Thursday night I got a call from a local rower: could I cox his quad in a race on Sunday? Apparently they were desperate, because all of the people who usually do it were already scheduled to cox or row other boats. (In the US, quads (four rowers, two oars each) are usually “straight”, meaning no cox, but here they often have one due to the narrow canals.) I hadn’t coxed any boat at all since last fall’s Rondje Eindhoven tour, and I hadn’t coxed in a race for a few years – I may not have done any since leaving the US – but it sounded like fun and I didn’t have any plans for Sunday, so I said yes.
Regattas here are run a bit differently than in the US, so I’ll just give a run-down of the day. At 7AM, I met my crew at the boathouse for the drive to Haarlem. There’s the first difference; in the US, we’d already be at the race by then, attending the coxswain’s meeting and setting up boats. We drove about an hour and a half to the race – that’s certainly possible some places, but since all my rowing was in Texas and Arizona, ‘away’ races were always far away, four or more hours. We always had to head out the night before, so regattas were always a weekend event rather than a day trip.
Once we got there, we quickly rigged the boat (we always send our boats on the local college’s boat trailer – they have the best trailer ever, developed as someone’s student design project). Then everyone adjourned to change and grab coffee at the rowing club there. (More differences: at US regattas you often don’t have a boathouse handy; if you do,it doesn’t have a cafe on the top floor selling coffee and beer; and people show up in rowing gear plus whatever layers they need for warmth instead of walking around a regatta in jeans and then changing). Boat launching started at 10 for the morning races; races are in “blocks”, so instead of having an assigned time per even, there are maybe two start times at which all the events are lined up. In this case blocks 2 and 3 (who raced 2.5 km) started at 10:45 and 10:50 respectively and block 1 (our block, who raced 4.5 km) started at 11. Another group raced at 3:30PM. The advantage to grouping the races like this is that you’re not having to make your way down one side of the course while the race comes up the other side; on the downside, everyone has to launch at once, which makes for horrible traffic jams trying to get the boats onto the water.
Our race went pretty well; the predicted rain held off and it wasn’t too cold. Lucky for me it was a relatively easy course, with just two bridges and one sharp turn, and one shallow area marked off with a couple of buoys. My crew had pretty decent strength and fitness and excellent rhythm, just a couple of technical issues, we came in 14 of 21. I don’t think anyone really noticed, but (I guess it’s OK to brag on this blog) I steered a heck of a course and may have bought them a couple of seconds. If so, that made a difference, because we were only 2 seconds slower than one crew and a second ahead of another.) A cox has two jobs during a race; to steer and to motivate the crew. A really top-notch cox can do both, even with a crew who is strange to her; I think I did well steering, but only okay on the motivating, because I didn’t know this crew well, haven’t worked with them before at all, and have a language barrier to boot. They were pretty happy to have found a “new back-up”.
We were home by 4, in time for me to cook up a big and very tasty pot of jambalaya, another thing that never seems to happen in the US (the timing, not the jambalaya). I’d really forgotten how much fun it can be to cox at a regatta; you get all the excitement of racing without actually having to sweat and exhaust yourself.