Sunday, July 14, 2019

Row, Row, Row Yer Boat…

I’m all for a challenge and I genuinely enjoy acquiring new skills. It’s probably for this reason that I am au fait with the basics of building a dry stone wall, what to do when passengering a Formula 2 sidecar outfit, how to use an electric arc welder, or the etiquette of engaging in a sword fight. You never know when such knowledge will come in handy.

Yup, that's me on the back, lapping Mallory Park!

I confess, though, it wasn’t entirely with research in mind that I ventured out onto the waters of the River Derwent this week to try my hand at rowing. This past winter, I’ve been plagued by increasingly painful back problems and have been advised by my physio that I need to do some physical exercise beyond giving my brain a workout at a computer keyboard, or undertaking general DIY.

Neither of which count, apparently.

So, considering the Captain of the Derwent Rowing Club, Lewis Hancock, is not only a friend but also the very fine narrator of two of my audiobooks, what better place to start?

Lewis Hancock, at the audiobook recording of DANCING ON THE GRAVE
“Be sure to bring a change of clothes,” was his somewhat ominous warning beforehand. I did so. Including shoes. And a towel.

My only experience of rowing has either been a) on a machine in a gym, or b) in an inflatable dinghy getting from yacht to shore when nobody can be bothered to attach the outboard motor.

Neither of which, I discovered, adequately prepares you for rowing on a river in a specialised craft designed for that purpose and no other.

For a start, the rowlocks are not called rowlocks. Neither are they attached directly to the sides of the boat. Instead, they are spaced away from each side on an outrigger with a swivel, a pin and a gate at the end of it. Into the gate goes your oar, with a squared-off sleeve in the appropriate place so when you present the blade of the oar to the water, it’s likely to be at the same angle, time after time.

Unlike the aforementioned inflatable dinghy—but in common with the rowing machine—these craft have a sliding seat so, as you lift the oars clear of the water and feather them, you slide forwards and bend your knees, providing maximum leverage for the next stroke.

Of course, getting the hang of keeping your left hand over the top of your right at all times, sticking to your own side of the river without getting tangled up in the overhanging trees of the bank, and avoiding other watercraft—or shouting in enough time that they avoid you—is akin to patting the top of your head and at the same time rubbing your stomach, reciting poetry, and tap-dancing.

Whilst balanced on a girder.

And in case you were wondering why there are no selfies taken of me actually out on the river in the aptly named Yellow Peril, that’s because there was absolutely no way I was going to carry something so susceptible to water damage on my first time out.

the Yellow Peril. (yellow being a warning colour in nature...)
I’m happy to report, however, that I did not hit anybody else on the water. Neither did they hit me. Nor did I collide with overhanging trees, or anything other than the landing stage of the Derwent RC boathouse. And then it was merely a gentle return to safe harbour.

So there.

But did I enjoy it? Well, yes. It was strangely peaceful, energetic and hypnotic in the rhythm of the thing. Frustrating when my co-ordination failed me, and immensely satisfying when I managed to put together a run of maybe half a dozen decent strokes. At which point the stout little Yellow Peril put on a surprising turn of speed.

And will I be going back?

You betcha.

This week’s Word of the Week is mustang, which as well as being a wild horse, and a model of Ford, is also naval slang for an officer who has come up through the ranks from ordinary seaman to any rank above warrant officer. He—or she—is therefore supposedly wise to the tricks pulled by those in the lower ranks.


  1. I've only got as far as a rowing machine. Sounds as though you had a wonderful time.

    1. It was trickier than a rowing machine, Stan, but ultimately more satisfying. Although, had I got it very wrong, it might have turning into a brisk swim as well, so it's a kind of two-for-one exercise regime!

  2. I always wanted to know what that sport felt like, Zoe, though I sincerely doubt I could manage it. I took my first trip in a kayak a little over a year ago, and my companion had to do most of the work because I could not (ahem) get the knack of it.

  3. I admire you. And I think it's a terrific idea for you to pursue. An good old friend of mine took up the sport about 30 years ago, and the phenomenal shape he's developed and stayed in since then is awe-inspiring. Hmm, come to think of it, you're already awe-inspiring, so forget everything I said. :)

  4. I'm a big fan of Lewis...and of rowing! Hope you're having a wonderful summer in the village!