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Shell Game: Caloosa Coast Rowing Club, 10th century sport, Cape Coral’s early risers

Jun 26, 2017 04:51PM ● Published by Kevin

Photo by Dayna Harpster.

Gallery: Cape Outdoors - Shell Game: July/August 2017 [5 Images] Click any image to expand.

Photo by Dayna Harpster.

Daylight is merely a promise as a grassy area in Cape Harbour starts filling with cars. Members of the Caloosa Coast Rowing Club park at polite distances in front of a communal dock on the north side of this upscale Cape Coral development. With no hint in their strides that it’s merely 7 a.m. on a Saturday, about two dozen men and women are gathering under an awning and around a shed flanked by hanging, overturned shells, or what most of us know as a boat. In this case, mostly eight-person shells.

Preparations begin for launching. Even earlier that morning, coaches had arranged board magnets to illustrate which Caloosa Coast rowers would occupy each of nine positions in the boats. Soon, eight people in each shell will row, directed by a coxswain, who won’t.

Positions are not random. The coxswain faces forward in the boat’s stern, the others facing the coxswain and therefore opposite the direction in which the boat is moving. The coaches place positions one to eight in the boat, depending on the rower’s strength, size and technical skill. Nobody questions which spot he or she will occupy.

As five or six members hoist each 225-pound shell overhead and carry it to the water, another group listens to instructions from member Jim Fentress. The latter group includes some newer rowers that have paid a $175 fee to enroll in a “Learn to Row” class on Saturday and Sunday mornings over three weekends. Sessions are held four times a year.

Rowing is physical and a supreme workout. The club's Cape Coral boatyard is in the Cape Harbour community, a quiet spot with stretches of mostly flat water. Although the rowers make it look easy, it isn't. Photo by Dayna Harpster.

On this early Saturday morning, rower preparations for the eventual 90-minute, 3½-mile glide seem to be in sync with the suddenly swift arrival of daylight. “We used to row at 8 [a.m.],” says club president Jon Hart. “But that was really too late,” adding that canal traffic is lighter at 7 and lets the members get on with the day earlier, Hart says.

One senses right away that rowing, or skulling, is a go-getter’s sport. And perhaps that’s fitting for an activity that grew from its roots in the Ivy League, where the sport is known as crew. The first American college rowing club was at Yale University in 1843, but British athletes were rowing decades earlier on the Thames. Some say the sport, one of the oldest in Olympic competition, dates to the early 10th century. “The sport’s got a reputation from when it started in the United States as collegiate,” says coach Joe Guttieri, who for this practice takes out one of the club’s motorized pontoon boats, riding alongside or behind the shell and coaching members on technique. “It’s a very technical sport that does attract a certain type of people―doctors, lawyers, engineers.”

Modern advantages, though, include the Concept II ergometer rowing machines the club uses for indoor practice, and the electronic system used by the coxswain that shows stroke rate and other details.

Although the rowers make it look easy, it isn’t. They must be completely in sync for the precise whole-body movements of the catch, drive, finish, recovery, feathering, squaring and again the catch―which is when the blade is reintroduced to the water. Oar blades are painted red, blue and yellow, the club colors. Each club has its own color scheme.

Members’ motivations are fitness, teamwork and the challenge of mastering a technical sport. In addition to weekend mornings, practices are held weekday evenings. Plenty of rowers go on to compete in races near and far. Some rowed in college.

Photo by Dayna Harpster.

Fentress’s sons learned to row at Tulane University, and he and his wife found that they were intrigued. “And as soon as my oar first hit the water, that was it,” he says. “I was 49 years old. Now I’m 66 and as fit as I’ve ever been in my life.”

Written by Dayna Harpster, a writer, editor and accredited public relations professional living in Southwest Florida. 

About CCRC

Photo by Dayna Harpster.

Caloosa Coast Rowing Club holds “Learn to Row” sessions about four times a year. Sessions are held on Saturday and Sunday mornings over three weekends. No particular athletic ability is required to row, although new rowers should be able to swim or at least to tread water for 10 minutes and expect a workout. Registration is required at $175. The fee includes free club membership at the Recreational Rower level (Wednesday and Saturday coached rows) for one month immediately following the Learn to Row program. Details are at rowccrc.org.

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