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040 | Grab Bag

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(icon by Brennan Novak)

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  • 00:00  Introduction to a new format

  • 01:04  Checking the skeg/rudder for weeds

  • 03:31  Coxing a 7

  • 06:28  Practicing coxing skills when out and about in regular life

  • 09:55  Naming your cox box

  • 11:58  Tips for interacting with airport security

  • 14:07  Identifying and fixing a cracked oarlock collar

  • 16:42  Dealing with tall floating docks

  • 19:02  Challenging interactions with race officials

  • 23:35  Know the rules of racing

  • 26:18  Closing

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to CoxPod, a podcast dedicated to coxing topics. I'm Breana. I'm Anne. We're experienced coxswains who continue to learn a great deal from the broader coxing community and from sharing with each other. Our primary goal is to promote ongoing skills development, and we're happy you're joining us. 

ANNE: Breana, as we've been prepping for various episodes for CoxPod and over our years together, we've come across a lot of topics that sort of just don't fit into their whole own episode. So remember talking about the fact that what we might want to do is to put an episode together with a bunch of these shorter topics? 

BREANA: Yeah, and some of what we have today are just amusing moments for fellow coxswains to commiserate about. And some are more serious tips that we may have mentioned in prior episodes but wanted to give a little more focus. 

ANNE: We hope you enjoy this kind of episode and we'll see. We'd love to hear from you … your reaction to this slightly different take that we're gonna call Grab Bag. So why don't I just start us off? And what I'd like to put out there is the topic of weeds catching on skegs and in rudders. This just happened to me this prior week as a matter of fact, and just wanted to toss out the topic again, which I had previously mentioned in our head race episode. We were at a practice down at the south end of our lake. It's summertime here when we're recording this and when I was out on the water. And there were a lot of weeds that were coming to the surface - as happens on our body of water. So we happened to stop as we were in our practice and getting ready to do our next piece. And I took the time to look back at the skeg and I didn't really see anything there, but I just had this feeling based on what I was feeling with the cables that maybe something was stuck back there. So my tip to people and what I like to do is I say to the crew, “Disregard the sound you're going to hear. I'm going to turn around and I'm going to try to get weeds off the skeg.” And the reason I say ‘disregard any sound you might hear’ is because I actually turn completely around in my seat. I put my body on the back deck of the eight that I'm in. And that sound of me putting my weight on there is like a popping sound. And you can imagine that if I were a rower in it towards the bow of the boat and I heard a weird sound like that, I might be alarmed or at least very curious. So I warn them that there's going to be a sound. I turned around, I reached under. And if you ever saw the gigantic four handfuls of weeds, just pulling, they were caught in between the skeg and the rudder. So I was glad that I did that. I hope that everybody considers that especially if you're going to be racing in a situation where you have to rely heavily on your steering. But always let your crew know that you're about to do that. That's my tip. 

BREANA: That visual of you pulling all those weeds out is cracking me up. I have had more minor situations. It can truly be something as small as a little twig … a little leaf stuck between your rudder and your skeg that is throwing off your steering. So if it doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to ask coach if you can stop for a moment and reach back and see if you can fish something out of there and it could be small. 

ANNE: Yep. And sometimes I kind of throw it out to the side of the boat as a trophy for the team to say, “Wow. We were dragging that along?” It's a fun moment. 

