Rowing FAQ - version four

Rowing FAQ - version four

Post by youn.. » Fri, 02 Jul 1993 07:15:32

    This is the fourth version of the FAQ.  I've added
  some addresses and made a few other changes---my thanks to David Evans,
  Lou Taff and Mike Smith for their comments.  
    Please send any comments, updates, corrections, or thoughts to me via
  e-mail.  I make no apologies for any real or imagined biases in this FAQ.


                     Table of Contents

                   I.  Introduction:  Why do we do this?
                  II.  The Boats:  What kind of boats are used?
                                   What do the symbols mean (eg. W8+)?
                       - Sweep
                       - Sculls
                       - Weight classes
                 III.  Terminology:  What do some of the terms mean?
                       - Equipment (hatchets, sculls, riggers, etc.)
                       - The rowing cycle (catch, drive, feathering, etc.)
                       - Other (coxswain, stroke, crab, etc.)
                  IV.  Race Formats: What is the usual distance of a race?
                                     How long can they take?
                       - Standard
                       - Head Races
                       - Bumps
                   V.  Ergometers:  What do rowers prefer?
                  VI.  Rowing Books and Magazines:  How can I subscribe to a
                                    rowing magazine?
                 VII.  Addresses of Interest:  Who can I contact for more
                                    information about rowing?
                VIII.  Rowing Camps: Are there places where I can learn how
                                    to row?

I . Why do we do this?:  There are many reasons I suppose.
 One View.....
  "Karen rowed for what the venerable American shell builder George
  Pocock called "the symphony of motion."  As dawn breaks over the river,
  the shell is lifted from its rack out into the morning.  On another rack
  the oars hang ready to be greased and slipped into the locks.  Then,
  awakened to the river and the feel of the oars, the oarsmen blend in
  fulfillment of the shell.  The symphony is not of competition.  It
  is the synchronous motion over water, the harmonic flexing of wood
  and muscle, where each piece of equipment and every oarsman is both
  essential to, and the limit of motion itself."
                                   - The Shell Game (Stephen Kiesling)

  And yet another view...
 from an article by Brad Lewis in which he describes his feelings near the
 end of the singles final race that would determine who would represent the
 U.S. in the 1984 Olympic singles competition:
   "I led by three or four feet, with Biggy (John Biglow) surging closer on
   each stroke.  I hated him in those last few seconds; he was the only reason
   my guts were being strewn over the water like an oil slick.....
    I pressed one last time, and looked at the finish-line flagman.  In that
   instant the flag jumped down and then up.  The up stroke, identifying the
   second place finisher, was for me.  John Biglow was the victor.
    I stared into the green-brown water watching my ***y soul drop through
   the depths, slowly rocking back and forth, occasionally glinting in the
   light, and then finally disappearing."
                           - from ROW magazine "Death at the Single Trials"

II. What kind of boats are used?
   The boats (or shells) are basically of two types and reflect the
 two forms of rowing---sweep rowing and sculling.  In sweep rowing each
 rower handles a single oar (about 12 1/2 feet long); in sculling a rower
 uses two oars (each about 9 1/2 feet long).  The word shell is often used
 in reference to the boats used because the hull is only about 1/8 to 1/4 "
 thick to make it light as possible.  These shells are also rather long and
 as narrow as possible.
   Each rower has his back to the direction the shell is moving and power is
 generated using a blended sequence of the rower's legs, back and arms.  The
 rower sits on a sliding seat with wheels on a track called the slide.
   Each oar is held in a U-shaped swivel (oarlock) mounted on a metal
 pin at the end of a rigger.  The rigger is an assembly of tubes that is
 tightly bolted to the  body of the shell.  The subtypes of rowing shells
 are classified according to the number of rowers in the shell.  

 - Sweep Boats (each rower has one oar): These shells can have a
         coxswain---a person who steers the shell (using a rudder) and
         urges the rowers on.  I have included in parenthesis the symbol used
         for each subtype along with some dimensions and weights.

