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Personal Story

Cold Weather Sculling, 101

18.5 Miles — 29.77 Kilometers

I finally got back out to row yesterday.

To get to the closest lake that is big enough for me to get any mileage without doing laps, it is a 63 mile round trip. It has been so cold, I hadn’t gone out for the last month or so! But I spotted a sunny day that would get as warm as the high 40’s with 1 or 2 mph wind and was determined to go. I wanted to time my arrival to when the temperature got over 40º. I wish now I had gotten an earlier start. I will chalk this trip up as just a fact-finding mission to determine the strategy, gear and choreography of rowing in cold weather. I learned a lot!

It was touch-and-go when I got up there and had to stop to check in with Deputy Dodd sitting in his car guarding the ingress. He said the lake was closed, but he didn’t know if it were just to motor boats — so he had to radio in to check. They said it would be ok for me to row. He asked when I would be through and I said I would come off the lake at dusk.

I had intended to be on the water by noon, but with the above mentioned delay and the imperative to stop for gas, it was nearly 1:00 before I launched. This is a wild lake controlled by the Water Works Board with only a smattering of really old cottages on it that must predate the Water Works taking the lake over and the only way to get to them is by boat from one launch site. I have to wade in the water to put my boat in at the corner of the boat ramp, stepping precariously on baseball to football size rocks that are steeply banked. Not such a bid deal in the warm weather, but a shocker this time of year.

These pictures show the difficult launching conditions of rowing boldly where no man has rowed before!

I chose the right day: a crystal blue sky and the water was glass. It was also in the low 40’s but I pealed off my shirt after a mile and rowed sleeveless. I fiddled a lot for the first 5 miles trying to get myself situated with new rowing conditions. The neoprene socks were bugging me so I switched to water shoes. I usually row barefoot since it is a open water racing scull that has straps instead of shoes. This time I wished I brought socks since toward the end my toes were getting cold. I always row with music and I put my iPod a shuffle of all the songs instead of my rowing playlist that has only higher cadence songs. I wanted to just take it easy and concentrate on form. Everyone thinks I need to square my blades earlier on the catch. We’ll discuss that more later. I could tell I had lost some strength. I didn’t want to make any mistakes by trying to push too hard. I have never capsized in a single, and this was not the day to tempt fate on that. I kept my pace to about 6 miles an hour.

On my way out to do the perimeter of the lake clockwise, I passed by the place where my friend Bob (the camera guy for the rowing music video) has a house. I was astounded at how their boathouse was just pitifully dangling on the steep exposed bank. The water level was lower than ever. Here is an areal view of what it looked like once the water level began to fall, and where the water line is now:

I was going to take a picture of it with my iPhone on my way back in but missed it. I was within a half mile of it and would have rowed back to it but I was within sight of the docks and saw two vehicles with their lights on parked by my car atop the hill. I assumed they were Deputies waiting for me to come off the lake (taking a head count: one on, one off) and I didn’t want to push my luck with them so I reluctantly concluded my adventure.

It was 43º according to my car when I got off the water. It felt colder since getting out of the boat meant getting my feet and hands wet in the frigid water. Thankfully the bathroom there is well heated and I changed into warm clothes immediately. I didn’t feel chilled all day until my appendages got wet and it got dark. It made me know that capsizing this time of year would be a serious no no. I had a change of clothes in zip lock bags on the boat with me just in case. I had water to drink with me, but didn’t even take a sip. I ate a few bites of an apple periodically and that was enough to keep me hydrated in the cold.

Having gotten chilled did make getting my boat loaded on top of my car and secured really challenging. My fingers were so numb they were blue. Even with gloves on I had practically no dexterity. I will devise some kind of portable launching dock to keep from having to get wet getting in and out of the boat. I am crunching ideas in my head.

I am also glad I had the route on my GPS screen as the sun was so blinding in spots I could literally not see the bank and had fly by instruments. I knew if I kept it inside the line I would be safe from the shrinkage of the perimeter.