BREANA: My tip is also derived from something that happened to me recently at a practice, which is coxing a seven. So you don't have enough rowers to fill out a full-fledged eight that day and you have to go out with the seven that you have. This has happened to me a number of times and some tips that help me be ready for this situation: one - having a bungee on hand as part of my toolkit. I use that, you know, as soon as I learn I'm going to be in the seven. I learn which seat is going to be empty and then I go bungee that seat down as soon as we put the boat in the water. Otherwise, that seat's going to be slapping back and forth causing damage … creating noise the entire row. You could also pull the seat out but I prefer to know that it's there and I don't have to think about, ‘Did we leave the seat on the dock somewhere? Is it in the boat as we roll it overheads?” So that has helped me a lot in terms of managing a seven. And then the tricky thing as well - if you are going to spend a lot of time maybe doing drills … doing steady state without your full seven crew rowing - you need to also think about the rotation through the rowers, acknowledging that whichever seat is missing - often it's three seat or four seat or two seat … something towards the bow that is left empty. The rowers on that side where there's a person missing are not going to get as frequent of a break but you still want to adhere to a system of efficiently rotating through the rowers who are on the other side where there's still four of them. So that's something to think about and plan a little bit in advance. Otherwise you're going to find yourself forgetting a person who's just sitting there … setting the boat … all practice on one side if you don't make a concerted effort to rotate them in. And that can sometimes involve pretty unusual pairings rowing that maybe have someone on an atypical side leading a four that's comprised of people throughout all places in the boat. But I kind of enjoy that challenge and still trying to make it fair for the rowers as they rotate. 

ANNE: It isn't that common experience for most of us, but when it happens, it can be a little disconcerting. So I'm really glad you shared those two kind of pro tips with us, Breana. I think another part that I'd just like to mention about coxing a seven is that your coach may suggest that you drop out the bow seat in order to keep the rowers in a continuous line. I would suggest to people that you have a conversation before you actually enact that. Having a bow seat available as opposed to a two or three seat - it can be a significant factor in steering the boat and just general boat management. So better to have to adjust how you call those drills, as Breana mentioned, rather than have your bow seat empty. So we started off with a couple of tips and tactics that we have employed or like to consider. Why don't we switch over to something that's a little more lighthearted but still something that turns out that both of us kind of do. And take it away, Breana. 

BREANA: Ya – way back in Episode 002 when we were all off the water and thinking about ways that we could still improve our coxing skills, I shared that I like to use a strategy of trying to (kind of) build my coxing skills while I'm out and about in the world. For instance, if a person is walking towards me on the same side of the sidewalk that I'm on, one of us is going to have to yield at some point. And I always kind of make it my personal goal that it's not going to be me. So how long can I hold out and kind of stare this person down and assert myself? And one time where this played out in an unexpectedly hilarious way was - I was walking … I'm on the right side of the sidewalk where we typically walk in the United States and then someone is walking towards me on their left. So we're on the same side of the sidewalk. Obviously we're eventually going to reach a point where one of us has to come out to the other side. But I look ahead of me and between us this tree branch has fallen from a storm the previous night. So there's this massive, soaking wet tree branch lying in half of the sidewalk. And I'm timing as well. This is another thing I try to do to practice my coxing skills. I'm watching this guy walking towards me and I'm timing the approach and I'm like, he's going to get to that giant tree that's in our path first and he's going to have to go around and then I'm going to win because I will get to keep my side and he'll have come out to the other side. 

ANNE: But I can see this playing... Wait, wait, I can see, I can see you calculating the distance in time, his pace, your pace. And also, looking at this choke point right here where this is coming out, all right, how does it unfold? 

BREANA: Yeah, so that's exactly what I'm doing. I'm like, this is great. He's going to get there. And then when the time comes, you would have to come to the other side of the sidewalk in order to not. This guy just steps over this tree, just steps right on it, just walks right through this huge wet tree branch. And I was like, he wins. You know what? You win for that. I did not expect … 

ANNE: Oh my gosh. 

BREANA: … that outcome. So that one - I still think about it all the time. 

ANNE: Expect the unexpected but I didn't see that happening as you laid out the story either. Oh, the situations - the situations we put ourselves in and we just have that coxing brain on all the time. I imagine that the innocent people walking towards you never dreamed that you are as calculating as you truly are deep down inside. I wonder how many of our colleagues out there that are listening actually do this kind of thing, too. I'm guessing - I'm just going to guess that it's a lot more than we think or that we acknowledge. Let's just say that. So we would love to hear from people on Discord. Give us your story. Give us your ‘Breana’ … you didn't expect that person to beat you and you'd have to yield or whatever it was. Please let us know. I cannot wait to hear your stories. 

