Question of the Day

Hi there – I’ve just come out of my first racing season and after talking to my crew and coaches, my weakness still lies within steering; more specifically oversteering.

My racing season consisted of Sykes bow-loaded fours (so steering is done with the rod). The steering system is an AEROWFIN. From the other fours I’ve coxed with the traditional square fin, this one is obviously more touchy and responsive (which has its pros and cons). The problem is that at the tip of the fin, (the point on the rudder that is furthest away from the hull) there is a small crease/slight bend in the rudder. I’m not sure whether this may contribute to some of the steering issues I’ve had.

In the eight that I’ve raced once, we have stuck an oversized fin for the Head of the Yarra we do every year and left it on for the whole season. The rudder does not, however line up dead straight with the fin, it is 1-2mm wide of it. At the beginning of the season, I tried lining up the rudder to be dead straight but moving the rod (while on slings) and looking from the stern down towards the bow at the rudder in order to gauge its “straightness”. I’d then mark the point in my seat to which the position of the rod/string corresponds to a straight rudder. However, I struggle to think of a time when leaving the rudder at that point does not stop the bow ball drifting to either side.

The possible factors I see which might be the cause of my oversteering.
– Power Imbalance
– Current/Wind (Although I’ve steered in near flat conditions and it still occurs)
– Rudder Defect(s)

Often when we train, I’m autopiloting the steering aspect because the river is very simple with gradual turns. But come race day on a buoyed course, it becomes pretty awful. Talking to my stroke, he said that it wasn’t like I was changing the direction of the rudder every three strokes, but it was more of a gradual snaking which was costing us metres. The four I cox have spent a lot of time in the 4- and tbh can steer straighter than I can (although this is an example of a different occasion, with different conditions and a different body of water).

The fact is that I’d like to rectify my steering issues, the next few months will be primarily Winter Training or Head Racing. How do I do it? Do I start from scratch and focus all my attention on steering? What is a good way to know that you’re steering straight (because it seems like I’m steering straight on home territory however as soon as we hit the buoyed course it becomes awful)? Some coxes have the liberty of training on rivers/lakes with buoys all year around whereas the river we row on doesn’t have this, how can I practise? Thank You Very Much!

I love the Aerowfin. We switched it on to one of our Empachers in the fall and it made taking the tight turns on the Charles so much simpler.

Related: Taking the Weeks turn with the Carl Douglas “Aerowfin”

I was texting with one of the MIT coxswains last week about similar steering issues and my first question was whether or not she’d checked the equipment. Not to shirk responsibility or anything like that but because even though 99% of the time the problem is us, that 1% where it’s the equipment can be really validating if you feel like you’d been doing everything you were supposed to in order to steer a good line. (Her problem ended up being an issue with the cables.) It sounds like you’ve already done the leg work in that area so I’d bring that info to your coach and/or boatman and have them look at to confirm if that’s the problem. Very rarely, borderline on never, do I suggest looking at the equipment first instead of yourself as being the problem but the fin having a bend in it and the rudder being a few millimeters out of alignment makes me think that it’s the problem, not you.

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering, pt. 1 (Oversteering)

I don’t think you need to start from scratch but maybe talk to your coach about taking out a different four to see if you have similar issues in that boat as you do in this one. If you do then the problem is clearly you and you’re gonna have to spend some time at the drawing board evaluating how you’re steering now and what adjustments you need to make. If you don’t have any of the same issues then that most likely will confirm that the other boat is the problem.

Not having a buoyed course or unobstructed straight water to practice on is the most played out excuse for why coxswains can’t steer straight. It is highly unlikely that whatever body of water you’re on doesn’t have at least 100m of water with no curves that you can practice “steering straight” on. Those are opportunities that you’ve gotta open your eyes to and be aware of so that as you’re coming up to them you can say to yourself “OK, this is the only time today I’m gonna have to practice my race steering…” and then do whatever you need to do to work on that. Tell the rowers too that you’re coming up on the part of the river where you want to practice your race steering and then afterwards, ask your stroke seat how your point looked – did it seem from their vantage point like you were snaking around or did it look relatively straight?

Related: Coxswain skills: Steering a buoyed course

Autopilot is fine when you’re warming up, executing drills, etc. but every so often you’ve gotta snap out of that habit (especially during steady state or pieces) and pay attention to every single aspect of your steering, from your hand placement to if you’re reacting to the boat’s movement and knocking the rudder, etc. All those things add up and are super easy to ignore if you’re not making a conscious effort to pay attention to them.

Related: Coxswains skills: Race steering

You’ve gotta use every practice as an opportunity to work on your steering. If you only decide to work on your steering when you notice there’s a problem (or worse, a rower or coach points it out) then it’s basically too late because now you’re hyperaware of it and that tends to exacerbate the problem. Steering is not that hard. It just isn’t. We overthink it and make it hard, which is what tends to be our downfall 99% of the time.

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