The perimeter of the lake is supposed to be 26 miles. Hugging the banks within 20 feet, I have gotten 22 miles at the most. It was even less yesterday. We’ve had some rain. When is the water level going to rise again? What’s going on? Is the Climate changing or something?

Inland Lake

Inland Lake

You can see that if I am hugging the bank, I have to do a LOT of steering. That’s why I find it so handy to not have a skeg. Having lost it repeatedly at the lake where the rowing club is located because of the treacherous shallow water conditions there, I discovered I didn’t need it for stability and it doesn’t even affect me much in higher wind conditions. I did 30 miles the day we shot the rowing music video in wind and chop without a skeg not realizing I had lost it again probably at the launch on the rocks there — and LOVED the maneuverability. I have a replacement skeg sitting in my rowing bag … but decided to fill the slot with styrofoam instead.

Skeg Long Gone

Skeg Long Gone

I had the whole lake to myself aside from the company of about 25 eagles and 1 heron.

At the spot where Bob had perched on a cliff to take slow motion shots of me from above, we stopped for a while when we saw a Bald Eagle and he shot it in slow motion diving repeatedly at a fish. Yesterday as I rowed past the same cliff there were 20 (I counted several times) hawks flying overhead. Then out at the mouth of that finger of the lake there were 5 more. They were up pretty high, but I thought I could see the white of their tails glint in the sun. Next time I go I will take my little binoculars to determine for sure if they were  hawks. They might have been vultures, I suppose. But I want to believe they were 19 hawks and at least one Bald Eagle since it was exactly where we saw one before. I want to believe it was a good omen of good things to come.

Except for the first mile of this row, I have never worn sleeves to row in 17 years. But when the sun went down behind the trees at about 4:30, I decided putting a long-sleeved shirt back on would be a good idea. It really felt strange to see sleeves on my arms. Sundown was at 4:45.

I would have had time before dark to have rowed an even 20 miles, but since I knew I had been spotted, I came in at 18.5 miles. It was enough since I hadn’t rowed in a while. I’m not sore at all today … and have no blisters on my hands, so I am sure I can painlessly build my mileage back up in no time provided I get on the water earlier in the day. Unfortunately there are no promising looking days coming up in the ten day forecast.

But yesterday, I Carpe Diemed!


Damn The Cold!

Well, now I’m totally in the mood to drop everything and get started on my boat prototype. When I get into “inventor mode” I can barely restrain myself. I usually don’t.

Damn the cold! I am fighting my hibernation instinct like I do every year … having to make myself get out and do my sports here in the cold even though I’d rather be living somewhere tropical where it’s not a struggle for me. Gotta love those rosy cheeks though!

But working in an unheated garage in the cold is another matter, especially with chemicals that require a minimum temperature. Last year I used the most insulated room in my house (a room in the basement) to work on my prototype molds with the heat turned up wearing a rebreather mask breathing pure oxygen — just to be able to work with the casting resin, epoxies, high heat bondo, pourable foams and so forth, without making myself sick with the fumes — as well as keeping the fumes from wafting up into the rest of the house.

But the garage is the only place I have where I can construct a completely flat and level 25 foot long table. And right now, it’s too damned cold.

There is no structure for keeping boats at the lake where our rowing club has moved. It doesn’t matter as I can’t row at that lake anyway because it is too small for me to get my mileage without doing scores of mind-numbing laps. I have relocated my boats. One is in the garage for safe-keeping because I just completely refurbished it and have it up for sale. Therefore the Flyweight (named Hummingbird) has been living on top of my car in the safety of a high arched porte cohere … always at the ready to dash out to the wild remote lake where I do row now if a day should happen along with favorable conditions — but I look a bit odd driving around with a boat on my car since it’s TOO COLD TO ROW. It’s ok. I don’t drive much since I work from home.

Interest in The New Boat Today


This is a brand new blog that is barely launched. I have been busy just getting content on the site before really putting it out there. But someone discovered The New Boat design and posted a link to it from the boat board at www.rowingillustrated.com. My stats have skyrocketed so I guess this blog is launched now.

