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Sliding scales of success

Usually, when I shove off the dock and head towards the starting area of a race course, I have high expectations for myself. Even for races where I might not be in the best of shape or feel all that comfortable/confident about my technical capabilities, I still head to the line with the idea that I'm about to go out and give it my best. I never really race to win - I race to test myself and use myself as my own yardstick.

On Friday evening, I took out T's Empacher for a brief adjustment and test row, and started to get excited about the race. This Empacher is a stiff, light shell, and while the Red Hudson is a pretty sturdy boat you can tell that the Empacher wants to send you down the race course at top speed and nothing less.

When I launched on Saturday morning, with the equipment adjusted to something reasonably approximating the ideal, things quickly started to feel a bit different. As the sun came up, the wind started to pick up. I first headed over to the launching area to complete my safety check in with the boat marshals, and then joined a small flotilla of other 1x rowers waiting to cross the race course over to the warmup area.

I didn't quite manage to make the crossing, however. Winds were blowing down the course, creating a strong tailwind for racers, but also creating swells that would be parallel to any boat trying to cross the course at a perpendicular angle. When your boat's gunwales are only 6 inches off the water, and you're staying balanced by keeping two 9-foot oars level with each other, this can quickly become a problem.

My self-preservation instincts kicked in hard and my subconscious directed the Empacher parallel to the course instead, pointing into the wind. Instead of crossing where I was supposed to, I rowed up past the 1000m start and then angled over towards the warmup area on the far side of the race course. Over this period, my expectations for myself during the race underwent an impressive and rapid shift. I went from aiming to see just how fast I could go and cleanly I could row, to thinking I'd be satisfied with a race where I could maybe manage some good pressure strokes here and there, to thinking maybe I'd call it good if I just managed to get myself down the course while staying in my lane, to thinking actually I would be okay if I could just manage to stay upright.

I also thought a lot about a race in Arizona a number of years back, in the 2x with C, where the water conditions got so bad that we started laughing hysterically in the middle of the race (they canceled the rest of that regatta when one of the 4+'s in the event right after us swamped). We kept ourselves going by declaring that we were just out for a nice, pleasant Sunday row, haha. And managed to keep the open side upright.

After I had been waiting for several minutes near the warmup area, too afraid to try and turn and get in any sort of warmup, just trying to keep myself from drifting into a giant yellow warmup buoy, I watched a safety launch travel over to a rower who had flipped her boat. I watched an official in another boat use a gadget to attempt to measure wind speed, and watched a bunch of boats from one of the events ahead of mine attempt in vain to do some reasonable approximation of lining up for the start of their race.

Then they canceled racing and directed us to head back to shore. It was almost worse than being directed to head down the course, because that meant trying to cross back over in a crosswind. Twice I heard water slosh hard over the bow of the Empacher, filling the foot compartment with water. Fortunately, the bow and stern compartments felt buoyant enough that even a full foot compartment wouldn't prevent me from rowing. I had to pause to keep my jacket from sloshing out, and eventually made it back over to the safety of the launching beach.

Eventually, the wind died down and the officials were able to restart the racing. They postponed our race until Sunday morning, right before T's race.

Given the time and logistics involved in rerigging T's boat to swap it between races, we decided it would be wise for me to test out P's lightweight boat as well as her open-water shell. If the water was flat, I could probably get away with racing in P's Hudson, even if the stern deck was comically low and I had to pull in to my lap. If the water was rough, the WinTech seemed up for the job, though it would make for a heavy race.

Sunday morning, once again, just as dawn started to break, the wind picked up. Nonetheless, I launched in the WinTech with ample time before the rescheduled start of the event, and rowed straight over to the regatta beach. The regatta beach was quiet, with only a small handful of rowers attending to their equipment, and no other boats preparing to launch. As I approached the shore, a referee walked down and let me know that once again racing would be postponed until at least 9 o'clock, and that he highly doubted that any of the singles races would go off.

So I turned back to P and T's dock to let them know the news, and then took the WinTech up to the 2k starting line and got in a 2k piece along the course. The conditions weren't quite as bad as they'd been the day before, but more importantly, the WinTech was made for that kind of water.

