Rowing – what a weird and confusing language!


                                               Part One – red and green

So how often do you hear this in sport?

“I was last over the finish line but I still won!”

Well this is exactly what happened to me on Saturday at Warrington Regatta. I was sitting in the stroke seat of a double, a boat with two seats, with my team mate Alistair behind me in the bow seat but he was actually in front of me – I was just sitting with my back to him. I wasn’t being rude or trying to jeopardise our chances – that’s the way we row!!

“Warrington, Trafford, attention…GO!’

To cut a long story short we were brilliant so Alistair was first over the line and I was last, IN OUR BOAT, so we won. (That was just a heat so we went on the the final and again Alistair was first over the line – champions and another medal to add to the collection!)

Clever stuff with words hey? Well read on and you might not feel so clever just overwhelmingly confused!

Always Oarsome Jen and myself, Gill  run the adult Learn To Row courses at Warrington Rowing Club with lots of help from volunteer members. We start from absolute scratch and over the years we have realised that rowing has a language all of its own and most of it is nonsense in the best possible way. What’s worse is that Jen and I often forget that we are speaking a different language when our new recruits arrive and carry on regardless.

Usually until about the third week when a very brave soul will ask us something like

“What exactly do you mean when you say ‘tap down’?”

OK so let’s start with this.

There are two ends to a boat – a bow and a stern. The bow is the front of the boat but most people see it as the back because when you sit in the boat you will have your back to the bow (unless you’re the cox). It is easily identified by the bow ball. This is a small ball fixed to the front of the boat (if it’s not there you will be disqualified in a race situation). It helps prevent too much damage should a collision occur and consequently is often found taped on.

The other end of the boat is known as the stern – the back of the boat, usually thought of as the front of the boat because when you sit in the boat you will be facing it (unless you are the cox!!!).

It is easily identified because it DOESN’T have a bow ball. If there is a bow ball I’m not sure you’d be disqualified in a race but it’s probably wise to check you’re sitting in the seat correctly!!

Let’s talk about a quad boat (four rowers each having two blades/oars)

Each seat and consequently each rower is given a number so we don’t have to remember different names. The person in the bow seat is called Bow and also number one – the first person over the finish line, the front of the boat (often thought of as the back…),nearest to the bow ball.

The next seat is two, then three, then four.

The rower at the stern of the boat (the back but often thought of as the front…), number four is also known as Stroke.

Bow Pair are the two people sitting in the front of the boat, nearest to the bow ball (often thought of as the back…) and Stern Pair are the two people sitting in the back of the boat, furthest from the bow ball (often thought of as the front…).

Stroke side of the boat is the right hand side of the boat, the rowers right hand side, not the onlooker (or the cox). Remember the rower is facing backwards in the boat.

Bow side is the left hand side of the boat, the rowers left hand side. Remember the rower is facing backwards in the boat.

Stroke side blades will often have a red label and bow side a green one. A common command is “firm pressure on red” which ultimately means more pressure with the right side of the body so helping with steering and dodging other boats! (or green depending which way bow needs the boat to go).

Now for the really confusing part – Port and Starboard.

When looking forward, toward the bow of the boat (the front but often thought of as the back!), port refers to the left side and starboard refers to right side. These terms are often used by umpires and I’m pretty sure not many rowers are clear on the meaning.

Actually I am completely confused now which is not surprising as I generally get my right and left mixed up unless I can do a quick Brownie promise hand sign which I know is always done with the right hand!

So port refers to stroke side or the red blade and starboard refers to bow side or the green blade. The main problem here being the rowers are sitting looking at the stern of the boat (the back but often thought of as…) so to the rower port actually refers to the right side of the boat.

So I’m going park these thoughts here and head to a dark corner to contemplate some more weird terms we use in rowing.


The Youth of Today

A couple of hours a week I spend some time coaching children from local secondary schools as part of the Warrington Youth Rowing programme. They are predominantly Year 9 so around fourteen years old and have attitude by the bucket load! Backed by British Rowing these children are being encouraged to take up a sport they probably wouldn’t normally have access to.

I guess a visit to the rowing club can be quite daunting for some of them and everyone reacts to new situations in different ways. They generally come across as being overly confident while trying to be nonchalant, cool and unamused. I’ve coached a couple of the schools and generally they all dampen their enthusiasm in front of us adults.

The programme has been running for over a year now and it’s not easy juggling timetables, staff and travel arrangements for eight different schools in the borough but this is what is happening.

In July a mini regatta was organised so the children could showcase their newfound skills to parents and staff alike. It was enormous fun and gave these children the opportunity to shine.

Last week an indoor rowing challenge took place at Priestly College organised by the Warrington Youth Rowing coaches and a variety of other people, including students from the college, head teachers and teaching staff and various volunteers.

Twenty four rowing machines had been collected and arranged so that there was a warm up area and a competition area. The machines in the competition area were wired up to the big screen so everyone could follow the race and shout encouragement where needed. The PA system was fully tested and they even had a professional sports photographer snapping away!

The children arrived looking nervous and not quite sure what to expect, huddled in their groups shivering with excitement ( or was it nerves?). Eventually the first competitors names were announced on the screen and after a warm up period they were asked to take their seats for their race. The start procedure was explained and then WHAM! off they went rowing as hard and as fast as they could – how many meters could they row in a specified time?

