Friday, April 24, 2015

Open Ocean Regatta 2015, April 19th

On Sunday, April 19th, Open Water Rowing Center in Sausalito hosted the 39th Open Ocean Regatta. It was well-attended with racers from many clubs competing on two courses; one inside of Richardson Bay and the other going outside the Golden Gate Bridge to Point Diablo and back. The weather was pretty chilly and windy but the competition was hot and exciting. The water conditions on the long course were very challenging -- the roughest I have ever seen it. Several capsizes occurred on the long course. Several racers failed to make it past the Golden Gate Bridge. For those of us that DID navigate the whole long (a.k.a. Diablo) course, staying 'inside' seemed liked a wise choice. The two miles of rowing outside 'the Gate' were not for novices (although there WAS a novice who completed it). Standing waves, turbulence, eddies, reflections and nearby rocks made that part something of an obstacle course. Even though we have big waves rowing from Santa Cruz and most of us are used to rough water, the conditions under the bridge can be dramatically more fun and scary. I have plenty of stories to tell in case you're interested. One can also find excellent confidence-building skills by participating in the clinic held by OWRC, in preparation of the event, for several weeks beforehand. For me, it was fun, tiring, exciting and terrifying. Both events were very competitive with close finishes and close races. I took my Maas Aero there and that was a perfect choice for the rough conditions (on the Diablo course) that day. The Aero's stability, along with a lot of very hard pulling (I estimate 2400 strokes or more!) and wise heading choices, helped me come in first in my classification. In addition, I finished ahead of all the other 1X on the long course, five seconds ahead of the fastest in the 24 classification. We were neck and neck coming down the last leg. Having raced the inside (a.k.a. Strawberry) course in previous years I can tell you that it is a fantastic race, too. Less challenging water conditions, but very fun racing with competitors close by one another over a pretty long distance. Richardson Bay, San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge and Open Water Rowing Center make for a wonderful, picturesque and fun race venue. For our backdrop we had Angel Island, the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco skyline and the Sausalito hills. The OWRC management, employees and hard-working volunteers put together an exciting competition and excellent social gathering and feast afterwards. I recommend the experience to all of those who row in and around Santa Cruz who think they might like to race. It is easy to learn lots more by asking me and/or connecting with OWRC in Sausalito.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Corkscrew 2015: a record!

Sunday, February 15th, saw the Corkscrew Regatta held in Redwood City. BIAC puts on the race. I have heard it said that it's 10 miles but I think it's a bit more than 8. Something like 8.3 maybe. I had my GPS but can't reset the distance at the start because it's a flying start. And I almost always forget to look at the end. I am too wiped. It's head style with faster boats (i.e., eights and quads) starting first. Patrice and I rowed my Maas 2X "Tetra". We have done the race several times in a Maas 2X. There weren't any 8+ this year. Two quads and a 4+ started before us. Sadly for one quad, they buried their bow in the weeds before the first turn. We shot past them as they backed out. The first couple miles there were some fast singles pacing us but back a couple hundred meters. Conditions were excellent. Chilly before dawn but warmed quickly. Clear skies, low wind and good water. This is the first time I have rowed the Corkscrew since they installed the Flow Restrictors. They were not much of a challenge but they were a source of turbulence and had to be carefully navigated. It's exciting to pass a leading boat. It's also exciting to open distance on a boat following and trying to pass. But it's kind of challenging to focus on speed and competitiveness when there are no nearby boats to compete against. But we did this year. Officially our time was 54:00. Our Personal Best for me and Patrice (Previously 58:05 in 2010 and 57:46 in 2007). That's also incredibly fast for an open water 2X on a flat water course. I think we had tidal current helping us in the first half and flowing against us for about 1/3 of the race. If the course is 8.3 miles long then our time means we averaged 9.2 mph for nearly an hour. I didn't discuss this with Patrice but about a third of the way into the race I was already feeling spent. My legs and shoulders felt like concrete. I didn't think I could keep up the pace. I almost told Patrice I needed a rest. As it turned out we did keep a pretty even pace. We lengthened the stroke and dropped the stroke rate in the straight stretches and kicked it up and shortened a bit in the twisty segments. There is now a pair of trophies for the Corkscrew. Sponsored by Maas Boat Company there's a fastest Men's Aero and fastest Women's Aero award and name added to plaque each year.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Monterey Bay Crossing 2014 Challenge

