I almost died in a horrific manner today. Holy fuck, that was scary.
I arrived at the boathouse for practice and found that we were terribly short handed on rowers. There were only five rowers, myself, and my coach. I typically don’t row as I’m better at being loud, steering, and nitpicking people’s forms and techniques. The boat we’re racing seats eight, so even if I were rowing, we’d still be two people short. My coach and Danielle decided to sit out so we could take out a smaller boat, the Foard. One coxswain, four others moving the shell. Perfect.
The water was nice, the breeze was lovely, and the set (whether the boat leans/rocks from side to side) was fine. I decided to take the boat out into choppier waters, beyond the Hanover bridge. Things were going well. Form and technique were great, everyone was chatty and laughing… and then I saw a small boat about 200 meters out. I thought it was a tug boat at first. Tug boats are kind of bad news. The wakes a tug boat makes can splinter a racing shell, so it’s better to steer clear of them.
The wide craft started to turn. I told my boat to “weigh ‘nough” (that’s “stop the fucking boat” in land lubber speak). And then I saw that it was a barge, not a small tug boat, its long, nasty profile presenting itself to me. And it was moving very quickly. Towards us. I called out a few commands to turn the boat and move us out of the barge’s way. “Starboard pressure! HOLY FUCK! STARBOARDS GO!”
The barge turned with us, coming right after our asses. The current was against us. It was closing in, only 100 meters out. We were just a piddly four boat in the choppy waters with a big ass boat that obviously couldn’t see us on our tail. “ALL FOUR AT YOUR RELEASE! FUCKING BOOK IT AND GET US OUTTA HERE!”
The barge was now at my back; that meant my four rowers, Nicole, Drew, Cannon, and Juan, could see the impending doom over my shoulder. Nicole started to ramble nervously, Drew was silent, Cannon’s flashy smile was now a thin grimace, and Juan, my silent stroke seat, kept muttering “Oh God, it’s gaining on us.” I glanced over my shoulder. The behemoth was 50 meters away and encroaching. Best not to look, Jess.
If a wave from a tug boat can split a racing shell in half, impact with a barge would certainly turn our boat into drift would. We’d be sucked under the barge and spat out by very large, fast propellers. Even if we survived the impact with the hull and miraculously missed the blades, we were out in the middle of the harbor with heavy winds, strong currents, and no safety launch. I wondered who would show up to our closed casket funerals.
I think Poseidon or some deity was watching us this morning. Actually, no; I don’t think that was the case. My rowers knew it was sink or swim, do or die. And my goodness did we fly through the water. The set was perfect. Everyone’s handle heights were on point. There was no check in the boat. The stroke rating was phenomenal. And the Foard was angled in such a way so that the barge just missed us.
Oh, and then we had to keep fucking rowing like madmen because the wake from the barge chased us for a few hundred meters.
We made it back to the Hanover bridge and stopped the boat. I think the magnitude of the situation struck home. “…dude, we almost fucking died.” I looked at my teammates and was so glad they hadn’t panicked. They were gods among men to have gotten us out of that hot mess.
We ended practice early. I think everyone needed to be on solid ground. I took a look at my rowers’ hands. Most had blisters that had popped. Pinched skin the size of quarters had erupted on their palms, a tell tale sign of death gripping an oar. Coach Paulo checked my pulse to make sure I wouldn’t pass out… And then we all decided to eat breakfast at a Double T Diner. I didn’t know diner coffee could taste so good. I had three delicious mugs of it.
I wanted a life or death experience to clear my mind; I certainly got one today. My thoughts in those moments… very curious they were.