row2k Features
“To Be on Time is to Be Late”: The Time Machine in the Boathouse
December 13, 2005
Rob Colburn

You know how your coach is always telling you, 'to be on time is to be late'? Well, we solved that problem...but it's led to some interesting collateral effects... viz. the following document, which we found clinging to the fin underneath the hull of an ancient coxed six-person boat on its final row.

Our practices always start on time. Ever since two of our more creative starboards fixed up an old time machine they found in the basement of the physics lab while pulling an all-nighter. It worked the first time, of course. (Time machines always work the first time because, once you get one working, you simply go back and fix any earlier prototypes which failed.)

Sprinting back to dining services after practice to get breakfast before it closes is a thing of the past. Now we have plenty of time between the end of practice and breakfast to grab a leisurely shower, write a novel or two, and still make the head of the chow line.

Our trophy case bulges with cups from regattas we will someday race in. Our boathouse racks gleam beneath new shells -- donated by alumni/ae not yet born. Getting up early for regattas? Okay for other crews, maybe. My boat sleeps until noon, yet we never miss a 7am coaches and coxswains meeting.

Well, yes, there were occasional slip-ups until we got the hang of it. Our trailer and bus - ostensibly bound for the Head of the Ohio -- materialized abruptly in 480 BC on the Greek coastline. Everyone was extremely polite about it; the Salamis Rowing Club even waived the late-entry fee. Despite rough conditions -- and the fact that most of the opposing crews had three banks of oars and bronze rams on the prow -- our 1V and 3V eked out respectable performances after most of the other crews sank each other in the semifinals.

There was also an embarrassing two-minute penalty (a misunderstanding really) in 1773 at the Head of the Charles when Josh - totally accidentally -- dropped a box of decaffeinated tea off the Boston University bridge. The colonial news media totally blew the incident out of proportion. In the confusion, our 2V coxswain nearly lost a decade of eligibility when -- in quest of negative splits -- he twisted the knob a little too far.

Things really began to look up when Lem and Tark modified a version of the TimeAlt so it could fit under each seat. Properly calibrated, catch timing problems completely disappeared. So what if those two-minute pieces seem to last forever? There are tradeoffs to everything. Hour of Power? Oh, just imagine.

Recruiting's a snap. Future Olympians? No longer left to chance; we take our pick of the future AND the past. We don't confine our recruiting only to the greats of rowing, either. That Babe Ruth kid sure can pull an oar!

Technology like this doesn't just happen; sometimes you have to nudge it along. Like going back to the founding date of the university to rewrite the charter to specify that all - and I mean ALL -- research funding for the science and engineering departments be devoted exclusively to rowing-related research.

It's all sparked rather a technology surge. Launches - now truly wakeless, thanks to the anti-gravity modules. Plus, the motors sense the coaches' proximity and warm themselves up in advance. We're still waiting for those oars that carry themselves down to the dock, though. Mechanical Engineering Department promised them ages ago. "Hell d'they think they're playing at?"

Regretfully, we had to decline the Biology and Medical Engineering Department's offer to supply -- at cost and in bulk -- six-armed rowers. "It's not only the expense of the custom unisuits," I explained to my disappointed 1V cox, "Pitching the riggers gets incredibly tricky."

The cox shrugged one of its eyestalks in that aggrieved way coxswains make a science of, then pursed one of its eight mouths, as if to say something. Thinking better of it, it asked with another mouth, "'s'it okay if we take two of the fours out on our own for extra practice this weekend?"

"Sure, I guess." Then, with a note of misgiving based on centuries of experience, "What for?"

"Er, um, Fundraising. Yeah. We were thinking of raiding the Northumbrian coast between 793 and 804 AD - I mean, this weekend."

"Just make sure no one gets hurt."

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