An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 6: The tools

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span || Oar length, inboard, and blade profile || Pitch || Rigger height and work through || Rigging and de-rigging a boat

The final post in this rigging series is going to go over a few of the tools you need to rig your boat. There aren’t many and in all likelihood, you’ve already got most or all of these hanging around your boathouse somewhere.

Pitch meter

Used to measure pitch, hence the name. The one I have posted here a manual one from Empacher (Vespoli also sells them) but there are also digital ones available.

Tape measure

Used for measuring everything else; spread, span, height, etc. Easily found at Lowe’s, Home Depot, or the junk drawer in your kitchen.

7/16″ or 10mm wrench

Every coxswain should have one or more 7/16 or 10mm wrenches, depending on what brand of boat you have. You can also get a coxswain multi-tool which has a few different wrenches built into one. The one above is from JL but Vespoli also sells them. I have two of the Vespoli tools and like them but if given the option I’ll always go with the normal wrenches just because I find them easier to use, particularly when trying to loosen bolts that have been tightened too much. The smaller Vespoli wrenches don’t provide as much leverage so in those cases they can be a little difficult to handle.

The only one of these that you definitely need to own is a wrench – your coach will already have the pitch meter and tape measure in their toolboxes.

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 5: How to rig and de-rig a boat

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span || Oar length, inboard, and blade profile || Pitch || Rigger height and work through

Rigging is one of those things where I feel like you can just look at the boat and see that “Oh, there are nuts and bolts holding the riggers on … so to de-rig all I need to do is take the nuts and bolts off, sit them somewhere where they won’t be lost, and then put them back on when the rigger is off.” You’d be surprised how many times that has not the case.

Some coaches put their coxswains in charge of rigging the boats themselves, others go through at the end and quickly make sure everything is tightened up, others just walk around with their wrenches in case anyone needs one. All are fine for you to do but all still require you to still know how to rig the boat, which wrenches to use on which bolts, etc.

How to rig a boat

Before you get started, make sure that you know the parts of the rigger and what the front stay and back stay are before you rig your boat. Knowing this can help you avoid putting all the riggers on backwards.

Something very important to remember is to not tighten the bolts too much. If you tighten the bolts too much you can crack the ribs that make up the frame of the hull. My coaches have always had the rowers tighten them to finger-tight (as tight as you can get them using just your fingers) and then the coxswains would go around and two-finger tighten them with the wrenches (as tight as you can get them with only your index and middle finger leveraging the wrench). Then they’d go around and make any final adjustments.

Don’t forget to check the top nut on the oarlock either. These need to be locked on pretty tightly (more than two-finger tight) so make sure you go over them when you’re tightening everything else.

How to de-rig a boat

When you take the nuts and bolts off, put them in the shoes or in the tracks. Do not try and hold them in your hand because you’ll probably drop them. If you drop one, obviously look for it but if you can’t find it tell your coach and/or coxswain so they can bring you a spare. The rigger needs all of the nuts and bolts so if you think your coach will be pissed that you dropped one nut and/or bolt, wait until you see him when your entire rigger has come off in the middle of practice and you tell him you knew it was missing one of the pieces.

Last thing, just as a general reminder – when you’re rigging a boat, you’re usually headed out to practice or race immediately after and when you’re de-rigging you probably just got home from a regatta or you’re heading home after practice. Regardless, there’s always somewhere you have to be and you want to get there as quickly as possible. Don’t rush the rigging process to the point where things aren’t done properly but don’t move at a glacial pace either. Rigging an eight should take no more than 10-15 minutes, TOPS. De-rigging should be even quicker.

Once you’re done rigging your seat either help the person beside you or go somewhere else. Personally I like for rowers to go away when they’re done, that way I can see who’s left and how much still needs to be done. If there’s seven people all standing around the boat or one seat or whatever it just makes it hard to maneuver around the boat to check everything. You can help speed up the process by moving out of the way when you’re done so the coxswains and/or coaches can finish up.

Next week: Tools for rigging

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 4: Rigger height and work through

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span || Oar length, inboard, and blade profile || Pitch

Today I’m gonna go over the last two “technical” parts of rigging – the height of your riggers and the work through. I’ve also included two videos that show how to measure both of those.

