Tuesday, 15 May 2012
The IV is a personal favourite. IVs rowing is for those who want to row often and are prepared to put some effort into making it at least tolerable if not always pleasant and at times exquisite. The IV is a more demanding boat since it is more than half as long as an VIII with only half as many blades. The up-side is that you can tell quite quickly what works and what doesn't (and so can your crewmates and the cox). There is vast room for improvement and vast incentive to improve when rowing in a IV. The crew and cox in a IV quickly become a unit. At the best of times, it is a harmonious unit with everyone having complimentary, although not identical, goals. This mix makes every outing a pleasure to anticipate and to recall. Occasionally, a different unit develops with the time and exposure of regular IVs outings. A tension may arise that, while it can be handled and even used as motivation for a time, will most likely lead one or more crewmates to find other ways to feed the rowing appetite. At the worst of times, only the knowledge that there are no boats in prison keeps the crew from mutual homicide. I've never rowed in a pair (although I have spent quite a bit of time in a double scull) but I believe I would relish the challenge of matching just one other sweep rower in strength and timing. I am not a good stroke, however, being much better at following than setting ratio and I have a pitifully short stroke due to being quite remiss with my flexibility work. I also am no good at steering. I am quite short-sighted and I don't wear contacts. Keeping track of what lies ahead by turning to look at the blur over my shoulder has led to a snake-like wake, more than an occasional friendly visit to the bank, and the odd minor confrontation with another river user. When in a single, such incidents are difficult and can be embarrassing, but with a crewmate, they are much worse. The plain truth is, however, that it doesn't matter to me what the boat is or where it is, or when, or what the weather is like; "there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so worth doing as simply messing about in boats...!"
Waiting . . . I do know how to scull a single; I can't say I love it. Other boats - now those I love! I love the stand up and move of a well-seated VIII; nine bodies driving one heart, making the shell come alive and skate along the surface of the water. There is an urgency to the VIII that I believe comes with striving for individual excellence. An odd concept, individual excellence, when we are talking about rowing, that ultimate of team sport. Apart from in a single, there is no possibility for one member of a crew to be able to make the "hail, Mary" move. No home runs or touch downs or goals. The whole crew crosses the finish line together or none of them do. However, there is no interaction between crewmates in rowing as there is in football or rugby: no passing, pitching, catching, handing. Apart from stroke, each crewmember sits looking at the back of the rower in front, they never touch and nothing passes between them. The concentration of each rower is focused on her own movements, making certain every motion is mirrored in exact time. The length of the boat makes the VIII the most forgiving of individuality but only to a degree. This group/individual dichotomy is inherent in rowing anything but a single and, to me, this dichotomy surfaces off the water as well. Rowers are people after all, despite the claims of some non-rowing friends, and they exhibit the differences in personality that all people do. Watch any crew of rowers out for a training session. There are those who show up in a group; they are always in a group. They chat about their thrills and ills with the easy familiarity of frequent contact. The rest of the world swirls on the fringes of their whirlpool rowing lives and rowing swirls out into eating, socialising, and sometimes into loving and family life eventually. But watch! There are also those rowers who show up to every outing or session on their own, put their all into the work, and then disappear after the post-chat, not to be seen again until the next time. This rower may row for the individual excellence that the sport demands while still revelling in the team discipline that means every yes is a firm commitment to be where you say you will be, on time, or others can't row. Perhaps this rower is one who lacks the confidence to mingle with others in the group arriving and leaving together. But while in the boat, everyone belongs and the confidence is in being part of the group. It takes all sorts to row an VIII - and all sorts row.