Row, row, row your boat

A group of Chautauqua County residents over the age of 15 seized a unique life experience at National Learn to Row Day hosted by the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association (CLRA) on Saturday, June 1.

Kevin Sixbey, a co-founder of CLRA in 2005, welcomed new students to Learn to Row Day with a brief orientation in the boathouse on Jones & Gifford Avenue in Jamestown.

“We have planned a two-hour ‘dry-land’ training session and a one hour ‘on the water’ experience,” Sixbey told the participants. “While on land, we will cover rowing terms and safety, introductory technique on indoor rowing machines and dock box instruction. Then it will be time to take to the water in one of the CLRA’s beautiful rowing shells.”

As noted in the CLRA’s mission statement, “The Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association (CLRA) is committed to making the sport of rowing accessible to everyone for a lifetime. By revitalizing a long tradition of rowing on Chautauqua Lake, the CLRA offers opportunities for teamwork, fitness and competition.”

Racing boats, or shells, stored on racks in the CLRA boathouse have been procured over the years through grants from The Sheldon Foundation, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation and CLRA members’ donations. Shells vary in size from two to 8-plus man, length up to 61 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds.

A dock box is specially constructed to fit on the edge of the dock with a sliding seat to accommodate one rower. Dock box instruction allowed new students to learn the art and technique of rowing while stable on dry land. Practicing the sweeping form of rowing with one oar, rowers learned the drive sequence of catch, drive, finish. An ergometer is a rowing machine that closely approximates the actual rowing motion. “Erg” training built confidence in correct rowing technique while increasing stamina as demonstrated by CLRA coaches.

Novice rowers were surprised to learn shoes are permanently attached for each rowing seat in the boat. CLRA members pointed out where to step when entering the shell to avoid damaging the hull as they introduced rowing terms and safety instruction. Port and starboard are opposite for rowers since they face the stern of the boat while listening for the coxswain’s directions. The coxswain, an on-the-water coach, steers the boat from a tiny stern seat and wears a microphone to call out commands to the crew by seat number. Novice rowers heard “Weigh-Enough” which means stop in rowing commands.

The racing shell’s sliding seats allow rowing crews to stroke together for greatest speed using their strong leg muscles. The shells are outfitted with riggers, with oarlocks, which can be easily removed from the boats for transport to regattas. Coaches call, “Run your oars” while crews prepare to leave the dock. The Chadakoin River, a short walk from the boathouse, is the site of summer rowing regattas.

After dry land instruction, novice crews carried the boats overhead to the dock and lowered them carefully on the water, then shoved off for the first time on the river. Coaches emphasized, “Always keep one hand on the oar!” Two 8-plus man shells filled with novices rowed on the Chadakoin River in alternating pair practice drills. Coach boats came along side with bullhorns to offer instruction and encouragement. The coxswain, an on-the-water coach, steers the boat from a tiny stern seat and wears a microphone to call out commands to the crew by seat number.

Exhilarated Learn to Row 2013 participants enjoyed their on the water experience with CLRA coaches. Novice crews will continue the Learn to Row program for five weekday evenings to gain confidence in rowing and practice precision teamwork on the Chadakoin River and Chautauqua Lake.

For more information about the Chautauqua Lake Rowing Association visit its website at www.rowchautauqua.org.