Patrice and I finished yesterday's race in 4 hours, 13 minutes -- worth a second-place finish. My Maas 2X "Tetra" performed flawlessly. Both of us really like that boat. Both of us really like that race. I am glad I did it in my double. If Patrice was unavailable I would have done it in my Bay 21. Given the conditions, the double made it much less difficult. But it was tremendously difficult nonetheless. We knew it was going to be rough and it WAS. Wind, swell and wave forecasts were spot on. We had 10-15 knot winds from the WNW and about 8-11 foot swells with short period. Whitecaps were everywhere, but well below 1% of the waves were whitecapped. The direction of the weather made the biggest challenge. The swell, wind and waves were mostly beam-on; perhaps a bit following -- definitely not a headwind. In a relatively narrow boat like the Maas 2X the conditions meant we were constantly fighting a snappy roll, big yawing motions and sudden violent cross-direction translations as powerful, relentless swells sent us sideways. Our start was staggered. I think all competitors departed Santa Cruz between 6 AM and 7 AM as planned. As we left Santa Cruz harbor, my GPS showed our average speed as 7.4 mph. But it started tapering off soon. Throughout the middle third or so of the race it was indicating 6.4 mph. By the finish line I think it said 6.2 mph. By the time we hit the beach and staggered out of the water it was 6.1 mph. By another method, our 4:13 time and my 26.6 miles indicated on GPS means 6.31 mph. IMHO that's not bad, considering the chaotic state of the water. Our stroke rate was between 25 1/2 and 30 1/2, depending on conditions. When I could feel stable for a few strokes, I'd lengthen out and drop the stroke rate. Keeping the power about the same means that the rate will go up when shortening the stroke length in unstable segments. Patrice is really good at matching me and I was constantly changing stroke rate up a little, down a little up a lot down a lot. He always stayed in synch. Sometimes (okay many times) we'd roll violently and I couldn't get one of my oars out of the water for the stroke recovery. I would miss a beat. In a single nobody cares. In a double there's lots of bad things that can happen if the bow isn't following the stroke's motions. Within a half mile of the Santa Cruz harbor, while it was still dark, I could feel the waves coming from our starboard beam. I thought there was a good chance that they would become close to quartering aft by the time we got farther offshore and in to the prevailing seas. I was wrong. They stay beam on the whole way. The swells grew as we left the slight protection of the Santa Cruz headlands west of town. Then the swells, the wind and the wind waves continued to grow. I estimate they did not decrease until less than a mile or so from the finish. There was one quad in the event. It did not finish. It's an open "heavy" quad. Although it has suction bailers and a hand pump the team could not keep their water evacuation efforts up with the rate that water was coming in over the side. Their skipper decided to put in at Moss Landing. That's still a pretty long row for the quad -- probably about 18 miles! The last bit was directly down-swell so the four rowers and coxswain did a bit of surfing. I think they all agreed they enjoyed that! No such surfing fun for us! Patrice and I had some other kinds of fun. We saw some whales. The sun peaked through the mid-level overcast a few times and reminded me that the view from the middle of Monterey Bay is precious. I gradually learned a few tricks to row in those conditions. I learned how crazy it can get to row inside of a whitecap. Several--er no, wait, Many times. In a beam sea, the whitecaps are coming from the side. Yesterday's whitecaps were moving fast. I am guessing (and it was really hard to tease out the speed of the local wind waves from the swells anyway) they were moving at 15 mph or faster. Rowing in a whitecap usually starts with a warning sound a few milliseconds before you're inside. It's sort of sucking sound like a giant getting to the bottom of his frappacinno with his straw. That's the sound of the top of the wave falling over the front of the rest of the wave. The warning's too late to allow the sculler to do much (other than panic, maybe). And, anyway, one can't really maneuver quickly enough to change what is about to happen. There's a rolling motion of the boat, first quickly to port then a longer duration to starboard. At the same time there's a huge lateral translation to port and vertical lift and then sudden drop back down. White foam erupts all around you and , in many cases, came up to our armpits. It's a weird feeling because it's not as dense as water but it visually appears like your going under water. In the worst ones the entire boat disappears from sight. The result is a completely swamped cockpit -- water up to the gunnels. The sudden extra mass drops the boat speed and drops the boat much lower in the water. Inconveniently, that allows much smaller waves to continue to refill the cockpit despite the bailers and sloshing that would normally empty this type of boat quickly. Now we have to row with the seats underwater until it clears out. In these conditions it takes a few minutes each time to get the water level inside the cockpit down to ankle depth. The water in Monterey Bay is unusually warm right now, 60 degrees F and above, it seems. So the swampings could have come with much more discomfort! I had a tough time getting my oars to do anything useful inside of a whitecap. The blades could be both above the water doing 'air strokes' even while the hull was under the foam. Or, in the transitions, one side's oar could be very deeply buried and failing to generate much thrust while the other side washes out. We had this "rowing inside a whitecap" experience at least a dozen times. To a partial extent: several dozen additional times. The Monterey Bay Crossing is extreme even on a nice day. In nasty conditions it's extreme _and_ extremely challenging. I estimate we took about 7000 strokes or so. Patrice and I stopped to drink four times. Less than a minute each time. I am gratified to see how well all the competitors handled it. The event was clear proof of the skill of each and every one of us. If there were inexperienced open water rowers out there in those conditions it probably would have led to multiple capsizes and a failure to finish. Quote from one of the competitors, "it was like rowing under the Golden Gate Bridge for 5 hours". That made me chuckle, since I know how rough it can get under GGB. We didn't have enough escort boats to cover every boat. Personally, I think that escort boats are important for first-timers and singles but doubles have some advantages and experienced rough water scullers in doubles are probably okay without an escort. We didn't have an escort. Well, we started out without an escort. Then, about half way across, one approached us from behind and escorted us nearly to the finish. From the Channel 68 chatter (I had my VHF taped to the rigger and turned on) it seemed that he lost us. It may sound hard to believe that a power boat could fail to keep track of a rowing scull. But the waves were high and steep -- "line of sight" disappears when the separation gets more than a couple wavelengths. It felt good to have him there, though. He even pulled close for a bit of conversation a few times. That didn't work so well since it was hard to hear and be heard, even if we were shouting. Worse yet, it was so rough that I really had to concentrate on every single stroke and I couldn't really put a complete sentence together. (Or, for that matter, process a complete sentence that I might have heard!) It had to be rough on the escort boat skippers and crews, too. They got battered around. If anyone was susceptible to seasickness that was NOT a day to be out there. Our course suffered a bit. We were blown to the east as one might expect. It was challenging because these handheld (Patrice and I each had one mounted to our riggers, easily read at a glance) GPS instruments are acting fast enough to notice the directional changes from large waves. So the GPS pointer for indicating the direction of the goal is swinging around constantly. If you glance at it at any specific moment it could be completely accurate but not telling you what you want to know. Staring at it to get a visual average is frustrating, too. A magnetic compass can help, if it's well-damped. We probably rowed a half mile farther than we needed to row. But the conditions were the main reason, not our lack of navigation skill.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Petaluma River Rowing Marathon

