Sunday, October 12, 2008

Occoquan Challenge, October 5, 2008

For our crew race today, God cast a day of perfection, and strew from on high ten thousand dancing flecks of sunlight on the blue, blue headwaters of the Occoquan. As we set our boat and oars to water, a gentle October wind laced with warmth and coolness ushered us upstream to the starting point of the contest.  

The Occoquan Challenge starts 5,000 meters upstream from the docks.  Two or three buoys are set in the river downstream around which boats must sharply turn to cross the river and come up the other side.  With starboards pulling like hell, and port oars taking air strokes, we actually made the turn quite well--perhaps better than some of the high school and college teams.  

As in the Head of the Potomac, I rowed 2-seat.  The fastest boats rowed at 14-16 minutes for the whole course.  Rowing between a 26 and 28 rating, we finished at a raw time of approximately 22 minutes, with an adjusted time of 18:38.  I think we rowed very well, but our relative inexperience showed as we trundled downstream:  our catches and releases were often not entirely together, so our power was limited.  Though much improved, our handle heights and set were a bit funky--often down to port all the way downstream.  As a result of our catches not coming precisely together, we lost precious power at the drive.  However, we had several good sequences where everyone was connecting at the same time, and we could feel the thrill of the boat running long in the water under us.  

At one point, 3-seat caught a crab, but managed to recover fairly quickly without the boat having to stop.  I had a few close calls, but thankfully never completely lost it.  Last, but not least, as may be expected from a relatively inexperienced crew, things started falling apart and getting sloppy towards the end of the race as rowers began to tire, lose focus, or tense their muscles.  When rowers tense their shoulders or their grip, bad things start to happen.  Yet, all in all, I thought it a great success, and really fun event with so many teams: high schools teams, college teams, club teams, Army, Navy, etc...

Probably the most impressive, elegant thing I saw all day was the boat launching just ahead of us.  I am not sure if they were high school or college, but they had a Princeton-like orange stripe on their uniforms.  In a Cirque-du-Soleil-like movement, both athletic and aesthetic, they cast away from the dock standing with their left legs in the boat, and their right legs perfectly aligned hanging over the water to port.  As they cast away, they held this delicate pose for several seconds like eight humming birds in a perfect line before sitting down to row into the brilliant canvas of the day.