Rigger height

What this refers to isn’t the riggers themselves but the height of the oarlocks and their distance from the surface of the water. This is an important part of rigging for a very simple reason – if your oarlock is too close to the water, you’re not going to be able to get the blade out of the water and if it’s too far above the water, you’re not going to be able to get the blade in.

When I’m coaching, especially with novices, one of the things I’ll have them do is sit at the finish and just stay there for a second while I quickly look at each rower and where their blade is. If someone has their hands too high or low I’ll have them adjust them to belly-button(ish) level and see what that does to the boat. The goal of all this is to find the spot that allows them to finish cleanly out of the water while still getting the maximum leverage from their oar. If adjusting that puts them in an unnatural finish position then I’ll look at the height of the oarlock to make the change.

Another thing that might indicate you need to adjust your rigger height is if your hands are making an abnormally large arc on the drive. This is usually an indication that your height is too high, which means you’ve got to lift the hands higher in order to get and keep your blade in the water. If it feels like you’re constantly digging the blade in, have your coach check it out.

To measure this you need a tape measure and a straightedge level. Place the level on the gunnels and the tape measure on the top of the seat. Measure the distance from the seat to the level before moving your tape measure out to oarlock. Set the measurement you just took on top of the level (so, if you measure 6 inches, put the 6 inch mark on the level) and look at the point where the oarlock intersects the level. I’ve read several “standard” height ranges so I’m not sure which one actually is standard but the most common one that I read was somewhere in the 6-7 inch range.

Now that you know how to measure it, you have to know how to adjust it. This is easily done by popping off the spacers and moving them either below the oarlock to add height or above the oarlock to lower the height. These things can be a pain to get off, especially if it’s cold, raining, snowing, etc. so it’s best that your coxswain carry a couple spares with them in case you lose one in the river (which is a common occurance).

Here’s how it’s done.

Work through

Work through is comprised of the tracks, foot stretchers, and location of the riggers and is defined as “how far a rower is rigged in front of or behind the oarlock pin or the location of the outside arc of the stroke in relation to the pin”. To keep this simple I’m going to defer to what row2k has written about it since it’s all fairly straightforward.

When reading about all of this, a lot of articles made note of foot stretchers as part of the work through but didn’t go into much detail on them. It’s pretty simple though and has to do with the angle they’re set at. Having them at too steep or too shallow of an angle would result in a lot of inefficiency with the leg drive so it’s not common to move them. Too steep of an angle would make it hard to get to full compression which would result in only being able to row at half to three-quarter slide whereas too shallow of an angle would cause you to drive more vertically than horizontally, which would press your weight down into the boat (making it feel heavier) instead of straight back towards bow.

Tracks

To ensure you’re not jumping your tracks you need to make sure they’re evenly aligned. Sometimes the screws holding them in place can come loose over time which can cause them to slide around a bit so if your seat is popping off check first to make sure they’re even.

Their positioning in relation to the pin though is the main thing to look at. Here’s what row2k said:

WHAT – The amount of track on the stern side of the oarlock pin.

WHERE – The distance from the front stops of the tracks to a perpendicular line through the oarlock pin towards the centerline determines the amount of work through in the rig.

WHY – To maximize the most powerful part of the stroke (mid-drive), the work through must be increased for faster shell classifications. First the tracks must be set to the desired work through, then the foot stretchers can be adjusted so that each rower reaches proper leg compression at the catch for the given work through.

HOW MUCH – Work through varies depending on hull speed, but averages from 0 to 2 cm for pairs, to 8 to 12 cm for eights.

HOW TO MEASURE – For a quick measurement of work through, measure from the center of the mid-drive knee (should be perpendicular to the oarlock rigger) to the bow end of the track’s front stop. It’s usually a good idea to place some tape next to the track to signify the location of the pin for easy reference.

Here’s a video that shows how to measure the tracks.

Rigger location

The last part is the location of the riggers on the hull itself.

WHAT – Instead of adjusting tracks to get the proper work through, some riggers can be shifted towards the bow or stern to get the same effect.

