A bottle too far? Guest post by Barrie Robinson


One of the ways to slow down a racing shell is to add weight.  As races are sometimes won by inches it would seem sensible to avoid unnecessary weight.  Obviously one should avoid taking on board heavy sweaters on a hot summer’s day’s, packed lunches, extra seats or grand pianos.

But there is one lurking weight that slimes into the shell before the race.

I am not talking about the footwear, which somehow is not regarded as weight rather as something nice to slip into after a race, but I am talking about that bottle of water.

Water bottles in your rowing boat

While we will not go into the stupidity of buying bottled water instead of using municipal tap water, we do have to look at what these water containers can do to the speed of a boat.   By the way, that bottled water joke does not apply if you are racing in Mexico or other “tap-water-challenged” places.   But then I must add that bottled water, in a lot of countries, come under “food” and thus a certain percentage of rat droppings and cockroach parts are allowed – but municipal tap water is not allowed to have this tasty component.

Anyway, back to this weight thing.  I have observed quite a number of times crews stashing water bottles under their seats.  I observed one young lady pushing a one litre bottle under her shapely seat – those sculpture wooden seats are rather nice aren’t they!  Oh, please note the use of the correct spelling of that 1 kilogram of pure water as litre not liter, we are writing in English after all.

Of course the 1 kilogram will be less if you have bottled water as one has to allow for the rat’s droppings and cockroach body parts.  I did once consider making and selling filters for water bottles to catch the debris but the bottled water people do a pretty good job – wonder what they do with all those cockroach body parts?  Maybe they add it to their hot dogs as the regulations for those are probably slacker!

How much extra boat mass is in a bottle of water?

I wander again, so back to this weight thing.  If everyone in an VIII takes even a small bottle of water it could add up to 4.5 litres, which is 4.5 kilograms or for those metrically challenged is 9.9 lbs.  Assuming a light VIII crew of total weight of 400 kilograms plus the boat and oars at 115 kilograms, the thunderous water rocket weighs 515 kilograms.  So taking calculator in hand that works out that the water bottles add 0.873% more weight.

Now all things bearing equal, which they never are, one has to suppose that this hinders speed of the boat by the same trivial amount – trivial?
That trivial addition amounts to a mere 17.46 metres !!

Now an Olympic shell is around 20 metres so we are getting close to a boat length.  So just for savage fun let us say that taking water on board could slow a boat down to lose by half a boat’s length.  To take it further we can really cut down the water on board and say we lose by a canvas – except we don’t have ‘real’ canvases anymore.   But presumably you have got the drift of this exercise by now and realise I just do not like seeing those water bottles going on board, with or without cockroach body parts.

 Why take water with you before a race?

However, that is not the end of it!  What is really strange is that the bottles come back with very little taken out of them.  For the life of me I cannot see why the crew has to have water available for the short time they are on the water during a race.  There is a sort of fad these days that one must have water constantly at hand otherwise you will dehydrate and flop to the ground in a wheezy blob.  If crews have to have water ten minutes after they have left the dock (oh please!) why not empty all bottles before the race starts.    A canvas length is a canvas length, and cockroach body parts are cockroach body parts……ah, and the rat’s droppings.

Barrie Robinson is an Englishman transplanted to Canada.   He has written the “Slim Book on Rowing” and is the manufacturer of the best selling OarRATER rating stop watch.

Other blog posts by Barrie:

  • Lessons from bad rowing websites

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