Tom Bohrer wrote out the details of the men's team practice on a white board inside the extra warm first floor of Boston University's DeWolfe Boathouse as his sleepy athletes made their way in from a cold, dark, early spring morning.
Recent weather had featured temperatures more common to mid-January New England than mid-March, and the thermostat inside the boathouse was cranked to heat up the still waking athletes' bodies.
"It's pretty cold out there," said Max Achs as he stretched with a roller. "We're still getting used to it. You kind of just put it out of your mind and think that once the river is thawed, we'll be going out."
Achs is not a novice to this kind of weather. He grew up and rowed in Wisconsin where some mornings can be even more harsh - not that it makes anything easier on the Charles River. "It's tough, but we want to be on the water more than being on land."
On the water was where Achs and his teammates were headed this particular morning. A blizzard had passed through a few days before and the docks and banks of the Charles were still partially covered in snow. The air temperature was somewhere just below freezing, but the wind was still and the sun was beginning to peak over the Boston Skyline.
However, the rest of the week's forecast did not look as pleasant, so Bohrer and assistant men's coach John Lindberg were getting ready to take advantage of the balmy morning.
The days of long indoor training and talking about spring racing were coming to an end. A date with Brown University for the season opener was fast approaching, and for emphasis, Bohrer wrote "Brown 12 Days," next to the training plan and circled it.
Deadline approaching for BU
In cold weather rowing locations all over the US, it's 'deal with it' time. If there is no wind, and the air is not in frostbite mode, the practices will be done on the water – so long as the ice is gone and the docks are in.
Rowing in these conditions presents unique challenges. Bodies must be kept warm, hands have to be covered, breaks between pieces have to be shortened to keep kids moving, and the mind must be in the right place. But rowers and their coaches have been doing this for decades, and most know the drill.
"The guys are well versed in appropriate gear," said Lindberg. "I think what we pay attention to most is their mind set. As they are in house getting ready, if they are looking out the windows with trepidation, we have to make sure their heads are in the right place.
"Once they are moving and mobilized, they're fine. There are a few guys you have to watch who don't care, or who don't think through it enough to properly prepare. But we know who those are right now and we keep an eye out accordingly."
Warm hands are key
The scene in Boston was one that is being repeated frequently these early spring days as racing ramps up. The collegiate season began last weekend (see row2k photo galleries from all the action.)
BU starts the season against Brown on the Charles Saturday, and across the country where winter really does not interfere with on-water training, the San Diego Crew Classic will take place Saturday and Sunday.
So there is no time to worry about the weather - or not much anyway.
In Hanover, NH, the Dartmouth rowing teams were back on the Connecticut River on Wednesday after the docks were put back in. The river was clear of ice, and as far as New Hampshire early springs go, this year is not bad.
That is not always the case in New Hampshire, where winter can be stubborn.
"Two years ago, when everyone had that really horrible winter and they were canceling races in Boston, we were indoors for two weeks after we came back from spring break," said head women's coach, Linda Muri.
"Then you're working on morale boosting. It's hard if the weather doesn't cooperate. That year we did two races before we were on the water here after spring break."
Getting ready for Spring rowing in Ithaca, NY, for Cornell University can mean some serious work. When it's time to row, and there is ice on the Cayuga Inlet and Cayuga Lake, the coaches jump into their "ice breakers" (two old leaky aluminum launches) and get out the ice saw the university crew coaches have been using for forever.
Like elsewhere in New England, a February thaw was followed by severe cold and a blizzard. Lake Cayuga and the inlet had been clear of ice until then. Twenty inches of snow, followed by a deep freeze and three to six inches of new ice.
"The water was free and clear in late February and we had six outings. And then winter number two came. That took three to five days to break up," said lightweight men's coach, Chris Kerber.
"We just go out and churn it up and break off pieces. We have one of the original ice saws from God knows when, I think the turn of the last century. It's about seven-feet tall."
Cornell Ice Breaker Team
The Cornell crews have managed to make it out a few times since they cleared the ice and they are expecting to be up to full speed soon. But, the absence of ice does not mean warm rowing and there will be harsh mornings. Sound common sense will be needed to decide to go out or stay in.
"Obviously, we're gearing up for racing and we're trying to keep the quality of the rowing pretty high while not getting ahead of ourselves," said Bohrer.
"It's easy to feel like we have to race and get high ratings right away, but for us the focus is making sure we're keeping the structure of the stroke together and then gradually trying to build the rating and the speed of the boat up. "You want it to be kind of a gradual process, but also feel like you've got your feet to the fire to get up to speed as quickly as you can. Cold is one thing, as long as it's not too miserable you just have to deal with it," he said.
"If it's really, really cold, we don't go out."