When you're the third boat, you sometimes have to make do. You scrounge for equipment, you borrow, you find trailer flags by the side of the road a mile and a half from the course where the breeze has frayed them off, and you jury rig whatever you can. (Never, ever throw a popsicle stick or a cable tie away.) If you're lucky, you have someone truly resourceful on your boat. Someone like Greg.
Being the third boat, we were hotseating a sweet (but borrowed) midweight four which was also on loan to the lightest of our heavyweights. Our oars too were borrowed, and not the newest. After the semifinals we put the boat in slings and began re-setting the oarlock spacers and footstretchers for the heavies. (The heavyweight cox and I had written down each other's settings for quick re-rigging.)
"You guys wait here. I'm going over to the Croker Oar rep to see if I can get one of their t-shirts," Greg our bowman said, and disappeared. Fifteen minutes later, I straightened up from the hull and noticed Chris staring over my shoulder as his left eye -- then his right -- slowly grew wider as they passed the surprise back and forth across his face. I turned around to see Greg standing there with four brand new, absolutely pristine, Croker oars over his shoulder.
Greg has this way of grinning without actually moving the muscles or changing the expression on his face. A slight lift to the corners of his mouth perhaps. Nothing you could actually catch him at.
He was doing that now.
After a stunned pause, our three seat, leaned over to me and asked sotto voce, "Do you happen to know which countries do not have extradition treaties with the United States?"
"No, Mike, can't say that I do. Is it important?"
"It might be," he muttered darkly.
"When I told him we had qualified for finals," Greg explained, "the rep was all happy for us and said we could demo these for practice, and if we like them, we can use them for finals."
"Swwweeeet!" None of us had doubted for a second that there was some plausible -- and entirely legal -- explanation. Greg always tells the truth, sometimes at high volume directly into people's faces (which, if you're going to tell the truth, is the best way to do it). After all, what sane person would attempt to purloin four 12-foot long objects in broad daylight in front of thousands of witnesses?
So, we practiced with them that evening, and we did like the new oars. A lot. Perhaps it was the psychological effect of having new equipment; it makes one feel special. An omen that the gods are on your side after all (and that whatever you did last Saturday night has apparently been forgiven). Perhaps they truly were springier, or the vortex edges held the water better. Real or imagined, we sensed an added pop to our catches. Equally gratifying was the slightly envious look on our teammates' faces as we docked.
"Well, we didn't get them out of a cereal box," was all Dave would say in reply to their questions, which was true -- as far as it went.
Next day, as we walked the shell down to the dock for finals, Coach and I dropped off to fetch the oars from the rack. "Not those," I said proudly, "These. Over here."
The reaction was classic. Slow look of astonishment across his face, followed by an instinctive glance over the shoulder to see how close the nearest policeman was. "I probably don't want to know, do I?"
"No coach, you really don't."
Naturally, the tale grew in the telling. There was the "won them in a poker game" theory; the "they must have filched them from Berkeley" (3200 miles away?!?) theory; the "midnight flight from Australia" theory, and the rather more prosaic, "found them on the dock with 'no one to love them'" theory.
Not at all. We simply took 'em out for a test drive.
Anyway, that's our story, and we're sticking to it.