I am disappointed about not having had a chance to race, but then again, it was wonderful to get to catch up with T and dichroic. We also managed to get in a nice consolation kayak paddle up to the upper dam, I added several more ants to the quilt, and we got to watch the racing that did happen from the comfort of the deck.

Covered Bridge Regatta Weekend
Rough seas ahead, as viewed from the WinTech.

Covered Bridge Regatta Weekend
View from the dock. This does not do justice to the whitecaps further out, because the dock is along a sheltered shore.

Covered Bridge Regatta Weekend
Our consolation kayak expedition to the upper dam on Saturday.



( 18 remarks — Remark )
Apr. 18th, 2016 12:58 am (UTC)
If it's any consolation, the view from the dock is a good photo.

Edited at 2016-04-18 12:58 am (UTC)
Apr. 18th, 2016 02:37 am (UTC)
The awesome thing about cycling is that no matter how big the storm that whips up halfway through a ride, you're unlikely to actually drown.
I'm glad you're okay. That sounds very uncomfortable.
Apr. 18th, 2016 03:11 am (UTC)
I suppose, but I'm also less likely to get hit by a car. That said...we saw the immediate aftermath from a horrible drunk-boating accident one morning on Union Bay in Lake Washington, where the captain missed the entrance to the Montlake Cut by an eighth of a mile and rammed his yacht onto the shore.

The water was cold, but not hypothermia-inducing, PLUS we had the safety launches out, PLUS we all have to pass a float test to row and learn a fair amount about water safety.
Apr. 18th, 2016 03:30 am (UTC)
That's true. I'm just terrified of deep water, mostly.
Apr. 18th, 2016 05:01 am (UTC)
I am now imagining some truly improbable accident where a car drives into the water, hitting a shell, while a bike rides off a dock desperately trying to avoid the car... in a sort of Rube Goldberg symphony of exceedingly unlikely failure modes.

I'm not a particular fan of deep water, but it's not that much worse than shallow water if you mostly float. (Part of me still wants to take a freediving course somewhere warm. A lot of me is scared shitless by the prospect... which doesn't mean I won't do it....) I was severely disturbed when I went from default floating to default sinking, though. Do you default sink? You seem kinda muscley, so I could totally see it. (I felt betrayed by the transition... I have lungs *and* some breasts, and apparently that's not enough any more? WELL FINE. I thought women had to be, like, Olympic level athletes before they failed to float. Nope!)
Apr. 18th, 2016 05:25 am (UTC)
I'm not sure how fast I sink, but if I exhale I appear to still be accelerating when I hit the bottom of the deep part of a pool. If my lungs are full and I'm thrashing around I stay alive in the water. Exhaling, in order to inhale again, makes that staying alive process much more doubtful. That's part of the reason I'm leery. The other is giant squids and whatever else is down there.

So the car hits me, on my bike, and knocks me off the roadway into the water, where I land on a boat, overturning it...
Apr. 18th, 2016 05:38 am (UTC)
Wow, impressive sinking powers! I also have to keep moving or I sink now. Clearly what we need is the Dead Sea or the Great Salt Lake or something like that, haha. (I've never tried being in either, have you? Did that go differently?) Only, uh, five hours from Zion! Also now I'm wondering what rowing would be like on salt water... all my rowing has been on freshwater rivers, I don't think I've ever even sculled on a lake. Superfloat regatta would be kind of challenging if less of your boat than planned was submerged. Faster! Tippier! Bet someone's done it.

I don't worry about the giant squids, I figure they're scared of me too. Jellyfish, on the other hand, are pretty horrible. Fuck man o' wars forever.

...overturning the boat, which somehow sets something on fire, maybe an oil fire spreading across the lake towards a plane or a hot air balloon, which takes off, burning a...
Apr. 18th, 2016 04:34 pm (UTC)
Rowing on saltwater is bouncy! In high school we used to go to a regatta up in British Columbia that was held on a bay. The water in the afternoons would inevitably get rough with wind, but on the other hand, we would sometimes have seals that would pop up around the boats at the finish line.

Oh - and the biggest west coast regatta, the San Diego Crew Classic, is also on saltwater, come to think of it.

