Notes from a Rower – Icebreaker Race

lcmm Champlain Longboats

Rudderless Rowers Triumph

The competition knows we are in the lead and they are worried. Our backs to the buoy we row long and hard. Bill, our coxswain, looks behind at the other rowers hot on our heels. I know that look, the look that means we’re coming to the corner.

Bill says, “Starboard: flip and push, Port: power strokes!”

Champlain Valley Union High School students figure out how to adapt after their rudder “unships” during the race. Photo by Buzz Kuhns.

The starboard half of the crew flips their oars and my side, the port side, power strokes it out. We lose speed at the buoy where we make the turn and the boat in second place crashes into us. We drift a little and another boat skirts by. We silently fight it out with the boat that crashed into us and we finally get free and pull ahead. More boats crowd in and force the boat that was in second place towards our stern. We all think they’ll miss us, but no, they just hit our rudder, making it fall off.

For a split second Bill panics and the team hesitantly keeps rowing. Bill tells us we will have to row without a rudder. At first the team doesn’t know what to do, we just keep rowing trying not to lose our momentum. Then Bill explains his plan… that  he is going to tell us what to do to steer us along.

After sustaining two impacts with other boats, the now-rudderless gig Osprey regroups and finishes third in the 2014 James Wakefield Rescue Row. Photo by Buzz Kuhns.

With determination in his voice he shouts out to us:

“All right port I need more from you!”

“Starboard keep pace but less power.”

Moments later he makes another adjustment:  “Port I need you to come on.”

It works! We are rowing hard and keeping on course! Then instead of speaking the commands,  Bill motions with his hands and we all follow his orders. We are back in the race and rowing hard now. I being on port basically just did power strokes the rest of the way to the finish. We row perfectly straight and finish in third!

As we cross the finish line, Bill holds up the broken rudder over his head to celebrate. We all couldn’t believe what we just had done and we cheered each other for our victory and for working so hard. My family says that they didn’t know that we had lost our rudder because we were rowing so straight.


AbouElaine-Beaudin-CVU-Rowing-Teamt the Author

Elaine Beaudin is a student at Champlain Valley Union High School and is a member of the rowing team.

About the Event: James Wakefield Rescue Row

On Saturday October 11, 2014, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Champlain Longboats Program held its annual fall youth rowing race, the James Wakefield Rescue Row at Button Bay State Park. The race is named after James Wakefield who rowed out to the Burlington Breakwater through a fierce winter gale in December 1876 to rescue the passengers and crew of the shipwrecked canal schoonerGeneral Butler.  Over 120 youth participated, rowing 25- and 32-foot rowing boats in a series of heats. Crews hailed from local schools, including Burlington High School, South Burlington High School, Vergennes Middle and High School, Champlain Valley Union High School and Mt. Abe Middle and High School and the Diversified Occupations Program from Middlebury, as well as from Northhaven, Vinalhaven, and Rockland Maine. All of the boats used in the event were built at Lake Champlain Maritime Museum by Vermont High School and Middle School students.  Read the complete race results and more photos here.