Monday, October 1, 2007

Racing on the Potomac

Yesterday was our second Head Race of the season. We packed up our boat trailer and headed down to the Georgetown waterfront to race on the Potomac in the Charlie Butts Head of the Potomac run by the Potomac Boat Club. It was sunny with temperatures in the mid 70s, fairly low humidity (at least for around here) and very little wind. Just an occasional breeze. It was a perfect day for rowing and as it turned out a perfect day for others to be out on the water as well as you'll hear a bit later on. I was originally scheduled to race in a 4+ and an 8+. Due to a few guys that dropped out at the last moment and a shortage of coxswains, I ended up racing just in our Quad. Our race wasn't scheduled until 2:10 so I actually got to sleep in before getting up, eating a heavy breakfast to carry me through the day and gather up my rowing stuff (Uniform/water/ butt pad) and head off to meet the rest of my crew. I met my other three Quad teammates at a commuter lot and we headed off for Georgetown. The waterfront was crowded and bustling not only with rowers, but bikers, walkers, boaters and those just there to enjoy the day. After parking we walked the short distance to Thompson's Boat House where our boat trailer was parked and where we would launch from. We were hoping our boat had been unloaded and rigged, but no. It was off the trailer, but we had to rig it. Before we started to rig it, I wandered off to find the regatta t-shirt sales to purchase a shirt before they ran out. I think all my t-shirts at this point are either from a regatta or somehow rowing related. I picked up a long sleeve shirt since it will be turning cold here shortly. I returned to the boat and helped rig it. I also gathered up our oars (or sculls as they're called) and carried them down to the dock area so they would be ready when we launched. Since a Quad doesn't have a coxswain, I would be responsible for steering the boat from my bow seat position. I talked to one of our high school coxswains who had already been out on the course to talk me through the row up to the start and then the course itself. I had printed out a course map and went over it with her. She had some good tips and I was just hoping I could follow them while rowing with my back to the course. I was actually more concerned with the row up to the start then rowing the course itself. As I've mentioned, we've been in a serious drought here all summer so the water levels are down. During a similar occurrence a few years back, we rowed our 8+ over some rocks on the way up to the start. mostly because we were too close to the DC side of the river. Still I was concerned and not without reason it turned out. We decided to launch about 50 minutes before our start time to give us plenty of time to row upriver to the start and had a quick blow before we would start. We were the first Quad to launch and we were following a few junior (high school) 8+s up to the start. I decided the smart thing to do was just fall in behind one of the 8+s and they would lead me safely to the start. In theory that worked fine. In practice not so well. Rowing or sculling with two oars while occasionally looking back over your shoulder to see if your on course and more importantly making sure you're not about to hit something or someone can be a challenge especially with my old eyes. On the row up, we got under Key Bridge fine and we had a long stretch of open water. There were a number of anchored power boats, but they were safely off to the side. So I let the 8+ get out of my field of vision. I like to look over my left shoulder, but that leads to a blind spot over my right shoulder. After losing sight of the 8+, we proceeded up river. I noticed what looked like a bunch of Kayaks and canoes that we were approaching. As we got closer and closer I decided we'd better stop and see what was going on. It turned out the kayaks and canoes were actually a pile of rocks. Oops. We backed the boat and turned it and finished the row up to the start uneventfully. We spun the boat and waited our turn. While we waited we chatted with an 8+ from Notre Dame in Baltimore who first thought we were from NC and then West Virginia. Strange. they said it was because we had such southern accents. Ha. Very unlikely. As we waited we noted that we weren't seeing any other Men's Quads. A few Women's Quads from Potomac Boar Club showed up, but no men. They finally called our number and we were off with one short stop right before the start as a Women's Quad spun their boat right in front of us. Dumb. We had a good start and set our stroke rate at 28 strokes per minute. I got us down the first part of the course that hugs the Virginia shore line without incident and I could see two Women's Quads from Potomac Boat Club gaining on us. I also noted they they were rowing a course to my right. Since they row on the Potomac every day, I used them to set our own course and I began drifting our boat more to the center of the river. The first Women's Quad caught us about 500 meters above Key Bridge and the second as we went under the bridge. Now under normal circumstances, getting walked by a Women's boat would be cause for embarrassment. However, Potomac is probably the top rowing club in the DC area. Their members include many rowers that compete or have competed at the elite level. So getting passed by these Women's boats was not unexpected. I'm sure they scull everyday in a Quad while we just dabble in Quads. Not to mention they were considerably younger than us. The four of us had rowed together just once before in a Quad and that was the day before we raced. After they passed us, I again used them to set our course past the Georgetown waterfront and around Roosevelt Island. As we headed for the finish right before the Roosevelt Bridge, I turned to get one last look to make sure we were on the right heading and to see how far left to go. At this point I noticed that two kayaks were about 100 meters right front of us. I had just a few seconds to decide to stop our boat to avoid a collision or to keep rowing and hope that we didn't collide. I noticed one of the kayakers was paddling furiously to get out of our way while the other was just floating and taking no action. I decided that we probably could slip in between them and proceeded on. Our oars just cleared both boats. I noticed in the one kayak that didn't move that it was a parent and child. Had I known that, I probably wold have stopped so not to endanger the child. As it was we didn't hit them and I just yelled at them to get off the race course as other boats were behind us. We crossed the finish line shortly thereafter and turned toward DC to get out of the way and catch our breath. It was a good row, but nothing to write home about. The boat seem to lack the power I had felt before. Maybe it was just me, but that's what it felt like. Our time of 19:45 seems to bear that out. After the race is over its such a filling of relief that you are done or maybe its just the endorphins coursing through our bodies. The row back to Thompson's was relaxed and we enjoyed the sights on the DC side, including many of the monuments and the Kennedy Center. The view is what makes this race special. We docked at Thompson's and put the Quad away. We went back down to the water to check on our results and to our surprise we got first. As it turned out, we were the only boat in our category hence the lack of sightings of any other Men's Quads at the start. A first is a first and we won't split hairs on how it came to be. The rest of the day we just relaxed and watch the other boats from our club race. When we left at around 5:00 the results for a lot of the races weren't complete so I don't know how the club did as a whole. Our Women's double got a second and our Men's 4+ got a second so it was a good start to the day.

What a great day of college football on Saturday. All those upsets. After practice on Saturday, I settled in for a marathon of college football starting with VA Tech vs. UNC at noon, Maryland vs. Rutgers and 3;30 and Auburn vs. Florida at 8:00. All three schools won. Maryland and Auburn in major upsets as they were double digit underdogs. Nothing makes me feel better than watching Auburn beat Florida (well maybe seeing Auburn beating Alabama is better although Alabama hasn't been much lately). Watching the Auburn kicker kick the winning field goal twice was a bit nerve wracking, especially with the kicker being a true freshman. The kid delivered though. Plus whats this crap with coaches calling timeouts right as the ball is being snapped so the kicker actually kicks it, but it has to be rekicked. That is so much crap. Its happened twice in the pros and now Florida pulled that crap. They need to look at that practice in the off season. Anyway I went to bed happy Saturday night. Any day/weekend where West Virginia, Texas and Oklahoma lose if just glorious.

No comments: