My new boat, an Alden Star

Previously owned by the Marblehead Rowing Club. I was impressed with the club.  They are set up in a corner of a big warehouse type building in a boatyard on Marblehead’s little harbor.


I was shown to the boat which was on the clubs immaculate racks.  There was a group of folks who had just rowed over the Manchester and back (that’s 11 miles round trip!) enjoying some coffee and scones.  The boat looked really nice.  Someone had cleaned it up nicely.  We took it out to the dock and the guy from the club who was selling the boat (and my Dad, who lives in Marblehead) got in a launch to follow me and make sure I didn’t die.

The boat seemed familiar and unfamiliar all at the same time.  It’s a lot wider, so it has a lot more intrinsic stability.  It is only 22′ long, so it has less directional stability.  I was expecting it to feel much heavier to row, but it did not.  In fact it felt quite responsive.

The cockpit is shallow, so that it will not get weighed down with water that inevitably gets into it.  There is an automatic bailer that will pull water out of the cockpit if you are rowing.  It has clogs instead of shoes.  These were very secure and comfortable in use.  On the stern deck is a reverse reading compass.  Even with coastal rowing, it is often very hard to get a point to steer from, and the compass is handy to keep a good line.

The riggers are a simple aluminum tube and can be removed by unscrewing 4 hex screws.  I’ve been warned that the rigger hasn’t been off in years and these screws might be tough to remove.  We’ll see if I ever need to get them off.  The oarlocks are standard issue concept2, set on pins that project up from the rigger, so the oarlocks can rotate 360 degrees around the pin.  There are two access ports.  The one on the seat deck has a gear bag inside it and a tow line in the bag.  The bow one does not.  There is shock cord tie downs to hold a PFD just toward the bow from the rower.

A close inspection of the hull and deck showed no significant scratches.  When held at the ends, there is a bit more flex in this boat than in a carbon fiber single, but I would expect that since there is more weight, the weight is in the middle and it’s fiberglass.  I didn’t notice any flexure when rowing.

I headed out of the harbor and into the confuse chop.  There was about a 1 foot swell, plus wakes from a whole bunch of motorboats buzzing around.  Coming out of the harbor, I was going up into it, and I started to get a feel for adjusting my timing to match the wave frequency.  I was a bit nervous about rowing across the waves, but the motion was not that bad and the boat was very stable when rowed.  I stopped and let the launch catch up with me and we noticed that the light mist had become a reasonably thick fog, so I decided to cut it short and loop back in behind the island.  I pushed up the pace and rate for the last 500 meters or so to see how the boat felt, and to put a bit more stress on the riggers and oarlocks.  The boat felt solid, and the riggers and oarlocks were stiff and smooth.  I was smitten.  Rowing on open water is a different experience.  The waves were quite small and I still managed to ship a fair amount of water in the cockpit from waves breaking over the bow.  I set the foot stretcher by eye and it turned out to be just about right.  I was very comfortable the way it was rigged.

On taking the boat out of the water, we noticed that it had taken on a little water, maybe a cup or so.  I suspect that there is a leak somewhere, perhaps around the bailer, or one of the ports.  I will give it a close inspection and recaulk the most obvious seams.

After I got the boat loaded, the guy selling me the boat gave me a scone and water and started telling me about the club.  They seem to have a lot of fun.  They send a group up to compete in the Blackburn Challenge every year.  This race is on my Rowing Bucket List.  This is a race that circumnavigates Cape Ann.  It is over 20 miles long and usually provides a pretty wild set of conditions.

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It starts in gloucester, around the place labeled Babson Ledge.  It then proceeds up the annisquam river to the north mouth of the river, then east along cape ann, then turns south, going past Rockport harbor, and then finally turning back south west for the leg back to gloucester harbor.  If there is a South East wind, there tends to be pretty big swells along the Southwest leg of the race.

Last year it was a bit windy, and the wind was from the North.  When the races were coming out of the north mouth of the river, the tide was ebbing, so there was a wind blowing over the outgoing tide, building some big waves.

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Anyway, the guy who sold me the boat invite me up to join them for a practice or two, and to come with them to the race.  It’s July 16 this year, which is a bit too soon for me to feel comfortable, but I think I’m going to plan and train for it for next year.  It would basically be marathon training because it takes between 3.5 and 4.5 depending on conditions.  I think it would be a blast!


Saturday: 6 x 1K

Weather as warm (mid 60s), cloudy at first, but then the sun broke through and a light 0-3mph breeze from the NNW.  This was a headwind going down river, but only a slowed me down a bit.

