Preparations for cold-weather rowing : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

I have a question for the hearty winter rowers of Cape Cod.

My first season of solo rowing in a plywood dory-derivative has been everything I could have expected. Invigorating, physical -- transcendental. But, an abrupt terminus, due to a week of heavy seas and by the recuperation from a ruptured bursa (over-enthusiastic rower), has me feeling like the amassed strength is quickly leaching from my tired old body. I am anxious to get out there again -- but the problem is now the cold -- the cold air, and the colder water. I am not worried about falling out, but my kids (who rely on me for their college tuition), my business partner (who is considering key-man insurance) and all my (know it all) neighbors have become increasingly vocal about my rowing alone in cold water. I have had a cold-water incident, so I know (probably more then they do) of the dangers of which they speak. I want the skinny -- the John Aborn version of “What to wear rowing in December”. I have just purchased an inflatable yoke that will provide the emergency buoyancy. I have an assortment of gloves to try out… and I am looking into some insulated booties for launching, and for a little more than a whisp of oakume to insulate my heels from the frigid water beneath me. How about some non-constricting insulated clothing? What do you hearty sorts wear? I really don’t want to go out rowing looking like a pudgy snorkeler. Nor to I want to chafe my underarms, or spend 20 minutes before and after squeezing in and out of rubber pants. I have read several articles, but find myself stymied in this curious juncture between the most delightful of summers -- and the cold North winds of November. Also, I regret to say, that I neglected to purposefully roll my boat when the weather was more accomdating – so I don’t know exactly what to expect if I should attempt to crawl back in (that is, if I could move at all in a mid-winter swim). My dory-like vessel is about 100 pounds – with two strakes and a lot of flare -- I was thinking about lashing lines to opposite gunwales – so, if the unspeakable were to happen, I could use opposite line to help pull myself back in… Is this folly? Anyone with experience or suggestions? I mean...if my sailing buddies can “frostbite”… why can’t we row? I will choose only the days when it is blowing less than 15 – and there are manageable rollers (which I rather like -- when they're under 6 feet, of course). Any useful advice would be very much appreciated.

Salvy from Manomet

-- Salvatore Raciti (, November 11, 2001


Ah, ah! Another one who‚s seen the light, and doesn‚t mind going out to find it even when it is almost dark.

First of all, have you looked at the article I wrote in Look up my name, or type in winter rowing, and you should come across it.

Secondly, yes, rowing in winter is partly a political problem. How do you do this and not appear crazy to all the others who don‚t?

Third, consider a Kokatat gore tex dry suit. I did that a few years ago and it has been great. I row sometimes in a Maas 24 and sometimes in a John Aborn Monument River Wherry (safer). It (the suit) was expensive, something like 650 dollars, but it‚s been great. Yes, you have to get accustomed to getting into it, etc., and yes there is a slight constriction, but both are acceptable, and you will be amazed at how much your dainty white (?) skin likes going out in winter with this thing on. And make sure you get one with integral booties so your feet never get wet.

I made myself a simple baklava out of some polar fleece for the head. So that leaves the hands. Mittens, or mittens with a wind proof overmitten.

I‚ve been going out for two winters this way and it works great.

As for getting back in the boat, that‚s something worth practicing. Have I done that? Not in the Wherry, but yes in the Maas. For starters I suggest a rope over the bow or stern for a foot hold, assuming that your boat would fill with water if you attempted to climb over the side. But I‚m not too up on that. Do carry a good bailer which is tied on a lanyard so if you go over you can bail if need be. Also carry a waterproof VHS radio and check it from time to time. I also frequently carry a cell phone in waterproof case.

So, good luck. And write back to fill in some of the details.

Cheers, Louis Mackall

-- Louis Mackall (, November 13, 2001.

A wise small boat enthusiast once told me that the most important safety equipment was that carried between your ears, which I took to mean experience and sound judgment

-- Kim Apel (, November 15, 2001.

Salvi, As one of those year round rowers, I always tell people that it's a lot like cross country skiing. Lots of light wicking layers with windproof/waterproof outer wear. Synthetic long johns are the place to start, with layers of pile clothing on top. A good hat and hooded jacket will keep that all important head warm. I have a pair of insulated rubber boots, with pile socks. Gloves are a personal preference. You need something that gives good grip yet is warm and relatively waterproof. Lately I've been using a pair of "Good Grips" gardening glove.They have a latex palm and fingers with a mesh back. You need to experiment to find out what works for you. I always have a complete change of clothes in a dry bag Some other thoughts are available at our web-site This time of year we always have a buddy along and always let someone know when and where we're going. Just remember if you are cold, row faster! Adam The really important thing is to stay dry

-- Adam Pettengill (, November 16, 2001.

My sincere thanks for all of the wonderful suggestions posted with ideas for safer cold-water rowing. In a sense, the answer I was searching was found in all of the responses. Thank you. It seems those options might include about $1,000 in high tech gear (Kohatat Gore-Tex, etc.); limiting my rowing to protected waters; carrying cell-phones and Radios and clever layers and booties and mittens; and most importantly -- having a buddy close by. With all of those considerations, another option might well be: move to Florida! As it turns out, I hauled my dory last Sunday on one of those balmy November afternoons. My injured elbow gave me no trouble at all, and the stealthy water of Cape Cod Bay was hauntingly beautiful. Though, with my new cold-water apprehension, the occasional puff of wind that toyed with my bow, felt a little threatening - I won’t deny it. My radio (FM - not V.H.S.) locked into Vaughn Williams, and long smooth strokes moved the sober parade of one past the rocks of Manomet point. Seals kept a vigil; some slapped the water and a couple breeched just a few yards from my stern in sort of a last salute. Rounding the lobster pound towards the ramp, I was distracted knowing that I was enjoying the last few pulls of the season. I’m sure it felt a little like dying. As I approached the ramp, three of my sons were there waiting for me with the truck. “Nice row dad?” one asked as the bow gently came to rest on the sandy water’s edge. They were all smiling – all realizing that dad’s warm weather obsession had just come to an end. “Yes, it was wonderful” I responded.

I have decided to hang it up until early next spring. In the meantime, I will resolve all of those fussy little problems… the oarlocks that just aren’t quite right; repairing the patches of bare wood where my heals have worn through the paint; drilling a few holes in the thwarts where water was allowed to sit; glassing in the skeg that has taken some abuse; finding a better balloon tire dolly… I have entertained thoughts of buying a bright purple dry-suit (there is even one offered on e-Bay at a good price) and one of those light weight springy trailers so I can tote my little dory down to Pleasant Bay some afternoon and meet the Vikings on one of their winter outings. But, I have resigned myself to winter and to just looking out with a knowing sigh on those calm mornings when it would be so easy to push off and fall into the long strokes – rowing out to the off shore light. I have re-joined my neighbors who gather on the bluff and just look-out. Thanks to all of you for your thoughts and comments, I hope to see you out there some day!

-- Salvatore Raciti (, November 23, 2001.

Florida in the Winter, Points north in the summer. Hypothermia is not the smart way to go.

-- Bugs (, June 08, 2004.

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