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Where Have All the Oarsmen Gone?

Now That Winter Is Here,

You know it has to be winter-not only is there snow on the ground (sometimes), but there aren't even any crews out cruising on the Charles. Where there were fleets in October there are now occasional chunks of ice (without coxswain) headed downstream. One would figure the crew jocks got wise and bagged it this time of year, since it's too cold to row anyway.

Ah, but it never gets too cold to row, as any oarsperson will testify, it just gets too cold to row outside. Training goes on, and on, in the boathouse tanks, which, if you've never wintered by the Newell waterside, look like kiddie pools for grownups with oars.

Rowing in one is much like rowing on the Charles but without the upstream sunsets or the rowing-in-wake-of-a-leaking-supertanker effect the Charles sometimes provides. Rusty pipes in the new tanks do however impart a realitic brown tinge to the water on the portside.

The tanks also supply diversion for as many people as the Charles does--boatloads and boatloads. Each of the two tanks hosts three crews per hour, and they are used from 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. everyday.

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What's more, everyone who uses them would like to use them a lot more if so many other people didn't want to use them too. The result: crew members run tours of the stadium instead.

Imagine that you have the choice of any seat in the stadium of the Yale game and, lacking the smarts to pick one next to President Bok on the 50-yard line, you decide to consider the view of the Veritas in the center of the field from every possible angle and height in half an hour or less. That is what is known as a tour, and as any oarsperson knows, a tour has 37 stadia. (There are 37 sections.) Calling them stadia (rather than stadiums) makes doing them sound refined-but even stadia produce sweat in considerable quantities.

But I guess you could call running up steps refined in comparison to the ergometer. The erg, as crew members affectionately refer to it, is a form of off-the-water torture that the Chinese cannot take credit for. It looks like the tanks, but with not only no sunsets, but also no water, and no rowers. Except, of course, you. Just you, and the oar handle, a timer ticking the slowest seconds in Cambridge, if not the world, and a meter to let you know how you're doing.

It says you're dropping a little, so you take the stroke up--only three more months to go.

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