Bail, Bail, Bail Your Boat: A CPR Memoir
by Ted Katauskas
posted on February 15, 1999
When Tiff Wood sagely told Outside magazine that his inaugural CPR, the Corvallis-to-Portland Row (a 115-mile endurance regatta on Oregon’s Willamette River that was rowed May 22-23) would result in “a lot of sore butts and butt sores,” he had no way of knowing that the sorest two cheeks would be his own. By the end of the first day, an 86-mile push to a riverside campground, Wood, legendary for his ability to ignore the most ferocious rowing-related pain, had all-but surrendered to this unfamiliar brand, sculling with his knees outside of his arms in an unsuccessful attempt to alleviate the pressure on his backside, groaning with every stroke. On the campground dock, Wood, visibly relieved to have been released from the purgatory of his seat, stared blankly when asked about how he felt. “At some point you row just to survive,” he said.
Perhaps this will become the official motto of the CPR, an event like no other in rowing, where the challenge has nothing to do with winning. Rather, the goal of the CPR, as it has evolved, seems to be twofold: to finish the whole course, and to finish the course whole--in spirit, body, and boat. It’s an elusive goal. Only eight out of 34 CPR rowers this year achieved it, and barely.
Two eights--more than half of all participants--were sidelined almost 50 miles into the course when they simultaneously struck a submerged log. One eight, a Pocock, received a two-foot gash in its bow and lost its skeg; the other, a Dirigo, received a puncture in its stern and lost its rudder. The next morning, after making repairs at the campground, both crews rejoined the others--three doubles and two quads--for the final 29 miles, the home stretch, which, Wood also had no way of knowing beforehand, would prove to be more difficult and perilous than the first 86 miles.
“The second day has a bunch of locks,” Wood told the Independent Rowing News a few weeks before the event. “It does finish with a nice 12-mile straightaway, so I think we’ll be able to open it up and push pretty hard at the end.”
After rowing through miles of wind-whipped water, navigating an unforeseen and nearly calamitous rapid, then floating through the locks around Willamette Falls (where the river drops a spectacular 41 feet), the group discovered that the combined effects of a stiff head-wind and the first 90-degree Sunday of the year had transformed the “nice 12-mile-straightaway” into a frothing approximation of the English Channel on D-Day. An armada of weekend warriors--in hundreds and hundreds of motorboats barreling at full throttle--waked the CPR shells without mercy, forcing every crew to the shore at least once to upend water-logged hulls. The biggest boats, despite heroic bailing, simply sank. Conditions were so bad that after rowing 111 miles, two of the most successful CPR entries, a men’s double and a women’s quad from the Portland Boat Club, called it quits with just four miles to go. Those with less sense (author included) chose to continue. Veteran open-water rowers Craig Leeds and Steve Hathaway (from the California Yacht Club in Marina del Rey), in a Van Dusen racing shell with a sealed cockpit and a self-bailing system, finished first, rowing the entire course in a bit more than 14 hours. Then, after one last sinking, came the two eights (from the Corvallis Rowing Club and the Willamette Rowing Club), followed by WRC’s Wood and Bill Byrd. Last was WRC’s men’s quad, which made it to the dock a few minutes later in their crippled Owen, which sustained severe damage to both cap rails.
Despite all of this, or maybe because of it, nearly everybody involved in the first CPR vows to row it again in 2000, an event that will also be open to the uninitiated. As for Wood, he wants to do it in a single, but only if he can find a more comfortable seat.