Three miles. Seven bridges. 4 rowers and me in a bucket-rigged bow-loader.

The 2013 Head of the Charles was the fourth year I had the opportunity to steer the course for a boat from DC Strokes Rowing Club based in Washington, D.C. In 2010 it was a MC4+. In 2011 and 2012, men’s 8s – lots of power and speed and hanging on tight to the steering ropes through the bridges. Then it was a bow loader MM4+ in 2013 – awesome line-of-site through each bridge and around each turn. This year, a MM4+ starboard bucket-rig bow loader.

I’ve been involved with rowing since 2001 and have a solid handle on steering, strategy, overtaking boats, etc., but when it comes to knowing courses we only row once a season, notes are my friends. I learned this the hard way.

My first year at HOCR (2010), I was a bit over-confident, and – I’m embarrassed to say – definitely under-prepared when it came to knowing the course. “Three miles, a bunch of bridges, some turns, yeah, yeah, I got it.” Someone told me there was a big yellow buoy at the 2-mile mark, where the coach wanted me to call a rating build and get the crew prepared for a quick and strong mile to the finish line.

We’d passed under some bridges and made some turns, but I hadn’t been on task and keeping track of the course. The boat was moving well and before I knew it, there was a yellow buoy! Sweet! “Rating up 2 beats. Moving into the final mile.” The boat surged and I listened to the sound of the oars plunk in, and the oar locks clink at each finish. Things were going great, we were flying down the course. And then I saw it. Another yellow buoy. *#@!

I didn’t know there were buoys at the 1-mile and 2-mile mark. I stammered some phrases that will not be repeated here, and tried to convince the crew that everything would be okay for one more mile. In the end, the rowers were spent and frustrated. And I learned that a coxswain can’t be cocky.

The night before HOCR 2013, I made sure to watch the official coxswain video, which reviews navigation, safety, sportsmanship, and tactics. Taking notes throughout to supplement what I already knew about course, I worked up a cheat sheet on a sticky pad, small enough to hold in the palm of my hand on race day. It was just enough of a reference to keep me in-line, on task, and offering witty motivation mile after mile.

A big shout out to my crew, who placed 12th – high enough in the rankings to earn an automatic entry to HOCR in 2014!