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Tales from a Novice Ocean Rower

You can teach an old seadog a few new tricks.

This I learned the nautical way when in early May, I enrolled in the Cohasset Maritime Institute's Learn to Row program. CMI rows in four-oared fiberglass composite boats specially designed for the waters off Cohasset. These unique, handcrafted boats hold four rowers plus a coxswain. Each rower sits on a sliding seat using the same sweep stroke of competitive college and high school programs. Boats are stiff and sturdy but still lightweight, a seaworthy cousin to the fragile and sleek racing shells, and are well-suited to the sometimes choppy waters of Massachusetts Bay. In addition to the joy of rowing in the beautiful ocean waters, the CMI's program accommodates a wide range of rowing abilities, strengths and intensities. Equal numbers of men and women row at CMI. They also have a separate, three-season program for youth entering eighth grade and up.

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For the first two weeks, we engaged in rowing training sessions. We were then given the opportunity to extend our memberships for the entire summer season. This meant committing to row two or three times weekly for an hour and a half each row. For me, this resulted in an early sunrise row at 6am on Saturdays and 6:30 sunset row on Monday evenings and subbing as needed. It is serious business making a commitment to your boat, as a missing oarsperson can dock the entire boat. The rows are rain or shine with only lightning curtailing a row.

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Depending on your scheduled row time, you and your crew members will prep the boat trailing the boat for the short walk to Cohasset Harbor from the boathouse. Then with the direction of the coxswain with an "up in two" the boat is lifted from the trailer into the water. Cold water alert! It is here that the most direct contact with chilly Cohasset Harbor waters takes place getting the boat in and out of the water. The crew gracefully joins the boat after deciding on their seating position. The first position "stroke" sets the pace for the boat so it is often taken by the most experienced oarsperson. Once everyone settles in place locking in their oar, adjusting foot locks, we are off for our hour and a half adventure as the coxswain directs us out of Cohasset Harbor.

Once we enter the channel past the harbor, we take a quick break to take a roll call on where we will row for the day. If the waters are choppy, this may limit options but most days bring rows to historic Minot Lighthouse or past Sandy Beach or to North Scituate. If the tide is just right, we may even have the opportunity to pass under Cunningham Bridge into Little Harbor or under infamous Border St. Bridge into the Gulf River.

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It is utterly breathtaking to see the sights. On any given row you may see a flock of osprey descending on a school of fish or a sole piper standing on a sandbar. I continue to be awestruck rowing a mile offshore to greet the storied Minot Lighthouse. Or look over your shoulder and you see the sunset over the Boston skyline. Some lucky rowers encounter harbor seals rollicking on the rocks.

Summer rowing season will conclude as our wonderful coxswains return to college. It's been an incredible experience for this novice rower and I already miss the coxswain calling upon us to "let it run!" Until next summer!

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