Catching a Crab

After my first rowing experience (here), I was eager for another opportunity to get on the water. When Peter, our local rowing guru, offered another row this past Friday, I quickly signed up and showed up ready to go at 8 am. It was another all-woman crew. Two of us had been together last time and two were new to this adventure.

Peter gave a quick introduction and then we were out on the water. Learning to row, trying to pull all the pieces together in a coordinated way, is an interesting process. Posture, hold, stroke, rhythm. It’s a lot to remember! There’s also a whole new range of vocabulary to consider. As a group of four inexperienced rowers, we were trying to figure it all out in real time. Managing the oar and keeping time to a rhythm set by someone else (the “stroke”)is challenging. Initially, we struggled to find our rhythm. The boat moved along jerkily. We reset. Tried again. Peter gave some tips. We smiled and laughed.

Beautiful morning. Low stakes. Good times.

My focus was intent on my oar–keeping it in place, stroking in rhythm, not putting it too deep in the water, etc. I found that the more I thought about what I was doing, the more likely I was to screw it up. When the pieces fell into place, it was soothing to slide into the rhythm and focus solely on that. When we all got it, the boat settled down, the sounds synchronized. We skimmed up the river with the sun warm on our shoulders. Splash. Ka-chunk. Splash. Ka-chunk. Meditation on the water.

May be an image of 2 people, people sitting, lake and nature
Pausing to check out the scenery, photo by Corie Scribner
May be an image of 2 people, people standing, nature and lake
Action shot, photo by Peter Feeney

Until I was rowing… and then suddenly I wasn’t.

If you’d been watching, you’d have seen me tumble suddenly backward onto the floor of the boat and halfway onto the lap of the rower behind me–with considerable surprise (to me and to the rower behind me) and with no grace whatsoever. In my newly acquired lingo, I knew I’d “caught a crab.” Unfortunately, this insight was hindsight.

Peter, our stalwart guide, had warned us about this. “Catching a crab” is when the river, the water, sort of grabs your oar and the power of it pushes you backward. He’d told us what to do, or really what not to do–don’t struggle with the oar, but lift it up and let it slide.

“If you don’t fight it, the oar will move until it’s parallel to the boat, and then you can reset.” 

Well, at least that was my interpretation of what he said, but in the moment, I didn’t even realize I was in trouble until…

Bang!

Ouch!

My butt was off the seat and on the floor.

My fellow rowers stopped rowing while I righted myself.

Once I was back in my seat, Peter got us going again, “Sit ready…ready all…row!”

We spent about an hour on the water and all of us “caught a crab” at one point or another. One time, one of the other rowers managed to respond quickly, lift her oar, and avoid spilling out of her seat. Everyone else landed on their butts.

Later, at home, I googled “crabbing when rowing” and looked again at how to recover. It essentially repeated with Peter had said:

“To begin with, don’t resist it. Don’t fight the handle. …Left to itself, the oar will come to rest
parallel to the boat, trailing in the water. The boat loses very little speed.” (from the Union Bay Rowing Club, https://students.washington.edu/ubrc/links/dont-panic/)

The experience and the recommended course of action feel fraught with metaphor.

“Sometimes it’s important not to resist. Just pull up and reset…The boat loses very little speed.”

Learning to row has me thinking a lot about teaching and learning. My enjoyment of this experience, failures and successes, was largely due to the fact that Peter is a patient, easygoing teacher. He wants people to learn to row, but more importantly he wants people to enjoy the experience. He got us into the boat and out on the water quickly. He anticipated the bumps along the way, suggested corrective action when necessary, and was quick to point out successes. He also had control of the rudder and could quietly adjust our course as necessary. It reminded me how important teacher tone and response are, especially early on in the learning curve when experience and confidence are lower. It also reinforced for me how important it is to try new things and experience that learning curve first hand.

So, even though my chances for heading out on the water are going to be limited in the coming weeks, I’ll definitely be taking the experience with me as I head back into the classroom. Happily, weather permitting, I’m signed up again to row this weekend. Here’s hoping that if I catch a crab this time, I’ll remember not to resist and avoid the fall. But if not, I’ll just reset and start rowing again…and try to remember that lesson as I head into the unchartered waters of this upcoming school year.

PS In case you’re interested, here’s what it could look like when you’re really rowing and catch a crab: