row2k Features
How to Speak Coxswain
April 14, 2000
Rob Colburn

Language is the coxswain's most powerful tool; without it you're "just steering." Joking aside, the terms below (well, most of them) are real phrases, your stock in trade.

You'll enjoy speaking Coxswain, because -- unlike English or French, which have only about five or six apiece -- Coxswain has lots of dirty words in it which you can practice.

In the first lesson, we'll practice simple phrases such as: "How far is it to the 500 meter mark?" and: "How come coxswains never get to say 'Avast' anymore?!?" as well as address in which social situations it is appropriate to use the phrase "gunwale tap."

Numbers: Numbers in Coxswain are easy. There are only about ten, and most coxswains make do with half of those. The first number is "bow," which means "one" in most languages, and "eight" is pronounced "stroke." Don't let it throw you when you count off a power ten as: "One, Two, Three, rating is at twenty-eight, nine, ten" - your math is always correct. When in doubt, the important number is "two," and you use it a lot with its separable antecedent "in".

Bow: the long pointy part of the shell which rides up onto the dock during landings.

Stern: the long pointy part of the shell which bashes into stakeboats before the start.

Port: means 'the hand you wear your watch on' in most languages.

Starboard: means 'the hand you shift gears with' in American.

Coxswain: 1 n. from the Latin "cossimus" ( to cuss), and "swainare" (to swerve) : 'one who cusses and swerves ' 2. From the Saxon: "cockes" ('for or of the boat') and "swain" (either 'lover' or 'servant'), thus: "Servant of the Boat".

Set up: adj. the state of the boat being level throughout the stroke. Usually used with a subjunctive because it is a condition contrary to fact, as in: "I wouldn't be bashing my knuckles every stroke if the damn boat were set up."

"Port side raise your hands; starboard side lower them": translation: The coxswain is trying to set the boat by adjusting the oar handle levels so that the boat is not continually heeling to port.

"Bow four raise your hands; stern four lower them": translation: "I am a novice coxswain."

"Weigh" and "Way": "Weigh oars" is an archaic English command meaning to lift the oars out of the water, while the command "Give Way" originally meant to start rowing, because "way" means movement (as in "steerageway"). The Americans spell "Way Enough" (as in 'enough motion') as "weigh enough." They also drive on the wrong side of the road and drink their beer weigh too cold.

Let her run: not a synonym for "way enough." It's what you do after waying enough. Either let the boat run, or check it down depending on whether you saw the bridge abutment in time.

Oars Across: what the Americans say when they really mean "Starboard [or port] oars run out" before getting into the boat. "Oars across" is actually the position the oars are in when they (the oars, not the Americans) are run inboard and lying athwart the gunwales.

Athwart: as in: "Athwart you said to take the stroke count up."

Gunwales: Has a great sound to it, doesn't it? They don't allow cannons in most regattas anymore though, and you can forget about seeing any whales either; it just means the top edges of the side of the hull.

Rudder gudgeon: the tube through which the rudder pintle comes up through the keel, and whose other function is to allow the aft buoyancy tank slowly to fill with water.

Blister: a bad word.
Crab: a very bad word.
CoxBox: Hey! You'd kiss your mother with that mouth?

Skeg: the flat thing which sticks down from the hull in front of the rudder to provide turning leverage. Useful for bashing into floating tree limbs and underwater obstructions.

"Snakewake", "Tillerbrain": terms used by rowers, and sometimes other coxswains, to describe coxswains.

Oarlock keeper: the little metal crossbar that goes across the top of the oarlock and springs open halfway through the race.

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