Thursday, January 13, 2011

Row Row Row With Style

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

The other night we had June and Chris from Albion over for dinner. Chris complimented Libby effusively for the skill and grace she showed when rowing the dinghy. He also asked how she learned to do it. There's not much of an answer; just practice.

It surprises and amuses us when a guest on Tarwathie tries to row for the first time. Most people are amazingly inept at the start. So much so that it's comical to watch them struggle. Evidently, skill at rowing a boat is not something which comes naturally. It is not like riding a bike. It must be learned by experience. It requires coordination of back muscles, legs, arms, shoulders, and wrists, plus navigation while looking backwards.

Practice is something Libby and I both get. I estimate that we have traveled about 600 miles by dinghy in 6 years. 1/3 of that by motor and 2/3 by rowing. Therefore, each of us has around 200 miles of rowing experience. That's plenty. I think that most people could learn to be expert at it with only 10 miles of rowing experience.

No I'm not going to write an instruction here telling how to row. Few would read it, and if they did they wouldn't remember. It's something you have to learn by practice, not by reading books. I will mention only two tips.

1) The longer the oars, the easier it is. Inflatable boats tend to carry 3-4 foot long emergency oars. Those are terrible. It's impossible to row well with them. We have 7.5 foot oars, and the next time we buy new ones, I'm going to buy 8 foot oars.

2) Don't jerk. Pull steadily.


Libby is especially fond of rowing when the wind is totally still and the water surface is like a mirror. Both of us dread rowing into a stiff wind.

If you row directly in to a stiff wind, the wind pushes the boat back as you row forward. My personal limit is 30 knots. At 30 knots head wind, I can manage 2/3 miles per hour when rowing with all my strength. Stronger than 30 and my progress becomes zero or negative.

If you try to row with a strong wind blowing from the side, God help you. I find it almost impossible to keep the bow pointed in the right direction.

Rowing a bow with a strong wind behind you? I've learned to do that by turning the boat around and rowing backwards. Actually, I let the wind blow me toward the goat while using the oars just to steer.

Someday, I hope to find someone with one of those one-man racing shells and borrow it. It would be fun to see how it feels to row one of those.

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