When a coxswain might be too much of a good thing

What is a good size for a coxswain at Grand Valley State University?

I’m mostly a rower, but I have coxed before. I think I’m a good size but I’m not sure. I don’t want to show up at a walk on and get shot down. So any ideas…[Yahoo Questions 2 weeks ago]

I don’t know what sort of racing they do at Grand Valley State University but this plaintive question got me thinking about what you might tolerate in a coxswain and why that might change depending on your boat, your crew, your water and your race.

Coxswain
Photo Courtesy: Joshua Sherurcij

Weight first

You can get an idea of how a coxswain slows you down by comparing race times in coxed and coxless boats: the fastest time over 2,000m for a heavyweight men’s coxed four carrying 55kg is 5:58.96 and for the coxless four 5:41.35 – that’s 1.6 seconds or about ¾ length further behind for every 5kg.Do the same maths in a pair and you start adding 2.5 seconds (and clear water) with every 5kg. Put lighter people into the rowing seats of your boat or add a head wind to make the race longer and the damage done by every extra kilo is greater.

So when might you overlook “chubby chops” on your coxswain?

Extra curves

Coxswains really come into their own when you’re racing on the river, going round corners, working with current and possibly tide – where steering a good course takes away the seconds that extra poundage might have added. It’s noticeable in races such as the Fours Head on the Thames or the Head of the Charles that coxed boats perform relatively (and sometimes actually) better than their coxless equivalents. And anyone that can steer straight is worth their weight in gold.

Words with added weight

Being able to tell your bow-side from your stroke-side (sorry, starboard from port) or good catches from bad ones; being able to feel a boat running and knowing what changes to make if it’s not; being able to translate the coach for the crew and back again – these are things that your rowing experience will do to lighten your load.

Short or long

You or the race? If it’s you then you can just be too long or tall to be a coxswain. Trying to squeeze into the seat may set you askew and change the balance of the boat to the mutual discomfort of everyone. Add to that any wriggling you might do trying to get comfortable with the boat flopping or going off-course each time and you can expect the wrath of both crew and coach.

A short race though, with someone who knows what they’re doing and talking about and the sin of heaviness might be forgiven; a long slog that never seems to end and everyone will have something to say to and about you.

Hanging in the balance

The bigger the race, the smaller the margins between success and failure, the more important your weight will be. When racing comes down to 1/100ths of a second and crews have a choice they’ll be looking to see what difference you can make: a good course, the right words in the right places and the minimum weight.

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One thought on “When a coxswain might be too much of a good thing

  1. John Shaddock says:

    ‘Weight First’ is an interesting, if inaccurate, analysis of the effect of the cox’s weight. Comparing coxless and coxed boats is misleading – a coxed four is something like 4-5 feet longer than a coxless and, as we all know, 80% of the rowing effort is expended in overcoming the drag of the wetted area of the hull. Longer wetted area, more drag. Calculations in the UK have shown ‘the percentage loss of speed is one sixth the percentage increase in mass. An example: assume an VIII, total mass 800 kg (=8x80kg rowers, 50kg cox, 100kg boat, 10kg oars). An extra 10 kg (=22 lbs) represents 1/80=1.25% increase in mass. So the boat moves 1.25/6=0.2% slower. Over a 6 minute race (eg 2000m) this corresponds to 0.6 sec, or 4m (about 1/5th of a boat-length )’.

    To paraphrase, a good cox is almost always worth his or her wieght.

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