I love the water. By Dick Schwartzbard
Senior member Dick Schwartzbard has been retired from the federal government for more years than many of us have been alive.Â He was a sailor, who loved the water, but got tired of driving all the way to the Chesapeake Bay from Arlington. He tried sailing on the Potomac, but quickly got tired of getting his boat stuck in the gunk.
When the weather is warmer, don’t be surprised to find Dick up on the porch at the club. It’s one of his favorite places to just sit, relax, and watch the river and the world go by. He recalls one of these days for us.Â -The Potomac Star
I love the water.Â It’s peaceful and tranquil.Â Well, usually.Â I was quite an avid sailor back in the day, but I am willing to admit that these days, I’m probably way too comfortably ensconced in old fartdom to ever become an avid rower.Â All I know is that I love the water.Â I love looking at it.Â I love being near it.Â I love watching the shells glide overÂ its surface, especially from the porchÂ ofÂ Potomac Boat Club.Â If I have to do a little rowing every now and then to be able to watch the sun set over the river from the porch, then so be it.
Truth be told, conditions have to be pretty close to perfect for me to go for a row.Â A few months ago, I went down to the boathouse on a Sunday and found less than perfect conditions.Â Too much wind.Â Too much chop.Â The air was a bit too cold.Â Just the kind of opportunity I look forward to!Â A day to get comfortable on the porch and watch the world go by on the river.Â It didn’t take much for me to head straight to my favorite place upstairs.
I wasnâ€™t on the porch long before someone else was on the dock below to survey the scene.Â Unlike me, this brave soul decided to go for it.Â He disappeared into the house, reemerged with a boat on his head, proceeded down the ramp, and carefully placed his boat in the water.Â I’ll call him Rower 1.
Rower 1 got his oars in the oarlocks, and then got himself in his boat and situated.Â In a few minutes, he was ready to shove.Â Unfortunately, when he did, he didnâ€™tÂ quite give it enough “oomph” to clear his starboard oar.Â This is usually fine, but it didn’t seem like he knew how to use his oar to push off from the dock, either.Â Worse yet, after this “misfire,” he wasn’t able to maneuver back into a position that would allow him to try to shove again.Â Every stroke Rower 1 took with his port oar onlyÂ angled the bow of his boatÂ closerÂ to the dock and the stern farther away … the opposite position he wanted to be in.Â In fact, it looked like he was inadvertently working his way down the dock to where the coaching launches were tied up.Â I thought if he got there,Â he’dÂ really beÂ in trouble!
So, at this point, you’re probably wondering why I didn’t get up from my comfortable vantage point on the porch to go help poor Rower 1.Â Well, I thoughtÂ about it.Â Briefly.Â But as you know, rowers are a determined lot, and Rower 1 was no different.Â Back and forth, inch by inch, little by little, he kept at it.Â I wasn’t going to deprive him of achieving success on his own.Â Finally, his oar cleared justÂ enough toÂ let him takeÂ a bite and he was off!Â Good job, Rower 1!
As I watchedÂ the first rower make his wayÂ up river, anotherÂ one showed up on the dock. Â This guy was a bit quicker off the dock than the last one. He grabbed his boat and launched.Â I’ll call him Rower 2.
On the water, Rower 2 looked skilled and smooth.Â In fact, it wasn’t long before he caught up to Rower 1 and passed him.Â Now, I’m not one to take pleasure in another person’s misfortune, but the ease with which Rower 2 overtook Rower 1 … well, it made me feel pretty good. I thought, hey, maybe I’m not the slowest rower at the club after all!
I continued to watch as Rower 1 and Rower 2 disappear upstream, and then turned my eyes back to the water, sky and birds.Â Soon, another rower showed up on the dock.Â This one was about half my age, but definitely no youngster!Â Like the last two fellows, he surveyed the scene and then disappeared for few minutes to get a boat.Â He emerged with a club Maas, and set it in the water.Â I’ll call him Rower 3.
A Maas is a shorter and wider type of boat than a regular racing single, but it is also more stable.Â It’s the kind of boat I like to use, so I assumed that, like me, maybe Rower 3 didn’t have a lot of experience.Â Given the trouble Rower 1 had getting out there, I thought this might get interesting!