The plan:

  • 6 x 1K intervals
  • rate r24 to r28
  • long rests, maybe 4 or 5 minutes.  Enough time so I could get myself to a good start point
  • Head race pace

It was one of those workouts that makes you feel intimidated before you even start it.  I have done very little harder rowing in the boat, only a few 1′ pieces and some longer pieces where I started slow and sped up.  I know that I need to get going if I’m going to feel at all comfortable doing any sprint racing.  My stomach didn’t feel all that great either.  Arriving at the river, I had a vague feeling like I wouldn’t mind going to the bathroom and sitting for a while, but I ignored it and got out on the river.

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I did a Rojabo style warmup, and I felt pretty good during it.  I was winded after the last 20 stroke set at >34SPM, but that’s the point.  Then I spun around, had a quick sip of water, and psyched myself up for the first interval.  I got up to speed and noted the distance on the speedcoach.  My rowing felt nice and smooth, all that r18 work seems to be helping, at least a little.  This rep took me across the Moody street basin, up the channel, through the Prospect Street bridge and then finished up in front of the watch factory.  I kind of like navigating through the bridge for pressure work.  It really makes you think about steering in race-like situations.  When I finished the rep, it was clear I wouldn’t be able to maintain that level of intensity for 5 more reps.  I gave myself permission to do the reps at r24, but I was not going to quit.  My bathroom urges were lurking in the background as well (sorry for the TMI, but I think it’s a pretty standard issue for rowers).

I paddled all the way to the downstream end of the straight 1K shot back to the start of the course, had a drink, and off I went.  I felt a bit more relaxed in this rep.  The speedcoach said that I was getting less run, but I felt like I was rowing with greater length.  I sure was tired at the end of it though.

I paddled around a bit and then did rep #3 down stream.  Uneventful, but slower because of the light headwind.  I then paddled through the S-curve and did rep #4 in front of the watch factory, through the prospect street bridge, and finished at the end of the channel leading out to the Moody street basin.  Turn the boat, have a drink, get lined up, and then rep #5 back under the bridge and finishing up right after the watch factory.  I was really tired by this point, but I only had one rep to go.  I set up at the end of the straight 1K and started nice and easy.  I just rowed for length and form through the first 500m or so.  I was counting strokes.  Around stroke 50, I was at about 450m in.  I took “10 for length”, really trying to keep my back straight, but reach wayyyy out to the catch.  At Stroke 60, I took “10 for finishes”, trying to go early enough at the finish to not touch my shirt, and avoid too much layback.  At Stroke 70, I took “10 for recoveries” and tried to keep my blades totally off the water on recovery.  Now I was at 80 strokes and I had 40 left.  I started pushing more intently to the finish.  I started to push the rate higher and worked on steering.  Its easy to misjudge the approach to the end of the 1K.  There is a slight starboard turn that if you take it too soon, you end up in the weeds, and if you wait too long, you end up having to turn to sharply and lose speed.  Once I had my line to the finish I had 20 strokes left and I noticed that my right calf was cramping up.  Every time I compressed at the catch, it would cramp up, and then ease when my leg was fully extended.

It’s interesting how my brain works at moments like this.  It hurt like hell, but my leg still seemed to be working, and I knew that I only had about 40 seconds more to go.  My heart rate was up in the anaerobic zone and my vision was narrowing.  It felt like time was slowing down.  But I was able to stay focused on placing my blades, driving smoothly, finishing and recovering clean as I counted down.  As soon as I finished, I was worried that I had cheated the distance by 100m, but the speedcoach says that I didn’t.  Also when I finished, my calf cramped hard, and so did my abs, right under my rib cage on my right side.  I got my feet out of the shoes, stretched out my legs and torso as best I could, and rowed with feet out back to the dock.

My paces were terrible, but I am really thrilled to have gotten through it.

Start_|_Dist_|__Time_|_Split Pace_|_Strokes_|_SPM__|_DPS__|_Remarks
12550_|_1356_|_10:12_|_3:45.7_____|_160_____|_15.7_|_08.5_|_Feet out

6000_____|_26:57_|_2:14.7_|_719_____|_26.7_|_08.3_|_Main set
1356_____|_10:12_|_3:45.7_|_160_____|_15.7_|_08.5_|_Cool down

2450_____|_25:05_|_5:07.2_|_275_____|_11.0_|_08.9_|_rest meters

After that,  jumped in my car, drove up to Marblehead, bought a boat (more on that later), drove back to Hopkinton, unloaded the boat, put the canoe on the car, went canoeing with my wife and some friends of ours for a couple hours, and then went out for dinner.  By the time we got home, I was exhausted!

Sunday:  Rest day.