BREANA: Another thing that we would really love to hear from you about on Discord is Anne's next topic. 

ANNE: Here it is. We recently - as a club - purchased additional cox boxes and as they came in, I looked at them and I said, “Oh, we've got numbers on them. Number one, number two, number three, number four. Why doesn't anybody ever name them?” Like wouldn't it be hysterical if instead of saying, “Oh yeah, number one. You know, I'm going to take number one or whatever … sign out number one or two or four.” What if we say (you know), “I'm going to take out … “and then you insert the name. Does anybody out there name their cox boxes? And if you do, let us know. I really want to know. Now I'm not going to give away what I am thinking I'm going to propose for ours, but our club, we are going to name our cox boxes - for better for worse - and we're going to see how that plays out. So I might tell you in another episode what we named ours. We might even make it a contest. Maybe it'll be a fundraiser. We don't know. So let us know. Breana, have you named any of your cox boxes? Even your personal one? I know you have a personal one. 

ANNE: I haven't but I have been thinking about it since we recently spoke about this. It feels so weighty - such a heavy choice of this really important, little, thing that's with me always in the boat. So I need to give it a lot of thought in order to choose the right name but I love the idea and would really love to hear from other people what you've named yours if you have. 

ANNE: There are so many creative people in our world. I know that we're going to get some great ideas and maybe some people have been doing this for years and years and I will just be motivated to do this even more quickly. Why don't we now go back to one of our tips and tricks versus the more lighthearted topics? And Breana, I think you have mentioned something in the past that also I have faced. So why don't you share that idea? 

BREANA: A question we get a lot from coxswains is - how do I travel with my cox box when I'm going through airport security? If you're fortunate enough to be traveling to a regatta that you get to fly to and you've got your cox box on you, that could cause some trepidation given it's an unusual device and how it looks. And a strategy that I have been implementing recently that has a hundred percent success rate so far - I will say - is now just taking my Cox box out as if it were a laptop basically and putting it in a bin openly … just visible instead of leaving it in my bag. And that has worked really well. It just sails on through. No one seems to be bothered about it at all or care. Whereas often in the past, I would get my bag pulled and someone would be going through it and I would have to stand there uncomfortably as the TSA pulled out this thing with all these numerical interfaces on it. And yeah, that has worked a lot better for me. It was kind of inspired by a time - if you fly a lot, you know that oftentimes the spiel that the TSA agents are saying to you as you're in the security line in  the United States airport system is changing that spiel. One time the agent framed it as: anything that's larger than a cell phone should come out of your bag technology wise. And I was thinking a cogs box kind of is, I think it's safe to say. So I tried it and it has worked for me ever since. So I recommend that if you are concerned. Just take it out as if it's a bigger piece of technology and maybe you'll have fewer issues. 

ANNE: Yeah, I think that's a really solid suggestion. I have also adopted that as my strategy. And another (just) thing I thought I would throw out there is that if for some reason, somebody who is in TSA asks like, “What is that odd thing that kind of looks a little potentially dangerous or suspicious?” And you can just say it's a voice amplification system and that usually suffices. And I hope lots of listeners get that opportunity to travel with our equipment and cox in different venues. I think we have another tip for people to think about that's another topic altogether. Let's switch over to this one. It's about a collar, isn't it? 

BREANA: This is one that also happened to me fairly recently at a practice. This is a very likely situation for you to encounter as well if you're at a big boathouse with lots of equipment that's getting used all of the time and maybe some of it has seen a lot of days of use. I was out one day with an eight and noticed that every time that my stroke seat got to the catch, there was this cacophonous sort of click sound that just didn't sound right. Something was not right. It was not the normal sound of the sleeve of the oar just flipping in the oar lock as the person feathered. There was more to the sound than that. And I asked stroke seat – in a down moment after we had stopped - to take a look at her collar … the teal piece on a Concept2 oar lock that is encircling the oar and keeping it in contact with the oar lock. And when she took a closer look, the backside of it that I couldn't see that was touching the oar lock was completely chipped off - just a big piece missing. And that was causing that additional sound as the oar (kind of) clicked into place and then caught on that missing space. Fortunately, the other side of the collar - or the button, some people call that - the other side of that was still in good shape. So what I had her do was: while everyone else very consciously set the boat, she pulled her oar in. I pulled out a flathead screwdriver from my toolkit - which is in there now thanks to something we talked about in our gear episode. And I just had her unscrew that collar, slide it off the end of the oar towards the handle side, flip it around and then slide it back on so that now there was a fully continuous circle of plastic touching the oar lock. So if you ever notice something off in the boat in terms of sound or a rower tells you they're really struggling in an unusual way, that's something that you could take a look at. And again - in my case with a Concept 2 oar - a flathead screwdriver was enough for us to deal with that on our own out on the water. 