         Coxed Pair (2+) - Two sweep rowers with a coxswain
         Coxless Pair (2-) - Two sweep rowers without a coxswain.

         Coxed Four (4+) - Four sweep rowers with a coxswain
         Straight Four (4-) - Four sweep rowers without a coxswain.
     or  Coxless Four     Steering is usually accomplished via a rudder
                          that is attached to a cable that is connected
                          to one of the rower's foot stretchers (this
                          an adjustable bracket to which the rower's
                          feet are secured).

         Eight (8+) - Eight sweep rowers with a coxswain.  Eights
                        are 60+ feet long and weigh about 250 pounds.

 - Sculling Boats (each rower has two oars) : These shells almost never have
         a coxswain.  Steering is generally accomplished by applying more
         power or pressure to the oar(s) on one side of the shell.

         Single (1X) - One rower or sculler.  Singles are about 26 feet
                      long and less than a foot wide.  Racing singles
                      can weigh as little as 30 pounds.  There are
                      heavier (~45 to 50 pounds), shorter and wider
                      versions often referred to as recreational singles.

         Double (2X) - Two scullers.  Most racing doubles can be also
                      used as a pair with a different set of riggers
                      designed for sweep oars.  There are also recreational
                      versions of sculling doubles.

         Quadruple (4X) - Four scullers.  Often referred to as a "quad"
                      and can have a coxswain and often has a rudder
                      attached to one of the sculler's foot stretchers
                      as in the straight four.  Most quads can also
                      be rigged as a straight four using a different set
                      of riggers.

   - Note: Weight Classifications:  There are basically two weight classes
            for rowers---heavyweight and lightweight.  For men (M) the
            dividing line between heavyweight (HWT) and lightweight (LWT) is
            about 155 - 160 lbs.  For women (W) the dividing line is about 130
            - 135 lbs.  A rowing shell is usually built with a particular
            weight class of rower in mind.  Until just recently
            the Olympics effectively only had heavyweight classifications.

III. What do the terms used in rowing mean?:
   -  Equipment terminology:  
       Blades - The wide flat section of the oar at the head of the shaft.
                This term is often used when referring to the entire oar.

       Hatchets - (aka big blades or choppers)  A relatively new design of
               oar blades (although the idea has been around for some time).
               These were introduced by Concept II (Spring 1992)
               and are what the names indicate---oar blades that have a
               bigger surface area than the "standard" blades and have a
               hatchet or meat cleaver shape.  
                 The hatchets are a bit shorter (by about 7 cm) than the
               standard blades.  Most US sweep crews have switched to the
               hatchets, but the scullers seem to be a bit more resistant
               to change.

       Scull - This term is used interchangebly when referring to one of
               the oars used in a sculling shell, the shell itself or to
               the act of rowing a sculling shell.

       Foot Stretcher - An adjustable bracket in a shell to which the rower's
               feet are secured in some sort of shoe or clog.

       Rigger - (or outrigger) The device that connects the oarlock to the
               shell and is bolted to the body of the shell.

       Oarlock - A U-shaped swivel which holds the oar in place.  It's mounted
   (or gate)   at the end of the rigger and rotates around a metal pin.

       Slide -  The rack on which the seat moves.

       Gunwale - Top section on the sides of a shell which runs along the sides
   (or gunnel)   of the crew section where the rowers are located.  The riggers
   (or saxboard) are secured to the gunwale with bolts.

       Keel -  The center line of the shell.

       Rudder - Steering device at the stern.  The rudder in turn is
               connected to some cables (tiller ropes) that the coxswain can
               use to steer the shell.  Older shells have short wooden handles
               (knockers) on the tiller ropes.  These knockers are used by the
               coxswain not only to steer the shell, but also to rap out the
               cadence of the stroke rate on the gunwale.

       Skeg  -  A small fin located along the stern section of the hull.  This
               helps to stabilize the shell in holding a true course when
               rowing.  All racing shells have a skeg.  The skeg should not
               be confused with the rudder.

