RI Blog #12: Don’t Blame The Equipment!

Don’t Blame The Equipment!

June 25, 2008

I always blame the equipment.

Well, I do have a general guideline – if I’m doing well, it’s me. If I’m not doing well, it’s the equipment.

Sometimes in rowing, everything just gels. You’re gellin like Magellan. You go out, row hard, and move the boat. You’re passing people and feel like Superman (or Wonder Woman). I had a few years like that, and they were a dream. But then age and its corresponding aches & pains – along with life and its corresponding aches & pains –  caught up with me. All of a sudden, the equipment seemed a likely scapegoat. I was rowing in a wooden boat – surely it must be the problem. So what if it was the same boat I rowed in when I medaled four times in the Head of the Charles and came in fourth in at Speed Orders? It felt slow, old…wooden. What I was missing was that I was the one who was slow, and old(er), and…wooden?

Not wanting to ditch the boat – it is, after all, a King, the sweetest of all wooden boats – I decided that the riggers must be the problem. People I’d spoken to said that King riggers were really the only problem with the boat. They were too flimsy, and no one had been able to make a proper wing rigger for a King. But a woman from New Hampshire had put Carl Douglas famous AeRoWingTM riggers on her King, and they looked sweet. They were super-high-tech, lighter, stiffer, aerodynamic, and generally really cool looking. I had to have them. I called Carl and gave him all the specs and even put him in touch with Graeme King so they could work out the specs together. I coughed up $800 and they were mailed to my house. I thought that surely, this would solve my problems. But they never felt quite right. I rowed with them for a few years and I could never get them to feel like the old riggers. The pitch was endlessly wrong, and I was damned if I could find anyone who could rig it properly (I hate rigging issues!). Then a friend borrowed my oars and said the pitch on my blades was way off – Eureka, I had found the problem! So I spent weeks trying to get the pitch on the oars right, to no avail. Finally, in frustration, I drove up to Durham, NH to have no less than Jim Dreher (I have Dreher oars) fix the pitch on my oars. He did, and I was sure I would have a dream of a race in Putney at the Green Mountain Head. I ended up having a nightmare of a race because I had become so used to rowing with it messed up.

Finally I conceded. The riggers I had used before, the original King riggers, which had always felt great, needed another try. I took off my $800 experiment (sigh…I hate when expensive experiments don’t go as planned) and put the old riggers back on. They felt like a dream. Just like the old days. I had some of the best rows in years last fall, and even put in a decent showing in the Charles, coming in 10th after starting 55th.

I’ve always wanted an Empacher or a Van Dusen. This spring I’ve been trying out a friend’s Van Dusen, and I have enjoyed it. But it still doesn’t have the same feeling as the King. So I think I’m going to suck it up, continue lifting weights, get stronger, do more pieces, and work on improving the horse, not the chariot. Besides, when you’re the skinny old guy in the wooden boat and you manage to win, there’s just nothing like it in the world.

P.S. Endless nicknames such as “Flipper” notwithstanding, I will continue to do standing shoves in wake, wind, and all other challenging conditions.

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