Race #2: Portland Fall Classic

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Race Report from the Portland Fall Classic, 27 October 2013

Race Summary (abbreviated version): 
We managed to beat the women’s 4+ with a thrilling pass about 20 meters from the finish. Never mind the fact that they were attempting to climb on to their overturned boat, and the fact that outboard of them there was another boat in 2 pieces.
It was supposed to be the Portland Fall Classic. It kind of turned into the Portland Fall Epic.

Race Summary (really really long version):
For me the day started early, parking cars at 6:00 AM. I finished my shift early enough to watch my son’s crew go flying down the 5k course, looking strong and smooth. That was good inspiration despite the fact that it was periodically raining and the temperature was swinging all over the place. I found some carpet scraps, threw them underneath the boat racks in the club, and managed to catch about an hour’s snooze under the boats.

By the time we launched our Masters 4+, it was actually threatening to clear up, but the tailwind that the morning crews enjoyed had switched to a headwind. On our way to the start line we got a hint of what was to come as we worked our way through a fleet of sailboats, and watched them starting to go faster and faster…not good. I was watching puffs come ripping down the channel and thinking “well this ought to be interesting”. Sometimes I hate being right.

With our cox-box not working, we started the race by using the Zen method of rate-setting: “Just row the strokes that feeeeel right…be the boat”. Unfortunately the headwind was not a true headwind, it was fairly constantly from the port side, which put us down to starboard for virtually the whole race. I’ve never had to work so hard on the recovery to get the blade back to the catch. Our stroke seat somehow did an incredible job of setting a consistent pace, but the two starboards (me in 3, and our bow seat) were still hitting our blades on the water,even with our handles gunneled on the recovery.

And that was just the start. Cue the dramatic music from “A Perfect Storm”.

About 2k into the 5k piece we left the shelter of Ross Island and really got hit in the teeth. Our bow man was taking water on his back, and sitting in 3 seat I was seeing water roll over my rigger and into the boat as we went through the waves. By this time the outer layers we had shed were floating to mysterious places in the boat. I think I saw several small salmon swim past my foot stretcher. But that was the easy part of the race.

We crossed under the Hawthorne bridge into the section of the river that is bounded by sea walls. The sea walls had the effect of further channeling the wind, and giving all of the waves some nice hard surfaces to bounce off so that the water could become even more confused. We spent most of the last 2k wondering if we were going to finish above or below the surface of the water. Meanwhile our cox kept grinning and occasionally exclaiming how great this was…and then he’d call for another ten. Ya gotta love a good cox!

About 400 meters before the finish the inevitable finally happened. We were once again down to starboard, I was recovering with my knuckles scraping the gunnel, when out of the corner of my eye (yes, I WAS looking toward the stern dammit!) I saw and felt green water going all the way over the oar shaft. I swear on a stack of Concept 2 manuals that I did NOT catch a crab, rather an entire school of crabs leapt up and latched onto my blade at the same time.

Fortunately we recovered really quickly (amazingly, because I figured we were about to swim), and didn’t even have to come to a stop. We kicked it into gear for the final meters, but suddenly our cox was yelling at us for no pressure on starboard and then called for half slide rowing and to check the speed down. Given that we could practically touch the finish line this was pretty confusing…until we passed just to starboard of our club’s women’s 4. Upside down. Outboard of them was a Willamette Rowing Club boat that appeared to be (and was) in two pieces.

After we finished sightseeing we decided to row the remaining 20 meters to the finish where we contemplated how we were going to turn the boat around, cross the river, and make it back upstream 2k to the dock with the extra 200+ pounds of water we were carrying. Once more our cox gets huge credit here. He got us safely across the river and pointed back home.

Anybody ever go surfing in a coxed 4? It’s loads of fun. We managed to make it back to the dock where we put on our big-boy pants and hefted the boat-full-o-water up and over our heads for our post-race shower (a bit colder than originally planned, but refreshing nonetheless).

Bottom line is that we finished dead last on corrected time, but we finished which was honestly quite a testament to all the boys in the boat. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done (seriously) in terms of how my body felt afterward…no energy left in the tank, and muscles all over my body threatening to cramp. My inside shoulder and arm were jello from having to shove the blade forward on the water during the recoveries (for those of you who have never tried rowing, that’s nuts).

And all I could think at that point was “damn that was great…let’s go do it again!”

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