WHERE – Adjusting the rigger moves the oarlock pin in relation to the front stops.

WHY – To maximize the most powerful part of the stroke (mid-drive), the work through must be increased for faster shell classifications. First the tracks must be set to the desired work through, then the foot stretchers can be adjusted so that each rower reaches proper leg compression at the catch for the given work through.

HOW MUCH – Work through varies depending on hull speed, but averages from 0 to 2 cm for pairs, to 8 to 12 cm for eights.

HOW TO MEASURE – For a quick measurement of work through, measure from the center of the mid-drive knee (should be perpendicular to the oarlock rigger) to the bow end of the track’s front stop.

Next week: Rigging and de-rigging a boat

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 3: Pitch

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span || Oar length, inboard, and blade profile

Today’s post is going to talk about pitch. There are two types – stern and lateral. Stern pitch, which goes from front to back (aka stern to bow), is the angle that the oarlock pin is set from vertical during the drive. Lateral pitch is the degree of angle that the pin is either to or away from the midline of the boat.

Stern pitch

Stern pitch is a necessary component of rigging because it’s what helps hold the oar’s position in the water during the drive (meaning that it plays a part in ensuring the blade is at the proper depth). Since your blade is not strictly horizontal to the shell while in the water – it’s angled downwards – the pitch of the oarlock is necessary in helping keep the blade buried. 4 degrees is the standard angle, but it can range anywhere from 3-7. Too much pitch (7+ degrees) will cause the blade to wash out at the finish, whereas not enough (less than 4 degrees) will cause the blade to dig in too deep.

Lateral pitch

Lateral pitch creates different degrees of pitch at each end of the stroke. An outward pitch of one degree away from the boat’s midline increases the stern pitch by one degree (keeps the blade buried) and decreases the stern pitch by one degree at the finish (allows the blade to pop out more easily). Pitch here shouldn’t be more than one degree at most – the typical range is between 0 and 1 degrees to avoid creating too much depth on one end and not enough on the other.

To measure both the stern and lateral pitch, you’ll need a pitch meter. The most important part of doing this is making sure your boat is stable and not sitting cockeyed in the slings. It’s not a bad idea once you’ve set it down to go stand at the bowball and look down the boat to ensure it’s level. Set your pitch meter on the gunnel and calibrate it so that the bubble is in the middle of the level. It should read “zero degrees” at this point.

From here, take it out to the oarlock, set it against the face of the oar lock, and adjust it until the bubble is in the middle of the level again. This will tell you the degrees of your stern pitch (remember, 4 is average but it can range from 3-7). To measure lateral pitch, you’ll first have to take the oarlock off the pin so you can get better access to it. Place the pitch meter against the pin and measure the angle away from midline of the boat the same way you measured the stern pitch.

Here’s a video that demonstrates how to do it:

Next week: Rigger height and work through

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 2: Oar length, inboard, and blade profile

Previously: Intro to rigging, spread, and span

Continuing on with the discussion on rigging, this post will go over the other components of leverage. Last time I talked about spread and span, what they are, how they’re measured, etc. and today we’ll go over oar length and inboard, as well as briefly touch on blade size.

Oar length

Oar length is exactly what it says it is – the total length of the oar. It’s measured down the center line of the oar from the tip of the handle, including the rounded edge on most Concept 2s, all the way to the end of the blade. Concept 2 lists the average length of their adjustable oars as being between 362 and 378cm, depending on what oars you get. Oars used with sculling are shorter and fall between 274 and 292cm.

The longer the oar, the heavier the boat is going to feel and vice versa – the shorter it is, the lighter the boat feels.

Concept 2 recommends shortening the oars if you have more efficient blades (such as their Fat2), are in a slower or heavier boat, have a long reach or a narrow spread, or when sculling, if the handles overlap too much.

To adjust the oar length on Concept 2s, you’ll need a T20 screwdriver and a Phillips flat head screwdriver. There are two screws – the clamping screw and the adjusting screw. Start by loosening the clamping screw with the flat head screwdriver (don’t take it out though) and once you’ve loosened it, use the T20 to turn the adjusting screw that’s on the end of the handle. Four turns = 1cm. To shorten the oar, turn the screw clockwise and turn it counterclockwise to lengthen it. When you’ve got it to the length you want, re-tighten the clamping screw.

