The art of ocean rowing

25 Jan

Impressive piece by Aodhán: Three of us here on Sara G (Simon, Ian and myself) consider ourselves to be rowers by trade and with a combined total of over 70 years involved in the sport there is plenty of experience to bring to the table.

Long before we pushed off into the ocean from Morocco we knew this was not going to be anything like river rowing but were confident that our strength as long serving oarsmen had to be of benefit to the speed of the boat. Now over 3 weeks into the crossing I can safely say there has been more to learn about ocean rowing than meets the eye. Our experience as river rowers has certainly helped the speed of the boat which allowed us to adapt quickly to the new requirements of movement. More importantly because we haven’t had much luck with following winds and swells so far we have been able to keep Sara G clipping along at a decent pace by rowing her like a river boat on the days and nights with flat seas – keeping us in contention for the record.

Surprise lesson number one came for us in the first few days of the trip – ocean rowing is in fact a contact sport. If there is one additional piece of personal kit I wish I had brought with me it would have to be shin guards. During those first few days we met some angry and unpredictable waves which threw us about like rag dolls. Every two hours on deck was horrendous with our oars hitting us like a couple of baseball bats from all angles or pinning limbs to the deck while the force of the wave tried to crush it. We looked a sorry state at the end of the first week with injured knees and hands and more bruises and gashes to the shins than anyone could count.

River rowing is often seen as the quest for the perfect stroke. In ocean rowing there is no such thing – just strokes, and a hell of a lot of them. There is no clear defined way to move the boat effectively – the river rowing handbook has to be thrown in the drink at this point. All those fundamental principles are quickly forgotten. No more long flowing strokes with quick catches and clean finishes – but rather better to just get whatever oar you can into the water and pull.

Depending on the conditions the best way to move the boat can be combinations of short strokes or rowing with one hand only. The sea has a funny way of toying with you out here – once you think you have established the best way to move the boat in certain types of conditions you suddenly find that it no longer works and have to find a new style again. There is more than one way to skin a cat and in ocean rowing there seems to be an infinite number of ways to move the boat – as a result the two separate teams of three have developed completely independent rowing styles and would find it hard to mix in with the other group at this stage.

One of the most enjoyable new skills we have learned out here has got to be the surfing. I never imagined that an 11 metre long boat weighing well over a tonne could ride breakwater the way Sara G does – when you catch a good wave it’s an amazing sensation and you watch the speed reading treble in a matter of seconds sometimes.  Our fastest surf so far has been 10 knots and I think it may go a lot faster still as I’ve been told that the boat has hit as high as 19 knots in the past. Moving around these big swells we have all developed an adept touch handling the boat while maintaining a fingertip light grip on the oar handles – something I would not have imagined beforehand.

It’s been a running joke on the boat asking each other what their old rowing coach would think if they saw them rowing out here – and it would certainly be funny to see if any of us brings some ocean rowing moves back to the river when it’s all over.

  • Fun update: Ian spoke in this mornings’ radio broadcast about male model and fellow rower Simon (see photo above). “Mark is regularly wanting to take photos, I think Simon had been out in the sun a bit too long and decided to strike some male modelling poses”. Radio DJ Natalie hinted that a calendar should be in the making!

One Response to “The art of ocean rowing”


  1. Rowing news for 26th January 2012 - January 27, 2012

    […] The art of ocean rowing – some helpful tips – take shin guards and learn to surf! […]

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