I watched as Rower 3 mounted his oars, but something wasn’t quite right. It seemed to me that he put them in with the oarlocks backwards!Â Why didn’t I say anything?Â Well, I thought, what do I know?Â I still consider myself a novice rower, so I resisted giving advice.Â Besides, it looked like a friend had shown up with him.Â Certainly, his friend would say something if his oarlocks were indeed backwards.Â His friend shoved him off the dock, but once he got out there, I could see that his backwards-looking oarlocks were giving him trouble.
Anyway, Rower 3 sure wasnâ€™t making much progress, and the progress he was making sure wasn’t in a straight line.Â He took the boat around another 270 degrees or so before he finally started going straight.Â The problem was, he was headed straight for the dock!Â I donâ€™t know if it was a good thing or not that the wind suddenly blew him down river, but it did.Â He missed the dock by about six feet … and went right into the shore between the dock and Jackâ€™s.
Just like Rower 1, Rower 3 persevered and finally extricated his boat from that awkward location. His friend helped him back to the dock. Clearly frustrated, he got right out of the boat to search for someone who could tell him what had gone wrong.Â Unfortunately for him, there must have been a regatta that day because most of the folks I usually see around the club weren’t there.Â Eventually, one of our most experienced members appeared, and I watched as the three of them went over the boat from bow to stern.
It’s interesting how experience sometimes blinds you to the obvious. Here was a unbelievably experienced member, who has probably forgotten more about rowing than I will ever know, yet he couldnâ€™t see the backward oarlocks.Â Maybe I was tuned in to the problem because Iâ€™ve made the same mistake putting in my own oars.Â Finally, I decided to get up from my seat on the porch, and went down to the dock to offer that the oarlocks might be backwards.Â And they were!Â I felt smart.Â They got the oarlocks facing in the right direction, made some adjustments to the foot plate, and soon, Rower 3 was back on the water and headed upstream.
About that time, Rower 1 was coming back down river. I watched from the dock as he rowed under Key Bridge, and I watched as he turned to cross the river behind the arches to come back around to the boathouse.Â But then, nothing. That was odd, I thought.Â I waited and waited for what seemed like forever, when finally something slowly came into view.
I couldnâ€™t really tell if what I was looking at was just a shadow or a log or a boat that was barely moving. It turns out it was a boat.Â And it was barely moving because it was upside down with a rower clinging to it. The bridge supports, the wind, and the current do strange things to the water close to the bridge.Â More experienced rowers go down river a bit before making the turn. Rower 1 turned too close to the bridge, an error I daresay he wonâ€™t make again.
Right away, someone in a powerboat noticed the plight of Rower 1 and rushed up to help.Â Unfortunately, he couldn’t seem to get Rower 1 out of the water.Â Soon, a couple of rowers rowed up to the poor guy and it looked like they were offering him advice on how to get back into his boat, but to no avail. Eventually, they must have decided that one of them would tow – as in row – Rower 1 and his shell back to the dock.Â And that’s precisely what they started to do.
Now, as you know, we pay some pretty high taxes in the DC area and the beneficiaries of those taxes like to show that they are earning our tax dollars.Â Just as the situation was under control, the Harbor Police came roaring up to the chain of rowers and boats, their lights flashing. They managed to pull the wet rower on board and tow his shell the remaining few feet to the dock.Â Just as I caught the bow of the rowerless shell, more flashing lights appeared on the river as a fire department boat came roaring in for its part of the rescue. And finally, it wouldn’t have been complete without a club member running down onto the dock all excited to find out what was happening. It seems that she had just pulled in to the club parking lot as three fire engines, two ambulances and a rescue van of some sort were arriving under the freeway with lights and sirens blaring.
Well, it certainly wasn’t the nice relaxing day on the porch I thought I was going to have, but I learned some valuable lessons.Â On a superficial level, I watched a couple of novices make novice mistakes. On a more substantive level, I saw two men courageous enough to accept the challenge of a new activity.Â They clearly had the determination and perseverance inherent in most rowers, so I am sure they will succeed.Â I also learned that rowing is not only physically and technically challenging, but it can be downright dangerous, and even life threatening, on a river as unpredictable as the Potomac can be.
So, yes. So much for my peaceful day on the river. I probably would have stayed to watch Rower 2 and Rower 3 return, but at that point, I decided I had enough peace and tranquility for one day!