Going off too hard meant they ran out of steam – would slow and steady win the race? It’s not just about strength but about technique and also holding your nerve and not giving up.

They were fantastic – each and every one of them. Not only showing great skill and stamina but also empathy and encouragement for the fastest and the slowest! Many kids cracked their PBs!

After the individual round came the relay race. Now if you thought handing over a baton while running was tricky try the equivalent on a rowing machine!

So you row full pelt for about a minute, stop, drop the handle, take your feet out of the straps, move off the seat making sure the next person can sit down, strap feet in, pick up the handle and get that machine going again from scratch.

This really was the ultimate in team work with competitiveness, stamina, energy and enthusiasm by the bucket load. They all deserved medals – they were oarsome!!

Looking around the gym as they raced the last few meters it was heart warming to see the dedication from the children, staff and coaches as they screamed each other on when legs were sore, arms aching and lungs gasping- it would be easy to stop but they didn’t they powered on.

Teenagers get bad press today but this lot showed their true colours because someone believed in them. Warrington Youth Rowing is giving these children such a fantastic opportunity and they are certainly making the most of it.

I hope this programme continues to grow and you never know we could have some Olympians in the making, but even if they don’t take it to that level they will have skills for life – not merely the rowing technique but team spirit which will serve them well all through life.

Hands On!

Winning Team at Dee “Build for five!”
“We’re off!”
 “Let’s go!”
 “…and settle”


What the Dickens am I talking about?

So last Saturday was the ‘Head of the Dee’ – a rowing event where the actual race lasts for less than twenty minutes, however the prep before and after the race takes significantly longer!

Regardless of training, coaching, choosing the crews and making the entries, all of which are carried out by other ‘teams’ often behind the scenes, the main prep for this event started on Friday around 5pm.

Participating crews are instructed to be at the club to derig and load. Woe betide anyone who turns up without a rigger jigger!

“Where do you want Smile?”
“Are we splitting Kevin?”
“Which blades?”
“How many trestles?’
“Check if that’s tight enough please”
“Fasten the seats in!”

This usually takes a couple of hours depending on the number of boats and indeed trailers going to the event.

As we wave the trailers off our thoughts turn to carb loading and food prep for the following day, an early night and definitely an early start!!

Silly ‘o’clock Saturday morning and we hook up said trailer and drive to Chester. One last check – ties are tight, riggers stored safely, seats tied in, tool boxes easily accessible and we’re off.

Navigate round the Roman walls – some more accurately than others. Arrive at allocated car park and try man handling a trailer full of boats down a muddy slope into a space big enough to park a mini!

“Hands on Marge!”
“Let’s put Kevin back together”
“Where’s Boizel’s box?”
“We need more tall people”
“Cox’s meeting in ten!”
“Who’s got the numbers and safety pins?
“All singles and doubles to boat immediately!”

And so boating for the first division begins. All boats are on the water and must row up past the starting post over four thousand metres up river. There could be as many as one hundred and fifty crews! Imagine how long it takes to get them all on the water and up there? If you’re one of the first it seems like ages!

We are racing in division two so now we can relax, eat, drink coffee and watch the first division come down. It’s great when the weather’s good but on a rainy day… it’s wet!!

12.45pm and division two start boating.

“Last toilet stop!”
“Have we taken the blades down?”
“Check foot restraints”
“Hands on!”
“To waists”
“Bring the bow round”
“Whoa ahead!!”
“Excuse me please err excuse me err watch yourself err mind your backs”
“Easy – feel for the edge – and down”

That’s us getting from the trailer to the water’s edge with the boat!!

Always Oarsome rowing in Dee Head Race 2017Blades in and we head up the river. Umpires and marshals along the way pass the time of day and shout instructions at us. We have been notified where we need to wait and we must NOT under any circumstances turn the boat around in preparation until we are told. Very tricky in windy conditions as the boat seems to develop a mind of its own!!

At last we are told to make appropriate kit choices and turn the boat around.

“Warrington start paddling’’
“Here we go girls – let’s give it our all – nothing left in the tank – this is our race – we can do this”
“Build for five!”
“We’re off!”
“Let’s go!”
“…and settle”
“make it easy for bow – up two – back up stroke – we’ve got overlap – let’s have them – keep it there – this is nice – ratio – last 500 let’s go”
“…….and easy there!”

They are the best words ever!

Now we ‘just’ need to paddle back to the landing stage, lift the boat out, collect the blades, derig, load the trailer, count the trestles, push the trailer up the slope, hitch it on to the car, drive back to Warrington, unload the trailer, rerig, put blades away, and lock up the club.

6.30pm – call at fish and chip shop, drive home, and pour a large glass of liquid refreshment.

All this happens because we are part of a team – the Warrington Rowing Club team and best of all our little sub team – our crew – our quad. We had a fantastic row because we work together (we have photo and video evidence!) we back each other up, we respect each other and we listen. Our bow person might be the smallest in the boat but she is the most powerful part of our crew leading the way, keeping us informed and encouraging us every minute – all fifteen minutes and thirty seconds!

We also know we worked together because our team WON!!

At an Always Oarsome rowing day, you’ll learn how to do this amazing sport! Read about one of our team building days and what others have said about us. And contact us to find out more. GO!