   -  Rowing cycle terms:  Starting with the rower at "rest" and legs fully
      extended with the oar blades immersed in the water perpendicular
      (well...almost) to the water's surface.

       Release -  A sharp downward (and away) motion of the hand which serves
                 to remove the oar blade from the water and start the rowing
                 cycle.  Yeh, yeh where does the stroke cycle really start?

       Feathering - The act of turning the oar blade from a position
                  perpendicular to the surface of the water to a position
                  parallel to the water.  

       Recovery - Part of the rowing cycle from the release up to and
                 including where the oar blade enters the water.

       Squaring - A gradual rolling of the oar blade from a position
                 parallel to the water to a position (almost) perpendicular
                 to the surface of the water.   This is accomplished during
                 recovery portion of the rowing cycle.

       Catch -    The point of the rowing cycle at which the blade enters the
                 water at the end of the recovery and is accomplished by an
                 upward motion of the arms only.  The blade of the oar must
                 be fully squared at the catch.

       Drive -    That part of the rowing cycle when the rower applys power
                 to the oar.  This is a more (or less) blended sequence of
                 applying power primarily with a leg drive, then the back
                 and finally the arms.

       Finish -   The last part of the drive before the release where the
                 power is mainly coming from the back and arms.

       Layback -  The amount of backward lean of the rower's body at the end
                 of the finish.  Now we start again with the release and....

   -  Other terms of interest:

       Bow - The forward end of the shell

       Stern - The rear end of the shell

       Port -  The left side of the boat when facing the bow
    or stroke side in the UK

       Starboard - The right side of the shell when facing the bow
    or bow side in the UK

       Coxswain - The person who steers the shell and urges the rowers on during
               practices and in a race.  A knowledgable coxswain can also serve
               as a coach for the rowers and can be the difference between
               winning and losing a race.

       The Stroke - The rower sitting nearest the stern (and the coxswain, if
               there is one).  The stroke is responsible for setting the stroke
               length and cadence (with the coxswain's gentle advice).

       Crab -   A problem encountered by a rower when his or her oar gets
              "stuck" in the water, usually right after the catch or just
              before the release and is caused by improper squaring or
              feathering.  The momentum of the shell can overcome the rower's
              control of the oar.  In more extreme cases the rower can
              actually be ejected from the shell by the oar.

       Jumping the Slide - Another problem encountered by a rower when the
              seat becomes derailed from the track during the rowing cycle.

IV. Race Formats:  What are the usual racing distances and divisions?
              The races have separate divisions---Men's (M), Women's (W),
             heavyweight (HWT) or open, lightweight (LWT) etc., then divided
             up into 8+'s, 4+'s, 1x's, 2x's and so on.  So for a typical
             regatta you might see separate races scheduled for M8+, W8+, M4+,
             W4+ down (or up---depends on your cup of tea) to W1x and M1x.  
             There may be separate heavyweight and lightweight divisions that
             would require a weigh-in for the lightweights early the morning
             of the regatta.

     - Standard:   The standard racing distance is 2000 meters (preferably
                straight) and usually has six shells racing against each
                other in their separate designated lanes which may or may
                not be marked by buoys.  These races can take anywhere from
                5 1/2 to 8 minutes depending on boat class, weather conditions,
                water current and the physical condition and experience of
                the rowers.
                  Other racing distances are 1000 meters for the older guys
                and gals (Masters) and 1500 meters for the Junior age division
                (high school).  I will get into the starting procedures in a
                subsequent version of this FAQ.  Needless to say everyone
                (should) starts at the same time and location on the race
                  Also, there is a match style (i.e. races with two boats head
                to head in a single elimination format for each division)
                racing at a few regattas.  The Henley Royal Regatta in England
                and the Royal Canadian Henley come to mind.  I'm not sure about
                the distances...I think it's close to 2000 meters.  Right?

     - Head Races: These races are conducted later in the rowing season,
                starting in late September.  They are about 2.5 - 3 miles
                long and the boats are started in their respective divisions
                separately at 10 second intervals.  These things are usually
                conducted on a river with an assortment of bridges and
                turns that can make passing quite interesting.  The winner
                of each division is referred to as the "head" of that river.

