Tip #4: Eyes Out of the Boat!
In coastal racing there is a lot going on. There are no lanes, so there is no telling where your competitors will end up. There is a zig-zag course to find your way through. There are collisions to avoid and sharp turns to navigate. You need to be aware of all these things, while keeping an eye on sea conditions to perhaps find advantageous water. Of course, all this needs to happen while you are racing as fast as you can.
Last year at World's a boat collided with me. The other boat was at fault, and therefore earned itself a time penalty. Fair enough, but I also came to a complete standstill while we untangled. If I had looked sooner, I could have avoided this multi-second delay.
Later, while attempting to gain ground on another section of the course, I got stuck behind a group of three slightly slower boats spread across the layline. It took me hundreds of meters and plenty of effort to work a path around them, because they were not obligated to give way to an overtaking boat. Had I seen them converging sooner, I could have made a move to get ahead before the wall closed in on me.
These were lessons for me, which I am happy to pass along to you! Keep your eyes out of the boat. Make sure you frequently glance around to assess the whole field. Where is everyone now, and where does it look like they are going? Am I entering a converging line? Is there a jam-up ahead? Get quick pictures in your mind of what is ahead of you, then be careful to work your boat through the image held in your head. Then refresh that image fairly often. Master the ability to look very quickly, and to take in a vast amount of info in that short look.
It’s a simple concept, but of course the challenge lies in being able to row at peak speed while still tracking all the boats in your vicinity.
I suggest two methods for practicing this, aside from actually gaining direct coastal race experience (not always possible for most of us in the US, due to the early stages of the sport’s development here and scarcity of races). The first drill should be done on the erg. Have someone stand directly behind you, at some distance, while you row a 6K for time. Instruct him/her to occasionally shout “line!” at random intervals during your piece. Each time you hear "line!," you need to turn around and count how many fingers your assistant is holding up, and note which hand is used...without letting your splits drop! (FYI– “line!” is what you should yell during a race if an overtaking boat is at risk of colliding with you, since overtaking boats are the “give way” boat). That’s a good way to get accustomed to taking in a bunch of info in as quick a glance as possible.
The second drill should be done in the boat. Ask another rower, who is at least as fast as you, to position themselves directly in front of your bow. Instruct them to row wherever they please, while you follow them as exactly as possible. Get used to rowing fast while twisting and turning and playing games of “follow the leader.”
Anyway, that is my plan for "Eyes Out of the Boat" training during the coming summer. Drills like these (which you will find are really more "games" than "drills"!) will definitely add some spark to your training routine and offer solid proof that coastal racing is the most fun way to race a boat.