that they employ to save their stern from the situation that I shared I found myself in … where you crunch your boat just a little bit underneath the stakeboat platform because you were coming in too hard. They actually prepare their stern pair to be ready to do this. So after they have stopped backing you in and you're floating, this author is talking about how they - as a coxswain - prepare their stern pair to just take a quick little stroke if needed if it looks like you're coming in too fast and maybe the stakeboat person isn't going to be able to grab on to you and keep your boats safe. So I thought that was an excellent tip that I could definitely have used in my early coxing years. So I wanted to pass that along. And we will - of course - link to that full blog post so you can take a look at all of the stakeboat tips and tricks that are provided there from the Cox Hub. In the meantime, we invite you to engage with us on social media and on Slack where your question might get featured in a future episode. We'd also love for you to consider supporting us on Patreon if that's of interest to you. 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.