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How to Steer a Buoyed 2k in an Eight
(see rowing, coxswain, crew)
  • Develop a sixty yard stare.
  • When you are just learning to drive a car, a common mistake is to watch the road just in front of your bumper. This causes you to zig-zag quite a bit, since little mistakes show up very prominently, and then you overcorrect. What you want to do is look through your stroke's face; look in that direction, but focus about a length of open water in front of your bow. You should see a certain number of buoys on either side of your stroke; if you have equal numbers on both sides, congrats! You are now going straight. (In a largish eight with a 6'4", 200 pound stroke, I believe I could see eight buoys on a side, with about 10 meters between buoys.)
  • Make small corrections.
  • If you are doing a good job in general about keeping your boat straight, you aren't going to have to worry about your shell touching the buoy line if you don't jam the rudder. So be as gentle as possible.
  • "Keep those hands where I can see 'em!"
  • Hands gripping gunwhales, three fingers outside shell, fore-finger and thumb inside shell holding the steering string just behind the wooden/plastic handles. Always have both hands on the rudder, unless you need to quickly flick the coxbox or somesuch small adjustment.
  • Practice practice practice.
  • Though one doesn't usually steer towards a distant point on a buoyed 2k course (since stroke's body obscures your view of the finish target), this is usually the best that most people can do on most bodies of water. Be relentless, critique your coxswain daily on her course. In calm water, turn around after a piece; the turbulence from the shell's passage will trail after you for a hundred meters or more, and you can see any jinks or fakes where she was trying to ditch her defenseman. Steering is a skill that takes dozens of hours to perfect.
  • Don't touch the rudder during the start.
  • When your eight is doing practice starts, hands off the steering. If they aren't going straight in the first ten strokes, it is something that they need to fix, or else you'll be losing them countless feet right off the blocks by correcting. Keep doing practice starts until they are straight without the coxswain's interference.

As for the "steer on the drive only" versus "apply gentle rudder continuously" debate; I've never seen too much point to flipping the rudder back and forth 38 times a minute. If you keep it gentle and subtle, you don't have to worry about steering on the recovery.

How to steer a novice eight:

If they've been at it for a while, all coxswains develop a permanent squint while steering, regardless of eyesight, level of darkness outside, or badass sunglasses. It's just the way things are. But I digress.

After taking last year off, (due to no water in Great Barrington), I'm eligible to cox the novice crew here at NYU. I've spent the last two semesters coxing the first men's novice eight in a small program, which is very, very different from the varsity boat in a top high school program.

Novice men are all over the place. You're lucky if they catch together. Especially if your novices are real novices, who had just learned to row in the fall semester. It's a good thing if they all get in at the start.

As Incarnadine has already presented it from a varsity/national team point of view, I will now present it from the novice--So here are the results of my first year coxing a novice crew:

  • Getting your point: This is the time at the start where all crews line up at the start. Usually, one will have a stake boat, a person at your start to hold on to your stern deck until the race begins. Officials who are anxious to get the race started on time have little patience with novice coxswains and will often start the race before a slow coxswain has got his point. My specialty has always been locking on at the start quickly and efficiently by sculling it up on a side or backing it, and never taking regular corrective strokes which push you away from the stake boat. It's a huge psychological advantage to get locked on early and watch the other crews struggle to line up.

  • Never lean:
  • Especially in an eight, you might not feel it right away. However, it really interferes with the set of the boat. Move your neck from side to side if you really need to see around your stroke. Disrupting the set the slightest bit can lead to catching crabs with a novice crew, especially if they are prone to mistakes such as digging in too much at the catch, oar handle height discrepancies, or squaring up too late.
  • Catching crabs:
  • "catching a crab" is a term describing when the blade goes in at the wrong angle, often catching the oarsman by surprise, in the worst cases propelling the oar handle over their head or propelling them out of the boat. A crab caught at an inopportune moment can throw you out of the running in a race. Most of the time, the oarsman quickly recovers, and there's minor disruption to the rest of the boat-- but sometimes, there's nothing you can do. A crab throws you out of the lane and you have to correct. In this situation, and only this situation when there is danger of collision, are you allowed to slam on the rudder.

  • Oar clashes: Often, in novice racing, these are inevitable. When these are the fault of another crew, steer aggressively-- this way, your boat won't lose focus and aggressiveness, and often the other coxswain will yield. This is one of the few instances where trash talking is allowed. (depends on the situation). The more aggressive you sound to your crew and the offending crew, your crew will row more aggressively and the other crew will row more passively. This is often the key to who comes out of the clash ahead. Talk as if you are right and the other crew had no business being in your lane-- they will get the fuck out of your way. Novice coxes are easy to indimidate.

  • Steer on the drive only:
  • This is, theoretically, the most efficient way to steer without compromising the boat speed and minimizing drag. However, this approach is fraught with practical problems-- First, the issue of accuracy while trying to steer 34 times a minute (race pace), and secondly, the motion of the rudder itself disrupting the run increases drag so much as to not make it worthwhile. It only works if one could move the rudder instantaneously.

    One of my own habits, which is a matter of personal preference, is keeping one hand on the rudder at all times and when I'm calling the moves from the race plan, keeping one hand on the microphone part of the headset. It really has no real impact on anything; and is purely psychological.

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