I was pretty excited for my first regatta as a competitor; when I first arrived and met with the club I told them I was very willing to race and would jump at the first opportunity. That time came the day before my birthday and on one of the first hot days of summer.
The club that hosts this event every year is near Darmstadt, so about a half hour drive from Wiesbaden. Translated literally, the name of the race is “Around the cow’s head” though no cows were present for this race. Instead it is referring to the nature reserve the race course circles around.
The course follows the old path of the Rhein, when the river was more serpentine and not forced on a straight path. The club is located near the center of the curve and the race follows the smaller river all the way around, entering the Rhine, flowing with the current, then back into the smaller river back to the club. All in all this took our boat 2 hours. I was the steuerfrau for one of the club’s two gig 4X that we brought. I did my best to cox in German but English slipped out time and again.
The gig boats are nothing like what most of my rowing friends and community are used to. They are enormous, boats we would normally picture being used for open rowing but commonly used here. I find myself frustrated with them as they’re bulky, not fast, and too old fashioned for my taste. I don’t use them when coaching the Jungen but they’re really the only option for the adults in our club. The rudder is huge, and there are actual ropes attached to steer.
It was hot on this day and our colors our navy and orange, so our uniforms were a bit on the dark side and a little warm. The scenery was nice, I was able to see the scenery since this was a distance race we weren’t going too fast and as I was steering, I had to be very conscious of the scenery so I wouldn’t run into any of it. Sometimes it felt like we were on a small creek, in other parts the river widened and had other little openings. I didn’t have a printout map, but I did have my phone and I definitely used the GPS at times.
There wasn’t much excitement before the Rhine, but I was nervous for the first 20 minutes or so. The rudder was hard to handle and I never quite got the hang of going straight, which I’m not sure is really possible. The seat was comfortable but big so I had to hold myself upright to keep from sliding around. I wasn’t entirely sure where we were going once we passed a few other boats and were in the lead of our group. And I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate effectively in German should an emergency or urgent situation arise, but luckily that didn’t happen. I was also not entirely sure of the coxswain’s position in a boat in Germany vs. the states. In the states the coxswain is important in the boat but here they seem to be an after thought, and I didn’t want to be annoying. Germany also is more stoic than the states so I wasn’t sure how much of my cheery, peppy “Go team!” was going to be appreciated. But I eventually found my rhythm. I kept track of distances for the crew and watched the shoreline until I felt more comfortable and relaxed.
Right at the time I was feeling relaxed, after we’d crossed a larger expanse of water and had to find the course again, we ran over a swan and completely bent the poor thing in half with our oars. I wasn’t sure what to feel first, horror at hitting such a pretty bird or fear when it recovered and attacked us. Luckily, it only swam at us for a short moment then decided we weren’t worth the time. Swans are numerous here, really everywhere, and I think they’ve determined they can harm a human if they want and so don’t feel the need to be as aggressive.
Once we entered the Rhine, the pace quickened solely from the immense current. The Rhine is a very fast river and I don’t often take Jungen out of the harbor to experience it; only when I feel we could use a little resistance training. On this day the weather was perfect for motorboats and jet skis so we had many of these around us. There are also huge barges going from the Netherlands to Basel and back to watch out for. My crew had warned me of whirlpools on the river and I was very nervous about encountering these; they also described small sea walls and the zig zag pattern I had to navigate around. When we reached these two phenomenon, I’m still not sure what the danger was. The whirlpools were nothing more than the edge of the current that wasn’t terribly difficult to row by and the sea walls had plenty of space in between them to steer through. But, we made it out in one piece and continued on to enter the last third of the race back in the smaller river.
Here my crew was tired and stroke (Schlagmann) started a chant they all knew. This was something I haven’t done since high school (maybe once or twice in college) but it was the tradition of counting tens for pairs in the boat, though in this case everyone got their own “zehn.” They really liked it and I kept it up to the end, when I was finally able to call the final ten strokes of the race, which was where we started and there was a nice loud bell to let us know when we hit the finish line.
After the boats were set down, there was a party in biergarten style. We had a few cakes and drinks and some wurst to finish up the day. I’ve noticed that while after a regatta in the states people will mingle for a bit or go straight to a bar, here the rowers shower up in the boathouses and then sit down for drinks and a snack. There was an award ceremony at 2:30 though we weren’t up for any and so we packed up shortly after eating and headed home.