I seem to do okay with treading water. And also - the worst water depth, ever, is where you can't touch the bottom, but your feet brush against plant matter. I highly prefer water that's either shallower or deeper. I'm not a particularly strong swimmer, but I know what I need to do to stay afloat.

And, open ocean swimming scares me. I'm okay if I'm in a bay, but I almost got pulled out by a riptide once and that induced a strong sense of horror.
Apr. 19th, 2016 12:41 am (UTC)
The seals coming up to say hi would be pretty cool. Almost worth the terror of open ocean.
Apr. 19th, 2016 05:00 am (UTC)
Re: riptides, yeah, that's related to why whitewater kayaking seems to me to be fine but sea kayaking is terrifying. Getting sucked out to sea and unable to get back to shore is just pit of stomach horror.
Apr. 19th, 2016 12:40 am (UTC)
>Wow, impressive sinking powers!
ITYM _depressing_ sinking powers.

I'd be up for trying a boat in the great salt lake. yes I have gone swimming in it. The taste of the water is more striking than the buoyancy, as I recall.
Apr. 19th, 2016 04:58 am (UTC)
Technically, you are correct, re: depressing, heh. Re: salt lake, I've seen it but I haven't been in, I was just driving through. I kinda wanted to try, but not enough to wade in at midnight by myself, slosh around without any particular bathing suit, and then get soddenly back into my car and continue hauling ass westward towards my appointment with getting broken up with by my girlfriend of the time destiny. [rueful grin]
Apr. 18th, 2016 04:57 am (UTC)
Glad you stayed unswamped! I've never even come close to swamping or flipping a shell; that sounds really nervous-making!
Apr. 18th, 2016 04:35 pm (UTC)
Re: Waugh!
Well, the saying goes, there are two kinds of rowers, those who have flipped, and those who haven't...yet. I'm still in the latter category, which actually makes me a little MORE nervous than if I'd just gone through the whole process of flipping and then re-righting the boat. That said, I'd rather flip in water that's slightly warmer than the lake water yesterday. It wasn't shockingly cold, but it wasn't a pleasant temperature, either.
Apr. 18th, 2016 06:36 pm (UTC)
Re: Waugh!
Man. This was the first time I had even heard of anyone flipping in a shell. In my four years of college rowing, none of our boats ever did... I didn't even think of that as a possibility! We got warned about getting tossed out of the boat if you caught a really bad crab, but never about the boat itself going under. I thought that was a kayak problem, heh. So I'd know how to handle it in a kayak, but not at all in a shell. Are there even little pumps to bail? We certainly didn't have 'em.
Apr. 18th, 2016 06:55 pm (UTC)
Re: Waugh!
I don't think it's very easy to flip anything bigger than a 2x back over while in the water, so it isn't something that's really discussed or taught in collegiate programs. It's kind of necessary for 1x rowers, though, because it happens much more easily.

And come to think of it, it's definitely covered in the USRowing safety video. Not all collegiate programs watch the safety video, though. Blame your coaches.

You don't bail the boat out at all, just flip it back over and climb back in. Or if you can't manage that, you flip it back over, wriggle up on the deck, and paddle to safety. As with sweep rowing, you should NEVER leave the boat because even an 8+ that's completely full of water still provides some floatation due to the sealed bow and stern compartments, and this can be critical in cold water where you need to get as much of your body out of the water as possible to delay hypothermia to the degree possible.

Here's a video from Row2k on getting back into a single:

At a regatta in high school, some kids flipped their 8+ because they took out all four of the water-side oars while they were all still sitting in the boat. If all the oars on one side go parallel to the boat (or get taken out), it becomes VERY easy to flip a rowing shell...
Apr. 19th, 2016 05:04 am (UTC)
Re: Waugh!
Ah, yeah, we only had fours and eights. And, uh, this was 1991, so we definitely did not have video equipment available to us, much less any US Rowing safety videos, heh.

So effectively, you pretty much do treat it like a kayak! Good to know, though I still hope to never be in that circumstance. Thanks for educating me!
Apr. 19th, 2016 06:40 pm (UTC)
also, our eyes are bigger from the pressure
I've always operated under the delusion that people who grew up in Colorado float because our lungs are so huge.

Emphasis on delusion
( 18 remarks — Remark )

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