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My First Year Rowing – A story by Denise

My First Year Rowing – A story by Denise

by Denise Cecil

So you have decided to become a rower:
You have signed up for the Learn to row class and have passed your float test. Congratulations on your beginning commitment to rowing. While most of us don’t read the entire RIRSC website before signing up to row, I do recommend that you read the New Rower FAQ’s, in particular the “what to wear when rowing” section. We want you to look good, stay warm and safe.

The internet has many videos on rowing safety and technique (see Technique on the RIRSC Website ). I would also recommend that you read Boys in the Boat as part of your training experience. It was a wonderful way for me to learn some of the history of rowing in our area and why people are so passionate about the sport.


After I finished the training course I was not sure what to do next:
The Rat Island Club grants you a month of free rowing (starting the day after your final LTR class) to help you decide if you’d like to join our local rowers and make the club a part of your continuing rowing experience. I took the June class last year and prior to becoming a member I rowed as often I could in the month of July. Take advantage of the free time and sign up on the club’s Open Rows schedule. 


I was a really poor rower at first, but people are nice and want to see you succeed. You will not get better if you don’t row. Focus your time and energy on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tuesday and Thursday are for more experienced rowers and they like to go hard and fast. You will get there.


Additional recommendations for improving your rowing skills and fitness include using the club’s Ergs. Even prior to taking the training class, I started getting in shape by spending time on the ergs. I am sure you were introduced to them when you got a tour of the boat house. Try to erg 6000 meters in 30 minutes. If you need some coaching on how to use the ergs, ask an Ambassador and one of them will get you started.

OK, you are hooked:

Once you have decided to become a member, learning becomes an exercise in entrepreneurship. Ours is an all-volunteer club and we don’t have an on-staff club coach, so you need to think about your needs and desires related to rowing and develop your own training program.

Besides the ergs and open rows, one additional way to get out on the water and improve your rowing is to sign up to use the 2-man Wherries with an experienced rower (in the Boathouse on Port Townsend Bay). These boats are very stable and don’t require a safety launch in order to use them. Wherries are excellent for novice rowers to use to learn to scull, gain confidence on the water and to make mistakes without everyone watching. We have all been there.

This is also a good time to learn more about the club. As mentioned above, we are an all-volunteer club, so the club exists because of the generosity of its members. You need to start thinking about your particular skills and joys that can best be used in a volunteer capacity. In your first year, helping move and working on boats may be all you feel comfortable doing, but keep your eyes and ears open and consider how you might be able to help. An Ambassador is a good person to discuss this with.

So now that you’ve had some hours in the big shells and spent some time in the wherries learning to navigate a boat, you might want to try a single or double to perfect your technique. One additional boat experience provided by the club is rowing on Lake Leland. Prior to heading out to Lake Leland in the Fall, I organized a training class with my classmates so we could start to learn how to cox a boat. Mari Friend was our teacher and we had a great time, learned a lot and became more independent members of the club.

The water on the lake is much calmer, so it’s much easier to practice the mechanics of coxing a shell there. Once you have permission from the club to take out the Lake Leland boats, organize a friend or two and make the trek down (or up) 101. On the lake, you don’t need a launch so timing for rowing sign-up is much more flexible. While it is a drive for some folks, my classmates and I made it extra fun by having coffee at Farm’s Reach Cafe afterward. The lake is also a very good venue for Winter rowing, staying fit and continuing to improve your skills after the regular PT Bay rows have stopped for the Winter season.

Staying fit over the Winter is important, and members of the club have banded together and formed a hiking club. The Winter Rats is a fun way to get to know club members outside the boat house and learn from experienced rowers in a beautiful and informal setting and, let’s be honest, hear all the club gossip too.

So I made it through my first year with help from the club, my 2013 classmates and personal ownership of my learning process. I have signed up for another year of membership in the club and wanted to help other new rowers make the transition from new rower, as in “what’s this oar do?,” to “when is the first race this year?” My desire to help developed into the Ambassadors program. I hope that this program will help you achieve your goals as a developing rower and member of the Rat Island Rowing and Sculling Club.

Welcome aboard,