On a fresh Saturday morning I was heading to my local rowing club to do some training for an upcoming 1,000 meter race. I arrived at the club to see the junior crews out doing their usual morning session. I grabbed the two sides of my Wintec single skull from the bay and lifted the boat over my head to go down towards the slip. I placed it on the grass by the water’s edge ensuring the fin was off the ground. Then ran back to grab the quick release rigger and sculling oars. I brought everything down to the boat and clipped the rigger into place. I then lifted the boat waist high and gently placed it into the water. Once the boat was in the water, I opened the gates to place the two oars on each side, and then tightened the screws on both gates. I was ready for off.
I pushed away from the slip and took a stroke to turn the bow of the boat in the correct direction. I started my training session at a steady speed going up river toward O’Brien’s bridge. The river was busy as it usually is on a Saturday morning. After about 3,000 meters, I turned to head back toward the club.
I came around the first bend picking up speed. I could feel the adrenaline running through my body as I increased the power. I took a massive pull on the oars, and while driving with my legs, the right oar snapped out of my hand and the boat flipped over….. casting me directly under the boat. I am now underwater without a lifejacket trying to kick my feet loose from the shoes. I kick as hard as I can and finally come bursting up to the surface gasping for air. I lost my tracksuit leggings in the process.
When I reached the surface, I held on to my boat for buoyancy aid since I wasn’t wearing a lifejacket. I panic and roar Help! Help! Somebody Help! Nobody comes and I think what do. Our coach told me when you flip, you turn the boat hold the handles of the oars and lift yourself into the boat. I start swimming over to the bank because the accident happened in the middle of the river. I swim and direct the boat over to the bank. I flip the boat over and there was only one oar in one of the two gates. I cursed in anger.
I found my footing close to the riverbank, but I could not get out of the water. I waited for a while for a boat to pass so I could hitch a ride back to the club. Ten minutes pass, but nobody comes. Twenty minutes pass… still nobody… so I decide that I will swim and direct the boat towards the club. The only thing was that I was about 1,000 meters away from the club. I then hear the wash of oars on the water so I lift myself on the top of the upside down boat so people could see me. Two people tell me that someone had radioed the boat to come pick me up.
The boat finally arrived. I grabbed the edge of the launch and try and lift myself into the boat but unsuccessfully. I am so cold and tired that I find it difficult to move. The two guys eventually lift me in. One guy looks at me and points to a cut down the right side of my head… from my scalp to my ear. We reach the slip a few minutes later when I realize how cold I have become. I sit down on a chair and one of the guys trained in first aid starts to clean the cut on my head. Some of the girls get me blankets to warm up and hot water with sugar to drink. While I was getting first aid he told me how lucky I was to survive it. It seems I broke some club rules by going out by myself. My Dad appeared shortly afterward to pick me up and bring me home. I think I was still in shock in the car on the way home.
When I arrived home, my Mum ran a hot bath to warm me up. I called my coach and told him the story and to this day, certain rowers have to be out with a coach because of my accident.
As a rower, you really cannot wear a lifejacket because they are too bulky and reduces your movement. The boats do not typically flip unless you pull a crab.
A crab is where the rower is unable to timely remove or release the oar blade from the water and the oar blade acts as a brake on the boat until it is removed from the water. This results in slowing the boat down. A severe crab can even eject a rower out of the shell or make the boat capsize. Occasionally, in a severe crab, the oar handle will knock the rower flat and end up behind him/her, in which case it is referred to as an ‘over-the-head crab.’
Check out this video on how to get back into a skull if you come out of it.