It’s a little hard to hear in this video, but if you turn your volume up you’ll be able to see how overall length is measured with your standard tape measure.

Inboard

The inboard is the part of the oar that goes from the oarlock to the end of the handle. (Outboard is from the oarlock to the end of the blade.) A fairly accepted method of measuring it with sweep boats is to take the spread of your boat and just add 30cm. With sculling, you would calculate the spread, divide by two, and add 6-8cm. Whatever measurement you come up with (usually 112-116cm for sweep and 87-89cm for sculling), measure that amount from the tip of the handle down the shaft. That position is where you’ll place the collars (or “buttons”, as they’re sometimes called), which are what keep the oar positioned against the oarlock and prevent the blade from sliding through.

Moving the collar closer to the end of the handle (shortening the inboard) increases the efficiency of your boat’s rigging but the caveat is that it makes the boat feel heavier. The issue with the boat feeling heavier is that it requires more effort to move, which leads to the rowers getting fatigued faster because they’re exerting more overall energy to power the boat.

One alternative to adjusting the collars, especially if you share oars with other crews, is to use a clam. Clams (or C.L.A.M., Clip-on Load Adjustment Mechanism) clip onto the sleeve in between the collar and the oarlock and are super easy to put on and remove. They’re used to adjust the load without actually making an adjustment to the oar itself. One clam is equal to one centimeter of inboard so the extra length you get from adding one (or several) increases the lightness of the boat.

If oars are shared between crews and the rigging is such that it’s too heavy for the next crew, they can pop on some clams and lighten the load without doing much damage in regards to the efficiency of the rigging. When you’re rowing into a headwind they can also be helpful in moving the boat. As a secondary benefit, they also protect the collars from wear and tear from being up against the oarlocks. row2k also has some good hacks for storing clams too, which you can read about here and here.

If you go here, you can check out a video from Concept 2 where they show how to measure the inboard and if you go here, you can see how collars are installed and adjusted.

Blade profile

Blade size is the last thing that helps create leverage. The larger the surface area of the blade, the more leverage you’ll create and the more efficient the rigging will be but it also results in a heavier boat feel felt by the rowers. As the rower moves the blade through the water, the trajectory of the blade generates the load that they feel. Different blades have different “loading profiles” so where the load is felt can differ depending on what you have (some blades have more resistance at the beginning of the drive, others have more at the end).

As technology has evolved, so too have the designs of the blades. If you look at old pictures of rowers you’ll see the “spoon” blade but as you progress to modern times you’ll see the more commonly used “hatchet” blades, of which Concept 2 has several varieties. (You can read about Concept 2’s innovation with blade designs here.) In the grand scheme of things, blade size has a minimal effect on one’s rigging when compared to other variables and shouldn’t be used to adjust the load felt by the rowers – that should be done by making adjustments to the oar length, spread, span, and inboard.

Next week: Pitch

An Introduction to Rigging, pt. 1: Spread and span

When I was in high school I went to a coxswain clinic where Mike Vespoli taught us the basics of rigging and talked about how to measure each variable, what it meant, where to measure from, why it was important, etc. That’s what I’m going to post in this series so that you can get a basic idea of what rigging entails beyond just taking the riggers on and off your boat.

So, why is rigging important? Its main objective is to accommodate all the different bodies in the boat so that when they row, regardless of their size, the oar still moves in the same general arc through the water. The more similar the oar’s trajectory, the more efficient the boat will be.

Here’s what this series will go over:

Part 1 || Spread and span, with videos included that show how to measure them

Part 2 || Oar length and inboard

Part 3 || Pitch, with videos included on how to measure it in your boat

Part 4 || Rigger height and work through

Part 5 || How to rig and de-rig a boat

Part 6 || The tools you nee to rig a boat

Going back to physics, when you row you’re using leverage in a lot of different places. One of the reasons why tall people are appreciated in this sport over their vertically challenged counterparts is because the longer you are, the farther you can reach, and the more leverage you can get on the oar to power it through the water and move the boat. Leverage in rigging comes from spread (in sweeping) and span (in sculling), as well as from the inboard and length of the oar, which I’ll talk more about in Part 2.

