row2k Features
Rigging Frenzy
May 11, 2000
Rob Colburn

Regatta season. The shells are derigged and on their trailers; it's four o'clock in the morning, and all is right with the world. As coxswain, (protective of your shell and anything which touches it) you probably already grasp enough of the mechanics to rig and derig a boat in your sleep. Good, 'cause given the early start times of most regattas, that is probably when you'll have to do it anyway.

Rigging's secret purpose is to take the edge off pre-race jitters by giving your coach and rowers something to do (other than playing hackysack) while you attend the coxswains' meeting. Rigging shells makes a perfect diversion; it is a task which can be prolonged almost indefinitely. The more shells your crew brings to a regatta, the higher the number of possible combinations of incorrect riggers for each shell, and the more collective fun for everybody. Everyone on the boat -- plus their Significant Others who may have shown up to watch the races -- can each finger-test every bolt for tightness fifteen separate times without doing the slightest harm. You would much prefer to return from walking the course and find your rowers fiddling with pitchmeters than to discover that your bow four has been playing "knives" in their bare feet. Let's face it, if derigging and rigging were really so complicated, somebody'd have figured out how to put the shells on the trailer sideways, or have invented retractable riggers. At the very least, they'd never let me do it.

When coxing the shell down from the trailer, never roll the shell directly down into the slings lest you damage the hull -- have your rowers hold it at 'high waist' while you place the slings under it. Before moving the shell, assemble as many of the tallest people on your crew as possible. Everyone must shout conflicting advice at the same time; if things are too quiet, the shell is likely to scrape a crossbar.

After you have reclaimed one of the trailer straps to wear as a belt, place the slings in a level location over the deepest, thickest grass you can find. This is to lull the rigger bolts into a false sense of security. If you forget to rig your shell over the thickest grass in the field, the bolts will simply leap that much farther when you drop them. Although rigger bolts in their natural habitat cannot -- technically speaking -- fly, they can glide enormous distances under the right atmospheric conditions.

"Dude, I've got an extra bolt."
"That's probably because you took one of mine."
"No, yours are in your shoe."
"...t's on backwards, and anyway, that's the wrong side of the boat."
"The hole goes in the front of the seat, big guy."
"Sure looks like a starboard rigger to me..."
"It'll be fine...just bend it a little bit."
"Matt, that's MY THUMB!"

Attach (approximately) the same number of riggers to each side of the shell, preferably each with its forestay (that's the black part) towards the bow. Hopefully, you have not become one of those obsessive-compulsive types who insist on putting the port riggers on the port side and the starboard riggers on the starboard, but you may have one or two of them among your crew. It's fine to humor this impulse, assuming there is adequate time before the race to do so. Your job as coxswain -- after you come back from the coxswains' meeting -- is to check that all the washers went on properly between the rigger and the bolt (and not between the hull and the rigger), and to retrieve the Stroke's seat and butt pad from whomever put them in the bow. The Stroke seat has a magnet under it which triggers an induction coil, which in turn feeds the rating information to the CoxBox -- using any other seat keeps the readout at zero, mighty demoralizing to look at during the sprint.

Simple Rigging Rules:
  1. Never fuck with your Stroke's rigger before a race
  2. Only use riggers which belong to you
  3. Do not leave the coach's tools in the grass
  4. Remember to take the little red flag off the stern
  5. Untape the steering knockers before you get to the starting line.
  6. It's much more fun to rig a boat in predawn darkness than at any other time of day.
  7. There's no such thing as a left-handed rigger wrench

I once saw a coach rig a shell at a major regatta while it was upside down on the rack -- a virtuoso, but risky, performance in front of an appreciative audience. We've all seen shells out on the water with their bow numbers inverted because their coxswains clipped them on while the shell was still upside down on the blocks.

Post-race derigging is the same as rigging, only much, much faster. The U.S. Naval Academy has turned it into an art form -- 9 minutes total from the moment the hull touches the slings to being derigged, wrapped, and strapped onto the trailer. They are very good about making sure at least one rib of the shell is resting on a trailer crossbar for support too -- a precaution which greatly extends the productive life of a shell. Nothing beats the stiffness out of a hull more than trailering. As coxswain, it is your job to place the boat with care. Traditionally, it is the coxswain's duty of office to climb the trailer and strap the boat down. This is because: 1) small stature lends itself to climbing among the trailer bars and catwalking along the struts, 2) falling coxswains do much less damage to boats underneath than falling rowers do, and 3) the coxswain is still wearing one of the straps.

As long as you return from the regatta with the same number of riggers and rigger wrenches as you left with, the outing has been a success.

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