     - Bumps:   (As someone pointed out, this is the Cambridge version, but it
                 should do just to get an idea of what bumps racing is about)

                  The bumps are a way of racing eights. It all basically comes
               from rowing on a river which in most places is only just wide
               enough for two boats to pass.
                 The basic idea is simple: you get a division of 17 (or 18)
               boats who start in a column with 1.5 lengths of clear water
               between them, and when the start gun goes the aim is to "bump"
               the boat in front by making up enough distance for physical
               contact between the two boats.  The two boats involved in the
               bump drop out of the race by pulling in to the side of the
               river and leaving the course clear for anyone behind (if the
               boat behind a bump catches the boat in front of a bump this is
               an "overbump").
                 In the next day of racing the two crews swap start positions.
               There are 4 days of racing in each set of bumps, and positions
              are held over from year to year. Divisions are raced in reverse
              order (ie worst first) and the crew ending top of a division
              (because it started there and successfully "rowed over" the
              whole course, or because it bumped the crew who started head
              (top) of the division) gets to row as the 17th boat in the next
              division so if they bump there they move up a division the next
              day.  The aim of the whole thing is to end up top of the 1st
              division "Head of the river", or to go up four places
              (ie a bump each day).

V.  Ergometers:  
       "The ergometer simulates the physical demands of rowing, packaging
     the pains with none of the amenities that make it worthwhile..."
             - from Kiesling's The Shell Game

     More on this form of training (or torture) in a future FAQ.  Someone
    correct me if I'm wrong, but almost all rowers use the Concept II
    rowing ergometer exclusively .  These things run about $750 new.

    There also is a Nordic Track rowing machine that at least one ex-rower
    uses.  I have some comments from Lou Taff for anyone who might be

VI.  Books and Magazines: This is by no means meant to be complete.  
     1) Books:
        *** On Lake Casitas
        by Brad Lewis

        The Shell Game
        by Steve Kiesling

        The Amateurs
        by David Halberstam

        The Complete Steve Fairbairn on Rowing
        by Steve Fairbairn

        Complete Book of Rowing
        by Steve Redgrave

        Rudern: GDR text of Oarsmanship
        by Dr. Herberger

   For a catalog of rowing books contact:
       The Rower's Bookshelf
       Box 440A
       Essex, MA  01929
       Ph: (508) 468-4096

  2) Magazines:
       American Rowing Magazine
       201 S. Capitol Ave., Suite 400
       Indianapolis, IN  46225

       Regatta (Amateur Rowing Association)
       6 Lower Mall
       Hammersmith, London
       W6 9DJ

       Esher, Surrey
       KT10 0BR
       Ph: (0372) 467098

       FISA Coach
       same address as American Rowing or
       3653 Oberhofen am Thunersee
       (41) 33-435053

V. Addresses of Interest:  Who can I contact for more information?
    Just about every major or not so major city  I know of in the U.S. has at
  least one rowing club where a person can learn how to row.  You don't have to
  have rowed in college to get involved in rowing.  As a matter of fact a
  substantial percentage of currently active rowers never rowed in high school
  or college.  

       United States Rowing Association (USRA)
       201 S. Capitol Ave.
       Suite 400
       Indianapolis, IN  46225
       Ph: (317) 237-5656

       Amateur Rowing Association - England and Wales (ARA)
       6 Lower Mall
       W6 9DJ
       Ph. (081) 748 3632

       Also, there is the SARA - Scottish ARA

VI. Rowing Camps:
       Craftsbury Sculling Center (for all experience levels)
       Box 31-R
       Craftsbury Common, VT  05827
       Ph: (802) 586-7767

       Northeast Sculling and Rowing School
       (Bill Miller - coordinator/director)
       P.O. Box 2060
       Duxbury, MA, 02331
       Ph:  (617) 934-6192

       Florida Rowing Center
       1140 Fifth ave.
       New York, NY  10128
       Ph: (212) 996-1196