Jim Dwyer rows for the Western Rowing Club of Ontario, Canada, and he’s provided an excellent bird’s eye view of the Big L course on Fanshawe Lake – a path to be used for both coxed and coxless boats, and tips for manoeuvring your route.
The Western Invitational runs in mid September, annually.
You race a 4k BIG L with all of the crews in your event lining up on the start line and starting together. You then go back out for a 400m sprint on a four lane course seeded according to your finish time in the BIG L. Both times are rated against Olympic standard times and the percentages from the two races are added together to determine who wins the race.
The start is marked with a red line and the finish is at the small dock in the picture.
The coxie must steer a straight course to the first turn and because it is a mass start it would be advantageous to be in the lead when making the first turn so you can pick the tightest line. Stay close to the buoys between the first and second turns. The second turn is the tightest turn. Do not follow the shore after the second turn. Try to steer straight lines before and after the third turn.
Jim has won the race the past three years, (so he knows what he’s talking about).
To capture the images with a satellite he says:
I use a Garmin Forerunner 305 in my boat. This link explains how I set it up.
After the row I download the data and the software will show the path travelled in Google Earth.
The first pictures show a coxie steering an 8, the second picture shows the same path and I added straight lines from the google earth pat function. This shows the difference between the coxswain’s path and the most direct route.
Resources for Coxswains - October Additions
Each month we’re adding to our Coxswain Resources page to find useful things for coxswains and their coaches (so you don’t have to). If you’re a cox or coach, visit our page often because we keep adding to it, and you can add to it too.
For the month of October we’ve added key articles from Row2K and audio recordings of coxswains doing what they do best out on the water:
The Regatta-Ready Coxswain
Keeping your Boat on its A-game Between Moves
This is your opportunity to do some true coxing magic. Test yourself in practice, what is the first thing that goes bad when the boat comes down off a piece? Set? Blade heights? Catch timing? Finishes? Heads and hands dropping at the catch? It's different for every boat. “
Seven Things Not To Do Before the Head Race Season Starts
2) DON'T Assume That Your Water Way Has Not Changed
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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.
The annual Head of the Charles Regatta is fast approaching. The event is October 22nd to the 23rd, and this course is not to be taken lightly.
The event is 3 miles long serpentining through 300,000 spectators and under more than half a dozen bridges. There’s a buoy system set up to separate returning crews, and with the time penalties, crossing the buoy line can cost you the race.
Coxmate has collaborated with expert coach and coxswain, Meli Mathis, whose home course is none other than the Charles River in Boston, MA.
Meli has written an expert guide to steering the HOCR just for you, Coxmate readers, with over a dozen photos through all the major points. She’s overlaid the images with red arrows showing you exactly how to maneuver the river. Read Meli's guide.
Expert Guidance all on one page
Meli’s is one of 5 guides we have pulled together on how to steer the HOCR. Linked off our Resources for Coxswains page, everything you need to prepare yourself is now on the new How to Steer the Head of the Charles page on Coxmate.
And at the critical Eliot Bridge, she counsels:
“The center arch is the racing arch for Eliot bridge, it is also the everyday upstream arch. When getting a point to and through the bridge, one wants to come around the turn then point on the far corner of the Winsor dock - not visible in this picture. Just like at Weeks, the best line does not have the boat going through the arch parallel with the abutments but at an angle. Once through the bridge, the river will turn to starboard leading into the finish.”
Measure your speed while you cox the Head of the Charles with the Coxmate SX with GPS speed measurement.
Part Two of an interview with University of California Davis coxswains, Antonia McKee and Justin Nool.
Tell us about your most successful race
Antonia: My favourite race was Nationals where we got second (it was the same crew as Justin's minus one member). What made it so successful wasn’t that we got second by 1.3 seconds, but the process of the heat / semis / finals. Keeping the perfect balance between that many races across 3 days - it was the biggest responsibility I had all year. Keeping the tension, focus and calmness across that length of time was important to achieving our best. You don't want to let the boat get superstitious about what songs come on the radio or what they eat before the race. This can cause stress and affect their performance. We tried to keep everything the same and maintain the focus over 3 days - not even breaking the ritual of what time we went to sleep. In the races I was able to make the right calls, being in the moment, countering and predicting other boats' moves... both crews on either side were a bow ball ahead.
What’s in the future for your career?
Justin: Next year we'll continue to the varsity level and there's one more cox with one year of seniority on us. We will have enough crew for 3 eights.
Is there a difference between women coxing men vs. men coxing men?
Antonia: The number one thing the sport has given me is the ability to be a female leader in a male dominant work space. You have to be the "coach inside the boat". Some of the rowers have a hard time understanding it is not our job to be their friends. Many guys are not used to a girl telling them what to do. It's a delicate thing... you need to be as unemotional as possible but also use your inner female emotions which help to get to know the rowers and how they feel after a bad practice or during a race.
Justin: As a guy I've not had it as bad... our team focuses on respect between the rowers and coxswains. The coach emphasises this - many rowers didn't realise how difficult our role was to keep them safe and the practices productive.
Any last piece of advice?
Justin: My friend once told me: If the coach has nothing to say to the cox after each outing, then you’ve done well. That’s how you can mark your success as a coxswain.
Read Part 1 of the interview with coxswains Antonia and Justin
You can also read their tips on coxswains working together from the Coxmate blog
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