ANNE: Well done. I have not had that happen yet. Chances are it will happen at some time and I tell you, I'm going to appreciate you giving me that guidance in advance. So now I'm going to feel prepared, which is more than half the battle sometimes. 

BREANA: True that. 

ANNE: And now I think it would be fun if we went to a couple of topics that we'd love to kind of commiserate about with one another and with our audience and just to get feedback from our audience and again, reactions about your thoughts on all of this. My first one is something more than a pet peeve. It is the challenge posed by the very high, 14 inch floating docks - 14, 16 inch, some of them are 12 - the ones that are connected together with sort of this bow ball grabbing gap in between them. So not only are these docks very high so that when you have to lean away to protect the riggers, it's practically impossible … specifically in a bow-loaded four. It's hard in an  eight. I don't know how people in singles possibly do it. But not only is it a challenge where you have to lean away so much that you almost feel like you're going to flip the boat, but that gap has snapped more than one bow ball off. Luckily it hasn't happened to me yet but I feel like it's just a matter of time. That is so difficult. What about you, Breana? Have you ever had, you know, thoughts on that? 

BREANA: I know those type of docks and they are so intimidating to return to for that exact reason because if your bow comes in at the wrong angle, it's gone. And also, yeah, exactly - the challenge of shoving off from those docks or even coming back to them and how much you have to lean. I remember times where I've had to stand next to the rigger basically to give enough clearance just for my weight pushing down this massive floating chunk of dock in order to try to help a boat get back on or help a boat shove off. It's not my favorite design. 

ANNE: I'd like to give mad props to each and every coxswain who's out there that's listening who faces this on a day in day out basis. I bow in respect to you because that's a that's an awful lot to take on in addition to the challenges that normally occur during a launching and landing situation. So, good for you. And if others have had some experiences - either success or not - with those docks, let us know. I look forward to hearing from you, too. The second topic that I would like to bring up for potential support and commiseration is one that I actually faced yesterday. I had the good fortune of coxing two women's masters teams at a very, very well established regatta. It was a thousand meter sprint. I first went out in the four and as we went down to the marshaling area, everything was going great and I had prepped my crew. It was a floating start. And as we approached the starting line, all the boats - they were five of us sort of pulled together side by side, very nicely - and we all sort of stopped just before the starting line. And as soon as we stopped, the starting official - on his megaphone - hollered out to all of us, “Coxswains, do not talk to your crews at all. I am going to take over setting these boats up in alignment.” Now, I was stunned when I heard that. And he proceeded then to give commands to each and every boat calling out pairs or individual rowers to do one thing or another.  But I have never encountered anything like that and anything more contrary to an effective start. What's your reaction to that, Breana? 

BREANA: I'm trying to think of a word that can describe the face I'm making and maybe ‘disbelief’ is it. I … I just can't imagine that was the most efficient way to do that. I can see how maybe that comes from that official having prior experience that day with maybe sculling boats or I always try to tell myself this official doesn't know that I'm competent. Maybe they have seen coxswains that have been unsure of what they're doing all day and they've at this point decided. “I'm taking over”.  But those moments are uncomfortable because they discredit us. They say - here's a person who's put here to do this thing and I'm going to strip all of you of that and assume that you can't do this thing correctly - especially when you had all demonstrated that you could effectively pull up to the line. Wow, that is surprising. 

