Preparing for the Head of the Yarra
New to the Head of the Yarra? Coxmate is here to offer helpful tips to coxswains and coaches of coxes. Enter our new guest post series on steering major race courses.
The Head of the Yarra is Australia's big head race. It will be held this year on November 26th, so the time to start training is upon you. In this article on preparing to steer the Head of the Yarra, Olympic Bronze Medalist, Michael Toon, tells you how to prepare your crew for the tight turns and long haul you’ll encounter on this course, because he knows it like the back of his hand. Watch this space for monthly articles from Michael leading up to the event.
Each November, Australian oarsmen and women focus their attention on Victoria’s endurance classic, the Head of the Yarra.
Undertaking this pilgrimage annually from the comparatively massive expanses of the Brisbane River I am rewarded with a great challenge in the coxswain’s seat negotiating the many turns and encouraging my crew along the 8.6km course upstream of Federation Square.
Preparing for the Yarra
It is a unique event, without peer in Australian Rowing for not only the challenge but enjoyment. Unique preparation is required. Limited similarities to the Yarra course are provided on the more forgiving waterways of Brisbane, and indeed other states where I have trained.
One must be opportunistic and creative in finding situations in training to prepare your crew for racing around tight bends. In the months leading up to the Yarra, I try to remind my crews when approaching a turn that we will have to maintain speed, rhythm and balance on the turn just as we will during the race itself. In these situations I try to take turns tight and concentrate on applying the rudder effectively so as to maximize the turn but minimize the disruption to the boat’s run and balance.
The most effective way to do this in my experience is to ease the rudder on slowly over a few strokes and importantly advise your crew of what you are doing so they don’t try to adjust against you. Holding the rudder on when the boat is maneuvering satisfactorily while urging the rowers on the outside of the bend (eg bowside for a turn to port) to drive hard off the catch where they have maximum turning leverage will ensure that the boat is propelled around the turn efficiently.
Coming off the turn, once again, advising the crew that you are easing off the rudder and straightening is imperative so they can also anticipate subtle adjustments and even the power to straighten the boat with minimum fuss. I like to concentrate the whole eight on a big push and to lengthen out coming off turns to ensure that anyone who has been too tentative gets back into the full swing of things.
In preparation for the Yarra I have often steered an intentional slalom course, using tight zig-zags, down the river (having first checked that there is no traffic ahead or behind that I am disrupting!) in order to prepare myself and my crew for coming on and off the rudder while maintaining speed and composure.
I encourage all crews to rehearse the aspects of the Yarra where they are most likely to become unstuck. One of these is the sharp turns and the feeling of racing whilst hard on the turn which should be experienced well in advance of race day. As the coxswain you should take the lead in seeking these moments in your crew’s preparation, trying new things multiple times and, of course, talking them through it.
The other important aspect of the Yarra is maintaining your crew’s enthusiasm and concentration over approximately half an hour of relentless rowing. This I will explore in my next discussion.
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