On Sunday, August 31st, the North Bay Rowing Club in Petaluma held it's annual Petaluma River Marathon. The event was well-attended. The weather was excellent. The course is beautiful. For the marathoners, including me, the course is also : long! Afterwards, my GPS indicated 25.5 miles and average speed of 6.8 miles per hour. I think i can cruise for extended periods in my Bay 21 at about 6.3 miles per hour. There was an outgoing tide which seemed to be about 1 mph since my average speed at the turn was 7.3 miles per hour. I knew it would drop thereafter as we fought our way back upstream against the ebbing tide. Thankfully the tidal flow was decreasing and slowing so the return trip had less of a 'headwind' than the outgoing first leg had 'boost'. So that's 3 hours, 44 minutes of rowing. That's a lot! I used my Dreher "Aero" oars. They're fantastic on flat water -- giving less aerodynamic resistance on the recovery and better hydrodynamic efficiency during the stroke (almost cheating, i like to say) but i find them pretty challenging to use on rough water. The main challenge i have is placing them at the right depth. Conventional sculls help you find the right depth because the shaft gives the sculler feedback when it hits the water. The Aero sculls has so little resistance that the depth of the blade when they hit the water is hard to detect. I tend to go too deep. After a few hundred strokes, though, i was finally feeling the 'pull-through' height and, therefore, blade depth that worked best (most efficiently). At about 26 strokes per minute i calculate i took about 5850 strokes. Well done! to all the participants and competitors. Can't wait until next year!

