A Coxswain’s Tale

Tools of the Trade – the blades of the Scullers Super Eight © Shimano Rowing Dynamics

HTBS’s Greg Denieffe got an interview with Jack Carlson, who coxed the winning women’s eight, the Scullers Super Eight, at HOCR a week ago. Greg writes:

Jack Carlson has certainly had an annus mirabilis in 2013. A winner at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta and Canadian Henley Regatta, he was instrumental in bringing together a ‘Super 8’ made up of some of the world’s fastest women scullers to compete at last week’s Head of the Charles Regatta (HOCR). Racing as Cambridge Boat Club in the Women’s Championship Eights, they started behind the USA national crew and rowed a remarkably well passed race to snatch victory by 1.2 seconds.

At last year’s HOCR, Jack coxed a GBR/NZL composite eight that included Rebecca Scown. It was his first time coxing women and although they were beaten by the United States squad and by the ‘Great Eight’, he caught the CCB (Cosmopolitan Composite Bug!). In a jolly mood on finals day at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta, he and Rebecca, Emma Twigg and a few of the GBR girls started chatting about doing a similar crew for this year’s race on the Charles River and perhaps Mirka Knapkova, who had just won the Princess Royal Challenge Cup and was the reigning Olympic single sculls champion, would be minded to join the crew. He started raising money and getting sponsors on board only to discover that the British girls couldn’t commit to the race since it clashed with British National Championships which were been held on the same weekend.

As of then, there wouldn’t be a ‘Great Eight’ for this year’s race in Boston, he and the girls decided to try and attract some of the other top women scullers, including a couple from the 2012 ‘Great Eight’. Gevvie Stone, the former American single sculler, was a big help with this. The crew was able to take the Great Eight’s bow number from last year’s 2nd place finish and started directly behind the current USA squad boat. According to Jack, it was a lot of work to organize and he gives major credit to Gevvie and a number of families from the Boston rowing community for getting the crew to the starting line. Gevvie’s father, Gregg Stone, served as coach and Resolute, Shimano, Concept2, Hodinkee and the HOCR sponsored the crew.

So, what is it like to take part in a high profile event like the HOCR with a scratch crew and take home the top prize? I was lucky enough to catch up with Jack, coxswain of the crew, a week before the race and he agreed to tell HTBS readers how the race went. I believe Jack’s coxing was crucial to Cambridge’s win and afterwards he had a lot to tell.

Cambridge Boat Club – racing to victory at this year’s HOCR © Jack Carlson

Jack says,

We beat the reigning world champions, the US women’s eight, which ran full training and selection before the Head of the Charles, by one second. We were behind at every single timing checkpoint until the finish line, including Cambridge Boat Club, where we were 0.3 seconds down. Half of our crew had raced in the small boats events the previous day, and we had had only two and a half training sessions together.

The crowds in the enclosures around Cambridge Boat Club and on Eliot Bridge actually thought we were getting demolished by the USA crew because there was about 30 seconds of clear water between us and them. But that was part of the strategy: I waited and stalled and waited and stalled at the start (getting some abuse from the starting officials, of course), to make sure we had a clear run the whole way, and to give the U.S. Rowing girls a false sense of security.

The corners were really key in the race. We decided to put Emma Twigg in the bow-seat, although she is, of course, very strong. She and Inge Janssen cranked us around the Weeks Turn and the Big Turn, and with the Resolute rudder we were able to take these all pretty tight. The U.S. crew was in their Empacher, and I could see them ahead of us taking all the turns wide and losing ground. You can see this on the video [see below].

The high mileage that the small boat rowers do was really important. The crew just had better endurance. This is why we could go from five seconds down at 1,000m, four seconds down at the next timing point, to winning in the last few hundred meters.

U.S. W1x, Elle Logan, who had been in the American eight  for the past two Olympics, was so fired up to beat the US crew. I can’t really describe it. She was sending me text messages every 15 minutes to say how fired up she was. And she was – we went out at a 36, and, although the rating came down a little bit during the race, it was always pretty lively. We sprinted at a 38 or so.

I thought that the U.S. had probably just barely beaten us when we crossed the finish line. I could tell after the first mile that they had definitely moved away from us, and I could also tell that we would move back a little on the turns. But at the end of the race, it was really hard to say who had come out better, and I thought they had probably gotten it. But we all put a smile on and thought, well, it was a good race anyway. Then when we landed, Mirka got a text from her coach saying we had lost by 0.3 seconds. We all thought, well, that’s still pretty good considering half our crew had raced yesterday, and we’d only had 2½ training sessions together. Then another message came through, saying that actually 0.3 seconds behind was our margin at Cambridge Boat Club (the last timing point before the finish), and that by the finish line itself, we were up by 1.2 seconds! We didn’t want to celebrate until we knew for sure. Then I got a phone call from the regatta director, Fred Schoch, saying that we should get ourselves over to the prize tent straight away because we had won. And that was a great feeling!

The spoils of Victory – 2013 Women’s Championship Eights Winners © Jack Carlson

The crew was as follows:
Mirka Knapkova (Czech Republic), reigning Olympic Champion in the W1x
Elle Logan (USA), current U.S. single sculler and two-time Olympic Champion in the W8+
Rebecca Scown (New Zealand), former World Champion and Olympic bronze medallist in the W2-
Kayla Pratt (New Zealand), U23 World Champion, 2013 World Cup silver medallist in the W2-   
Emma Twigg (New Zealand),  multiple World Cup gold medallist in the W1x, two-time Olympian and silver medal in the W1x at the 2013 World Championships   
Donata Vištartaitė (Lithuania), 2102 and 2013 U23 and European Champion and reigning 2013 World Champion in the W2x   
Inge Janssen (Netherlands), bronze medal in women’s single sculls at 2013 European Championships. Finished eighth in the women’s double sculls at the 2012 Olympics   
Magdalena Lobnig (Austria), U23 World Champion in the women’s double sculls in 2012
Jack Carlson (USA), coxswain who won the Britannia Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta and was a triple winner at Canadian Henley Regatta in 2013. Carlson coxed the U.S. lightweight eight at the 2011 World Championships.

The HOCR website has a report on the race called Great Eight Scullers Prevail and you can watch a video of the race below:

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