Day 48 – Rowing is my happy place (and the answers to the quiz)

Emma Mitchell By

Day 48 – Rowing is my happy place (and the answers to the quiz)

I started rowing at Marlow Rowing Club when I was 15 and have pretty much been rowing ever since. Before starting this row I declared that rowing was my happy place and I would enjoy being on the oars more than in the cabin. This has almost always been the case. It is regatta season back at home right now and for the first time in many years I am not spending my weekends competing at Dorney lake or Henley and am instead rowing a very different kind of boat in very different conditions. Yesterday I was wearing my Marlow rowing Lycra on the oars and thinking about the differences between river rowing and ocean rowing….


The first and very obvious difference is in the boats. In river rowing we race in nice light sculls which you can pick up and carry on your shoulder. Doris weighs over a tonne and requires either a travel lift or a slipway and some careful trailer manoeuvring to get her on the water. Doris moves slowly and feels heavy when in still water and only comes into her own when surfing big waves. After rowing in waves the size of 4 storey buildings and being constantly soaked in sea water I will never again complain about choppy water on the Bristol Docks, wind over stream on the river at Marlow or Henley or getting splashed by a certain doubles partner! Having said that a sculling boat goes fastest on flat water and I’m excited to get back in a boat where it feels like effort put in results in more boat speed rather than being at the mercy of the tide, currents and wind.

Technique gets you a long way in river rowing. Getting your catches in quickly and perfectly in time can win you a race and posture, balance and finesse are the aims for every session. On Doris especially in big waves like those we are experiencing today technique is some what overrated. Sometimes the water is there and sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you manage to stay in time and sometimes a wave grabs your oar and either almost ejects you from the front of the boat or jams you in the stomach, knee or shin. In ocean rowing keeping your oars as high off the water as possible is a good thing. I think I am well suited to ocean rowing. Several coaches have previously told me my slow catches make it look like I stop for a cup of tea. In Doris drinking tea on the oars is one of life’s pleasures especially on a night shift.


Steering a river rowing boat can be done by two methods. The easy one for the rowers is to get a cox to steer. The harder option is for one of the rowers to steer either using the oars or a rudder connected to one rowers shoe. There are plenty of nightmares to be had about not hitting the booms at Henley or hitting the cross harbour ferry on the Bristol docks. On Doris we also have two steering options. The first is our Raymarine autopilot which can either hold us on a bearing or navigate us to a waypoint we have entered on our chart plotter. This is the very easy method and all we have to do is row and keep an eye on our course over ground to ensure we are travelling on the course Tony has set. When rowing in adverse winds or currents as happened for the first 35 days out of Santa Barbara and moving too slowly for the autopilot we move the rudder using a hand held line which we can jam in place. This works well but can sometimes lead to levels of frustration similar to bouncing around your lane at Dorney rather than holding a straight course.

When you want to communicate with other boats on a river you tend to shout at them. When turning the boat around at the end of a lake or section of river there is the chance to sit next to another boat for a chat and a following coaching launch can shout instructions to you. However on the Pacific we talk to other boats using our VHF radio. At 3am this morning I was woken up by a call from a boat called Mokihana who had been following our journey and wanted to say hello. They had hoped to cross paths with Doris but ended up 13 miles away so couldn’t actually see us but it was amazing to speak to someone when we are 900 miles from the nearest landfall who knew who we were and what we were doing. They’ll be making the return trip from Long Beach to Hawaii in about 8 days time and hope to get a bit closer then.

So far since we have left San Francisco we have rowed over 2000nm and each rowed for over 700 hours. I reckon this adds up to at least one summers worth of rowing already and we haven’t even made it to our first stopover yet! Here’s hoping that rowing will still be my happy place by the time we get to Cairns!

Answers to the Coxless quiz below…

1) Nat is the one with many accents although a lot of them are very silly. I find it really hard not to end up speaking back to her in my own ridiculous accent every time we are on shift together.

2) I have to admit that it was me who lost my Tupperware overboard in a butterfingers moment. I also managed to throw Laura’s mug away when trying to be really nice and wash it up for her.

3) Laura and Izzy are the two who can’t dress themselves at night. At any low moment I only have to think of watching through the hatch door as Laura tried desperately to get her head through her leggings while Nat watched and it makes me giggle.

4) Nat is the one with the bizarre food tastes. In the last few days she has taken to adding protein shake to almost everything she eats.

5) Izzy is definitely both the one who sings the most and the most tunefully. The prize for the least tuneful rendition of a song probably goes to Miss Penhaul and Miss Cohen’s version of Titanium!

6) Laura is our biggest wildlife fan and I haven’t ever heard someone use the same noise you would associate with calling a cute puppy to calling a 45ft whale or a shark.

7) Laura – Freddie, Emma – Shaun, Nat – Sally and Izzy – Bono

8) Izzy is the team member who is most offended by the footwell.

9) Nat has the most ridiculously tanned hands although all of our arms are catching up now that we have some sun so we are slowly looking less silly.

10) It was Nat and I who got a faceful of water through the port hatch. We are now both too scared to open it and just suffer the sweatiness. LP is still the bravest with opening it so I predict she will be next!


1 Comment

  1. Simon Teague says:

    Hi ladies,

    Your blogs are just getting better and better. I was on The Business Bunker Radio in Kent yesterday reading out some of your posts…. its getting a great reaction…. more radio coverage to follow so if you get chance on your audio blogs please give a shout out for New Level Results and the Business Bunker Radio.

    Best wishes Simon

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