ANNE: Exactly. And later I talked with the crew and they shared with me that it was very confusing because then they didn't know what to do. And moreover, I know what my rowers are capable of. I know the calls that I need to make in order to execute whatever the official wanted. I knew which particular rower could do XYZ. He had no clue about the capabilities of my crew. Yes, I do. I do understand it's a hard job. And getting alignment with a floating start is a skill set all into itself and can be incredibly frustrating. But I just was stunned and honestly - a bit insulted. So I would love to hear if that has been the experience of any of our listeners. And if so, what is your reaction? And if you have not encountered this, what's your reaction to me sharing this story that is fresh off the page? I do want to add that later when I returned to the start line with my second crew - which was a very skilled eight - I had previously mentioned to them that this was my experience and that I didn't expect it to happen again. But if it did, don't be startled and just nod and act as if you're going to listen to him but you still listen to me. So I took back the reins of control and I just basically quietly told them. I did find it fascinating that when all of the boats were aligned in this eight, he said that there was alignment. We were all sitting at the catch - blades buried - and then he suddenly told two boats to have their stern pair back while the other six blades were squared. Having stern pair who were up at the catch suddenly try to back … it was … it was quite an experience. So wow. I don't know what else to say but I look forward to hearing comments and questions and experiences on Discord. 

BREANA: Well, we'll close on one more kind of practical, serious piece of advice also derived from a recent experience I had where I was volunteering at a sprint race down at the start line on the stake boat platform and helping to coordinate all of the stake boat holders and everything. And this was a regatta of mostly sculling boats and it became clear to me - as I watched the start process unfold event after event after event - that some rowers were just not familiar with the rules of rowing. And the one that stuck out to me a lot is the fact that the starting official - when you're pulling up to the line, you may often hear them announcing how long until your event. They might say four minutes or something like that. You know, ‘I've got four minutes to get locked on … get my last sips of water … whatever your rowers need.’ But when they get to two minutes, the rules stipulate that the start can begin at any time after that. It doesn't mean that the starting official is going to sit there and just count 120 seconds and then run the start. They are empowered to start it at any time after the two minute warning. And I noticed a lot of crews just not being aware of that. The starter would say, “Two minutes”. Everyone's locked on and aligned. And I see people leaning forward to start their speed coaches. I see people practically taking a nap in the bow as if they had two full minutes to lie down in the boat. You don't! It could start at any time. Coxswains always get told this but it really is valuable … or if you're a rower who's in charge of your single or your quad or whatever it is - read the rules of rowing. If it's been a long time since you've given them a read, give them another read. I really respect this starting official. She was implementing the rules to the tee, and that is one that I saw implemented often in order to make sure that the regatta was running on time. And a lot of people were not ready for the start because of that. So give those rules a read if it's been a while. 

ANNE: I confess that I was one of those coxswains who just didn't absorb - having read the rules - I still had not absorbed the fact that the two minute warning meant, ‘Hey, we're getting close and it could be anytime now.’ That's really how you need to translate it. So I was once caught a little bit unaware. That didn't happen anymore. I reread it and thanks for reminding us about the importance of reading all of the rules - not just of the regatta but of the rules of rowing if your particular race conforms to those regulations. So Breana, this was - for me - a lot of fun. I really enjoyed doing this sort of episode. It's not going to be our usual fare, but I, I really enjoyed it. I think that as we close here, I'd love to invite our listeners to give us feedback. And you know, let us know, did this appeal to you? Did it not? You know - would you like to see some more of these interspersed through our usual, more instructional episodes? So we'd really like to hear from you about that. We sincerely mean that. 

BREANA: It has been a fun one and I echo that. We'd love to hear your feedback if this is the type of episode you'd like to see resurface in the future. 

ANNE: Right. We will close this - as we always do - by mentioning that if you like what we're doing, we do appreciate financial support via Patreon. And we are excited to bring you more content soon and until next time, I'm Anne. And I'm Breana - signing off for now.


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