Who ever heard of a boat club with 64 members and one boat?
That's the Annapolis Rowing Club, and it beats what it was a year ago -- a boat club with no boats at all.
Membership in ARC is growing, putting an increasing strain on the boat. With enough people for eight full crews and a lot of visitors and first-time tryouts dropping around, the club's 24-year-old shell is taking a beating these days.
"It goes out seven days a week," says club membership chairman Pat Guida. That includes three trips daily at least three times a week, when one crew jumps out and another jumps in -- it's like hot-bunking aboard an overcrowded seafaring vessel.
Despite the beating, the boat -- a wooden, 62-foot George Pocock racer bought for $1,000 from T.C. Williams High School in Northern Virginia last winter -- looks great.
And despite the potential for wear on its only piece of equipment, the club is on the prowl for new members, hoping for some new money to buy more boats. That means that people like boatman, who has watched racing shells on rivers all his life and thought "Why not me?" finally have their chance.
Just getting aboard a boat like ARC's can be prohibitively complicated in Washington, where the Potomac Boat Club has a waiting list of one to two years for novice applicants.
In Annapolis the only requirement is to get up early enough to be at the St. John's College boathouse on College Creek at 8 a.m. After a quick rundown of the basics, boatman found himself scrunched into a tiny, sliding seat in the middle of the boat with his hands wrapped around an immense hunk of lumber. "You're No. 4," club president Muff Lamb told him. "You're rowing port side. Good luck."
The objective, boatman had learned in the preliminary lecture, was to do four things well. First he needed a good "catch," when he dipped his oar into the water at the start of the stroke and applied the first juice.
Then he needed a good "layback," as he pulled through the stroke, sliding backward on the little seat until he was hunched over in about a mid-situp position, having put all the power of his back and legs into the stroke.
Then he needed a nice "recovery," flipping the oar out of the water with a neat twist of the wrist, and finally a clean "feather" as the blade was brought back, horizontal and skimming the water, to the catch position.
The one thing he did not want to do was "catch a crab," which marks failure to make the proper flip at the end of the stroke and results in being unable to get the oar out of the water. It also means the other seven rowers have to stop while the offending crewman rolls his oar overhead to get out of the jam. Very embarrassing.
Boatman did fine. No crabs. Being in the middle of the boat trying to concentrate on his simple, subtle task reminded him of playing lineman in football, where even though you're surrounded by teammates with a common purpose, it's all you can do to get your part right and not get killed.
At the end of each play you run back to the huddle and say, "How'd we do?"
"How'd we do?" boatman asked Bob Biddle, who rowed varsity at Harvard and had ridden his bicycle from Washington to Annapolis to coach.
"Great," said Biddle.
Boatman is convinced it's true, because a couple of times during his two hours on the water he had felt a peculiar surge, a tremor of tuned power running through the boat that, properly refined, must be the allure of this sport. It came but briefly, when all eight people were doing the same thing at exactly the same time, applying a timely force to this sleek moving object.
With 300 pounds of boat balanced properly, 1,000 pounds-plus of man- and woman- power can whoosh it through still waters with exciting velocity. Sustain it, our coxswain told us, and you get into a state of rhythmic perfection that the rowers call "swing," the crewman's Nirvana.
"That's it," said Biddle enthusiastically, "that's what gets you hooked. And if you can feel it already on this level, it's pretty unusual."
Hmmm. With the Olympics only a year away, boatman is thinking about getting in shape. A gold medal would be a perfect adornment for the Annapolis Rowing Club's only boat.
IS CREW FOR YOU? Membership in ARC is $50 a year, plus a one-time $10 application fee. The club has men's, women's and whoever-shows-up programs. For information, write to Pat Guida, 1031 Cedar Ridge Court, Annapolis 21403.