Getting on the Stakeboats
January 24, 2006
Positioning your shell at the stakeboat or starting dock is one of the more delicate maneuvers coxswains have to execute. It is also an opportunity to put your boat psychologically "up a length" by doing it well. In the midst of all the normal pre-start tension, calmly maneuvering into the stakeboat sends a subverbal message that "we’re already on top of this situation."
If the water where you practice is not the water where the races are actually held, you may have to improvise a way to simulate the start so you and your crew can practice. An anchored coach’s launch makes a good practice stakeboat, with the added benefit that your coach can instruct you on the technique of maneuvering into it.
The starts of sprint racing are usually either a set of anchored boats or rafts, or else a bridge with starting docks protruding from them. This column is intended most of all as a help to the novice coxswain who has been fed all kinds of terrible stories about how hard it is. It's really not, as long as you keep it simple, proceed gently, and turn it into a routine like any other. Here are routines which have been passed down since time immemorial in my program, and which have stood me and my fellow coxswains in good stead. Wind, current, etc. may require adjustments to them, but they’re a good guide to build from.
A major help is to watch how the boats in the races preceding yours maneuver, and to imitate them when it’s your turn.
If the start is from stakeboats, this usually means you can row up from behind them and then back in. If a bridge, then you cross in front, spin, and back in. In both cases, the sin to avoid is turning too far out in front and having to back the boat a long way. This not only delays the start (you can even be assessed a false start for it), but is also tiring for your stern four or stern pair.
Approach gently from behind (unless otherwise instructed) using only your stern 4 (if an 8+) or stern pair (if a 4+). By tacit agreement, coxswains usually row between the stakeboats on the stakeboats’ starboard side (i.e. leaving the one you intend to lock onto to your port). This doesn’t seem to be an explicit rule; it just seems to happen. Obviously, this reverses if one of the stakeboats is too close to the shore to allow passing on its starboard side. The key is not to try to bring two shells through on the same side.
As soon as your bow is even with the stakeboat, way enough, count to two, and have your starboard oars check the boat as you drift past. This will kick your stern towards the stakeboat, and should bring your boat to a stop 1/4 or 1/2 a length in front of the stakeboat, with your stern at an angle towards it. A few light back strokes by your stern pair (adjusting the pressure to steer as needed) should place your stern gently in the hands of the stakeboat holder. Way enough when your stern is about four feet from the stakeboat holder’s hands and let it drift slowly to them. (A fully-loaded collegiate 8+ weighs almost a ton; a 4+ is about two-thirds of a ton -- that’s a lot of weight for one person to try to stop on a dime.) You are now locked on, and can adjust your point. (Look for a future column on pointing techniques.)
Starting bridge or docks
In this situation, you must row across in front, spin, and back in. If there are marshals, they will often arrange you in lane order (or in reverse lane order, as appropriate) before sending you in to the starting docks. This makes it much, much easier for everyone to maneuver. If there are no marshals to do this, the coxswains may take it upon themselves to do this.
Using stern four (if an 8+) or stern pair (if a 4+), cross in front of the docks about three quarters to one length in front of them. (Unless there are boats already locked on, in which case, cross just in front of their bows.) Just before your bow enters your lane, way enough, check hard with your downcourse oars. (E.g. if you are crossing in front of the starting bridge with the starting bridge to starboard, then check with your port oars.) This should bring your boat to a stop at a 45-degree angle, pretty much in your lane, close to the starting platform intended for you. Have your one or two of your port oars back a stroke or two (if necessary) to straighten the boat a little, then back the rest of the way in with your stern pair. Way enough when your stern is still 4-6 feet away from the holder’s hands, and let it drift in gently.
Some regattas allow you to take warm-up starts in your lane prior to the start if there is time. This is usually a good idea because it gives your crew a feel for the start in the actual conditions. (Your coach will probably go over this possibility in your pre-race meeting when you go over the warm-up plan.)
Coxswains of bowloaders may want to sit up and turn around to direct the backing in, or they may leave the final backing entirely to their stern pair, with three seat giving the instructions.
Next column: Getting your point
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