I read an interesting article the other day from New Scientist. It was about the work of John Barrow of Cambridge University is doing with boat rigs. It appears that he is fascinated by the various tandem rig options in an 8. I am on the track of the original article and will report on it when I have read it. Meanwhile Justin Millmow’s summary provides some points to ponder and raises more questions than it answers.
There is also a report of the original article on the MIT Technology Review blog and some discussion.
If I understand Barrow correctly he has looked at the turning moments generated by the levers the various athletes have as a result of their differing distances from the pivot point of the boat which is assumed to be the stern. Not surprisingly he comes up with the suggestion that the theoretically most effective rigs are those that have both sides of the crew having equal leverage; so rigs with various variants of the tandem are favoured. Most rowers are aware of the Italian sbbssbbs and the German sbsbbsbs and their mirror images. Barrow has identified two other possible symmetric rigs sbbsbssb and ssbbbbss. He has never seen either of these in use.
He has apparently tried the four in a row option with the help of a crew from Imperial College, though the article doesn’t give any indication of the outing’s success or failure. The German rig is quite common and I have seen the Italian triple tandem pair option occasionally. (NZL W8 World’s 1978). The first of Barrow’s supposedly unseen variations has been spotted in New Zealand. Christ’s College have a very successful rowing programme and have a habit of rigging variations. Peter O’Connor of the Christ’s coaching staff tells me they have used all of the first three of the possible variants and their mirror images. He also told me he wanted to try the ssbbbbss option but was told he mustn’t because it would break the boat.
Millmow discusses reasons for and against such rigging variants and quotes Volker Nolte, the well known biomechanist and rowing coach. The problems associated with complex rigs are given as being associated with the stroke having to row in disturbed water and the possible effect of wash on the sternward members of a same side grouping. Nolte is reported as explaining the single tandem pair in the successful CAN M8 at Beijing as being used because of weight as it allowed for the lighter crew members to be further towards the bow and thus for the boat to run bow up.
No mention is made of other factors often considered by rowing coaches pondering a seating order. Much thought and experimentation goes into the seating order of a crew; skill, power, weight and personality are all factors. Tandem seating orders are often used as a last resort to allow the placement of a less skilled or clumsy athlete more in the middle of the boat or behind a role model who is easy to follow. Another common reason to alter seating order is power; if the bow rower is pulling the boat around she or he is often moved to 2 seat and the weaker number 2 to the bow.
Consider the asymmetry in a 2-. How do we make a pair go straight? Presumably by having varying power applications from bow and stroke? I seem to remember some work on this by Peggy McBride at the AIS in the 90’s. Is this applicable to the bigger boats?
So – do we rig our eights for theoretical best practice? Do we rig our eights to suit the athletes we have? Or do we rig our boats one way and try and teach the athletes to row to suit the boat and the seat they are in?