Yes, the design is radical … but the radical part is not so much in what you can see in these initial drawings, but in just how far out of the conventional boat-building box my thinking is in how to construct it — for features and performance you cannot see from the drawings. It takes some explaining.

The shape, of course, is designed to eliminate more than two thirds wetted surface when the boat is at speed. The inner eight feet is essentially the boat, and the fore and aft sections are for length and stability (minimizing “hobby-horsing). The exact placement of the hydrofoils remains to be seen.

Remember … these drawings are just the cocktail napkin doodle of an idea I have not had the time or resources to develop further. I would love a navel architect to show up and lend a hand. I am also in the midst of determining if I need to bite the bullet and get myself to another part of the country to be in a position to have the resources nearby to accomplish my goals more effectively. As it is now, the only advantage to being in my present location is I have a magnificent workshop and space to prototype this boat the old-fashioned way. I am not adverse to speeding up the process with sophisticated computer software and partners with boat-building experience.

The really interesting thing about this boat that you cannot see from the drawing is what I am not telling you yet. But it will perform differently from the conventional racers and even require a slightly different technique than the classic form for rowing.

Personally, I am chomping at the bit to work on it, but my time is being ill-spent with matters that are tangential to my passions and necessary to survival. Son-of-a-bitch … that’s the real world we live in now.

It’s a shame too, because I am unstoppable when I  am able to apply my time and brain to the things that make my heart sing. And I am unstoppable when it’s not too cold to row and there’s plenty of sunlight. I haven’t rowed the past couple of weeks, but hope to make it out this Sunday or Monday for at least 25 miles.

Selling for a Blue Angel

Many of you who are visiting my site are coming here from curiosity … following the trail of gingerbread crumbs I have left on my many posts on craigslist. I hoped to lure you here to see why I am selling so much of what I have. First of all … after living 20 years in the same house, I have accumulated a lot. And due to our troubled economic times, I have been opening my eyes to all of the really good things I own that I have not had occasion to use for many years. I haven’t skied in years. I haven’t golfed in years … and so on.

So I have begun to lighten my life by selling the things I know I will not miss. I am doing this primarily because I have recently closed my medical device business to work full-time on the purpose of my heart, and that is The Cosmos Renewable Energy Global Solution.

I have been working on this project with all my heart  for over four years. I have already spent over $500,000 on my plan, which may have worked if the rules of the financial game hadn’t changed so drastically. I now find myself making a new plan … or relinquishing my resistance to the part of the plan I’ve postponed for too long already. I need to live somewhere else.

So now I look for clues every day to discover where I must be in the world to find the people whose purpose it is also to create this beautiful vision I have devoted my life and fortune to building.

It is for me as it is for you … one day at a time. I hope tomorrow I will know more about what lies ahead. All I know for now is I am on this path for a reason and I will do what it takes.

Faith is what it takes … and a little help from craigslist.

Too Cold To Row

Sad to say, it has become too cold to row. It is winter, after all. If I were still rowing at the club, it might be safe enough because there are people who would notice if I didn’t come back. But the water levels have dropped so far at that little lake that it is treacherous to row there and my boat has a 6 foot scratch to prove it. I have lost my skeg 3 times there … but did discover how much more I prefer to row without one and have stopped replacing it in favor of the maneuverability.

I have the cold weather gear, but truth be known, I have done only a small percentage of rowing over the years wearing more than a bikini. Even starting out in the low 40’s at the Marathon Rowing Championships every year but this year (water levels TOO LOW!), I have never worn sleeves. But now I have to contemplate the Boston way of getting out anyway and just breaking the ice if need be!

I’ll row in the cold, but prefer it be sunny. I’ll row in wind and chop, but prefer the water be warm enough to survive going over. I have never capsized in a single in all my years of rowing. But that has merely been my grace period and I’d rather that period end in South Florida. A remote uninhabited lake in the middle South in the winter is not the place to tempt fate. Nevertheless, I have just the right neoprene britches and booties and shirt with sleeves to wear when the day comes that there is sun, over 40 degrees and less than 10 mph wind. I figure that is a good standard to set for acceptable conditions.