Spread

A fulcrum is the point about which a lever is supported and pivots. A lever produces force on one end (the load) while pressure is applied on the other (effort).  So, when effort is exerted on one end, the lever pivots about the fulcrum to produce a load on the other end. Thinking in terms of an oar, you create leverage by pushing off the foot stretchers, pushing with your legs, pulling with your upper body (to an extent), and driving the oar through the water. The pressure you put on the handle allows it to rotate around the oarlock and move the blade through the water. The “load” is the pressure you feel against the blade from the water. You are moving the load as the oar goes through the water.

So, how does that relate to spread? And what is spread? Spread is the distance from the middle line of your boat to the pin of the oarlock. If you increase the spread it will make the boat feel lighter but your rowing will be less efficient because the fulcrum will be farther from where you’re exerting your effort.

The best analogy I can think of is to think of it like you’re holding a broom strick when you’re sweeping up something on the floor. If you could balance the broom on your hand, the point where your hand sits on the handle when it’s perfectly level would be the fulcrum. Keeping your hands there is where your sweeping will be the most efficient. If you move your hands one way or the other (towards the top of bottom of the handle), the broom will feel lighter and maybe easier to move, but you’re movement isn’t nearly as efficient because you’re not generating enough effort to move the load on the other end. Make sense? Kinda, sorta?

The spread of your boat will be determined by the experience level of your crew, how skilled they are, the size of the boat, etc. It is adjusted by moving the pin either closer or farther away from the boat. If you look at the this picture of an oarlock and rigger, you can see that the oarlock is in a slot that allows it to move back and forth when the bolts are loosened.

Typically, the spread is somewhere between 80-88ish centimeters. To take it’s measurement using a standard tape measure, this is what you do:

Measure from one gunnel to the other and find the middle of that measurement. If it’s 10 centimeters, the middle would be five. Simply divide by two.

Move the tape measure so that the number you just determined, the middle (5, in this case), is sitting on the gunnel. The end of the tape measure should be hanging out over the center of the boat.

Extend the tape measure out towards the oarlock’s pin and measure. That measurement, from the center of the boat to the pin, is your spread.

Mathematically it’d look something like this:

[(Distance from G1 to G2)/2] + (Distance from G2 to pin) = spread

…where G1 = one side of the boat and G2 = the other side, the side that the rigger is on.

Here’s a quick video demonstrating how to measure spread. Remember, spread only applies to sweep boats, not quads, doubles, or singles.

Span

The difference between sculling and sweep rowing is that instead of one fulcrum, there are two. The spread then goes from being from the center of the boat to the pin to being from the starboard pin to the port pin. Similarly to in sweep rowing how moving the pin farther from the boat decreases the efficiency of your stroke, the same is true with sculling. The average distance between pins is usually something like 157-160ish centimeters and is adjusted in the same way (moving the oarlock closer or farther from the boat by loosening and moving the pin).

Measuring the span is fairly simple, but after thinking about it for a second I realized that the “simple” way I was thinking of was wrong. This is something that Dr. Davenport touches on in the video below, which I was actually internally very excited about (“yay, my thinking is on the right track!”). I was thinking that all you’d have to do would be to take your tape measure and measure from one pin to another – very “keep it simple, stupid”. However, that only tells you the distance the two pins are apart – it doesn’t tell you their distance from the center of the boat. They could be 160cm apart, but the starboard oar could be two centimeters further from the center than the port oar, which can mess you up when you get out on the water. So, as Dr. Davenport suggests, to get your span, first determine the spread (distance from the center of the boat to the pin) for each oarlock and then add the two together.

Mathematically it’d look like this:

{[(Distance from G1 to G2)/2] + (Distance from G1 to pin)} + {[(Distance from G1 to G2)/2] + (Distance from G2 to pin)} = span.

And here’s another video showing how it’s done.

Next week: Oar length, inboard, and blade profile