Hayaku owari ni shitai!
Rowing Ruminations, Part 3
(Again, triggered by the book Flat Water Tuesday, but no spoilers.)
The team had high hopes for that year’s varsity knuckle boat, and even a clueless novice like me felt that vibe. They were all tall and well built for Japanese guys in our major. But I didn’t really figure out I was on a winning boat until our first race of the year, the “Three School Race.” The three schools from our league in our area that had rowing clubs (and when I say area, I mean within a three-hour drive) would gather at the host school (we were the hosts that year) and race each other. No one brought boats, just oars and toolboxes, and we raced on boats that were in the hosting school’s boathouse (competitors drew lots for boat and lane assignments). It wasn’t so much a race as it was a chance to get together with rowers from different schools. I’d read somewhere about betting shirts, so I wore a tank top under my regatta tee, just in case. We won by a fairly safe margin, I don’t remember by exactly how much, but I do remember being quite comfortably ahead. I found out that day we never bet shirts anyway. We traded them like soccer players after the final league race. Or rather, the guys did. No one ever asked me for mine during my rowing career.
Everything was set up nicely for us to do well in that year’s Three School Race. It was held on the lake where we always practiced. The weather was perfect. The water was mirror still. My first race screw up was my first away race. The first sign that things were not going to go as planned was when I discovered that there were no women in the league squad, and there was no women’s locker room. I locked myself in the toilet and started changing from my street clothes into my regatta tee and running shorts. I was kind of concerned about the security of the lock, and sure enough, the door opened because nature had called one of the rowers from that school. He slammed the door shut and hollered “she was in there with nothing but her underwear on!” I put on my regatta tee and tried to explain that he hadn’t seen anything that he wouldn’t have seen when we were racing (I’d already put on my running shorts and the tank top I always wore under my regatta tee), but this fell to deaf ears. It made for a funnier story that way, I guess, especially since I was not a crewcest liability. I gave up trying.
I was not off to a good start. It was my first time on an unfamiliar course. It was my first time working with a current. To make matters worse, it was during the rainy season when the river swelled and the current was fast and irregular. There were high, choppy waves that hit the oar blades and also hid the course buoys (and there weren’t that many of them to begin with). The conditions were so bad that the single scull competition was cancelled. I saw the gray water swirl past the dock and felt the wind blow my hair into my face (partly because I’d been too busy to get my hair cut before the race) and hoped they’d cancel the fours race, too. But no such luck.
Even lining up on the starting line was a major effort, because the moment I got lined up with the other boat, the current would push one of us away. When we finally started, I tried to steer straight but the current and waves didn’t cooperate, and when I got caught up in steering to compensate for this, I clammed up (when I was supposed to be yelling stuff about stroke rate and how far ahead/ behind the other boat was and how to avoid wakes and waves), and got yelled at for that. I deserved it, but that didn’t make it effective. I’m sure I made them row no less than 1100 meters. Neither boat could dock fast enough, the conditions were so crappy.