I really should do the snow bird thing and just hoof it down to Sarasota to where the city CARES about rowing. ANOTHER 20 million they are putting into their rowing program there!!!! The city where I live doesn’t even know rowing exists. And it wouldn’t hurt to live in the part of the world where there are people who care about the planet and hastening our shift to renewable energy. Yes. I need to move. Maybe San Francisco? I am open to suggestions.

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Nut Job

I am a nut job.

I am a disenfranchised nut job. I always have been. I’ve always known it in the midst of my madness and I have always chosen it despite the pain it has constantly inflicted in my life.

That alone is proof that I am nuts.

Frankly, I am tired. I have lost my sense-of-humor about it and I have just about lost interest. For a sane person, that’s like losing hope.

In defense of my insanity, it is a quixotic form of clarity that most people dare not have. Most people either eagerly, apathetically, or grudgingly admire the Emperor’s new clothes, ’cause that’s what everyone else is doing. I don’t see the new outfit, therefore I do not admire it. I have the notion that I see what is really there (when I pay attention, and I usually don’t to fat naked men) and I think everyone else is crazy.

I rank myself among other people who have been derided for their vision although I have yet to go so public as to be seriously attacked or threatened. Thus far I have only had the courage to be taken advantage of, ignored and discounted privately.

My hero Nicola Tesla was considered a fruitcake even though he brought the world electricity. He credited his myriad inventions and discoveries to visions coming to him. Google him … he thought of hundreds of things we take for granted in our present world. Edison made a career of discrediting him. His discoveries were stolen from him thanks to the public disclosure of the US Patent system. His quest and success to provide free energy to all the world was thwarted and lost as no meters can be placed upon free energy. Perhaps the most brilliant man in recent history — few today even know who Tesla is.

Something inside of me won’t let me believe that it is unwise to abandon myself to reaching my full potential, chips fall where they may. I can’t make myself believe that hurtling myself with sincerity and enthusiasm at a willingness to discover once and for all what it is that we all seem to be missing wouldn’t be received and rewarded with gratitude. But talent, intellect, courage and generosity has yielded the opposite for the majority of trailblazers of history. And if they weren’t ruined or murdered, they just died anyway, so why do I keep getting up in the morning and feeling hope? Why should it be different for me?

John Lennon’s vision for a peaceful world did not keep him from being murdered. Itzhak Bentov’s genius did not keep the commercial jet he was on in the air. Eva Cassidy’s immense talent did not bring her fame and fortune and prevent her early death from cancer. Believing in Over The Rainbow did not keep Judy Garland from giving up. A humanitarian heart and brilliance off-the-scales did not reward Nicola Tesla or prevent him from dying alone and penniless.

All of my big plans and vision and enthusiasm has not protected my heart from constant personal disappointment and the crash of the US economy. Being a good person, loving with an open heart, doing your best and always paying your bills on time does not seem to be enough. Being willing to devote your life to making a difference only makes matters worse.

Right about now I have lost my all my puff. I wrote about myself over a year ago that I was humbled and chagrinned … that I had to set my high horse free. Even such a poignant admittance as that strikes me now as arrogance. I look around me at the beauty I have worked so hard and so long to create around my life and I see the decline that I don’t have the time or money to fix. I see myself age from the stress of just life, and the unbelievable stress of gambling everything I have to make a difference instead of watching TV and complaining. I can’t ignore the ideas and vision I have and my irrepressible belief that it can be a better world. That is just how I am wired. But I can’t escape the ultimate truth that as hard as I try on the good days when I still do try, I can’t do it alone. I can’t save the world because right now, I can’t even save myself.

Having said all that, perhaps now I am a little closer to sane.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I just try to have pleasant days. I will have a pleasant day today being thankful for all of my blessings … alone.

Jenifer Humming — Thanksgiving 2008