Great Cross Sound Race

The Great Cross Sound Race was held on August 23rd, 2014. Alki Beach in West Seattle is home to the start and finish of this 7 mile race. I drove my Bay 21 up, cartopping (actually truck-topping) it up to Seattle from Santa Cruz. The first question most people ask is "how long does it take to drive to Seattle". Actually, unasked or maybe under their breath, most people are asking "are you crazy?". The answer is yes. Er, i mean, 13.5 hours. But i did that 13.5 hour drive once several years ago and don't intend to ever do it again. It is simply too mind-numbing. I planned two days to drive up there and two days to drive back. That's a more stress-free plan and allows one to take in a lot more beauty. I drove up I-5 on the way to Seattle and drove back via I-5 and also the Oregon coast. That weekend's weather was fantastic. Race day had beautiful weather and excellent water conditions. In the 21 foot class there were no Maas Aeros or Vancouvers -- only Bay 21s. There were four of us. I came in second at 59 minutes, 44 seconds. That means more than 7 miles per hour average. Tyler Peterson, president of Bay Shells Rowing, took first place. Go to Sound Rowers web site for hundreds of excellent photos of the event, the boats and the people.

Monday, June 16, 2014

North Lake Tahoe Rowing Regatta

At the North Lake Tahoe Regatta I was the only one in my class (21' on the long course). My time was 1:21:31. All four of the 24' class finished between 1:19:00 and 1:20:00. The course is almost exactly 10 miles. So that's 8.15 minutes per mile and 7.36 mph. (The winning 24' was about 7.6 mph.) [For reference only: the 'hull speed' of a 21 is 7.06 mph and for a 24 it is 7.55 mph, depending on which formula one employs.] It's a circuit so the wind pretty much cancels itself out. The Bay 21 is a fantastic rowing shell. It's fast on flat water (at least, it's fast when I row it in a race!) and fast on rough water.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

e-mail letter to Emily

Emily, Nice to hear from you! I do, of course, remember you. I am glad you are interested in the Monterey Bay Crossing. Yes, please do prepare yourself well in advance. It is not to be taken lightly, although most of the experience directly depends on the conditions on the day of the event. Lots of folks wear gloves. I think that gloves are effective. Roz Savage swears by kangaroo skin gloves. Another useful trick is paper first aid tape. But that usually rubs off after about an hour. One can take a roll in the boat and re-apply it, for example. Paper tape is slippery enough to avoid gumming up the grips. It's not very strong, though, as a consequence and so it tears and breaks down after a while. I suggest you try a concept 2 erg at a gym. It is annoyingly boring. Work up to a couple hours without a break. That is extremely challenging, even at light pressure. If you can do 2 hours on an erg without a break (light pressure), then you can do the 4.5 to 5.5 hours you'll take to make the crossing. On the crossing you can stop and rest as many times as you want -- rehydrating and refueling. Another suggestion is to row from Santa Cruz to Moss Landing or Moss Landing to Monterey. Both of these routes keep a sculler closer to shore. I don't recommend you do them alone or solo, even though I have. Mostly, however, what i think it takes is a lot of practice. I think I would discourage any Monterey Bay sculler to shy away from the Monterey Bay Crossing until and unless they are comfortably rowing half the distance (i.e. at least 12-13 miles) in a morning workout on a regular basis. Last suggestion: row in a double with an experienced partner the first time. There are lots of other personal guidelines for anyone when preparing for the Monterey Bay Crossing. You don't need to know them for training. But you'll be much better prepared if you chat with those who have done the crossing many times. A few of my favorites: * chafing clothing. Make sure you know your clothing will be okay and not rub you even when wet and even after 4+ hours * blisters. probably gonna happen. generally heal within a couple days. * potty breaks. probably need to know and practice how to pee in the boat. one may not need to in a 5 hour event but chances are good * hydrate. hydrate. hydrate. fuel, too, at least once. these can be combined. * practice long rows with the same habit as the row. Same hydration. Same fuel. Same clothing. Same boat. Same rigging. so you can count on it. * make your heading with a GPS and make your heading with a magnetic compass and make sure you can get across the bay to Monterey with just the compass in case your batteries die and it's foggy. * practice getting up and rowing before the crack of dawn. more than once. For you, in particular, i suggest you come to Santa Cruz and rent one of our shells and go out with a partner. An Aero is stable, if slow. Go out and head straight toward Monterey. Go at least 3 miles if not farther. This will help verify your GPS and compass headings and show you what the back view looks like for the first portion. Sundays a group of ladies rows together. if you join them several times you'll become comfortable and competent. They usually go for 1 hour or longer. highly recommended. I am happy to connect you with those who generally go on Friday or Saturday or Sunday. I am sure any of them will welcome you and help you get oriented and launched and returned in an Aero. Let me know. In fact, if you want to do the crossing in an Aero then there's nothing stopping you, i think. Our club has plenty of them available as rentals. Much more stable than the Peinert Dolphin although slower, too.