At the Humboldt Bay Rowing Association (HBRA) sculling boathouse at the Adorni Center, my sculling buddy and I lose no time getting on the water, each one in a single boat. Once we push off the dock, memories of the pre-dawn rise, the drive, the maneuvering of boats and oars down to the water fade fast — a mere prelude to the luxury of an hour of rowing.
The boats moored at Woodley Island Marina blink in the early light and the slumbering Carson Mansion towers just east of us. We own the place: nobody moves around on the boats, on the docks, on the boardwalk.
We head north toward the Samoa Bridge. Soon our pilot harbor seal surfaces to say, "Hi." I like to think that she is always the same seal, that she knows us and is excited to join our ride. Because join she does and at regular intervals she pops her head out of the water to let us know she's accompanying us, then dives back down drawing a question mark in the water: Where next?
We reach the end of Daby Island and after turning the boats around we pause to take in the expanse of the bay. Birds of various species, intent on getting breakfast, drop a distracted look on us. Having won its daily tussle with the fog, the sun asserts its right to chase away shadows. It makes grass glisten, water sparkle and sunglasses necessary.
We row all the way to the south end of the marina, across toward Indian Island and down around the middle span of the Samoa Bridge, past which we turn around. The rhythmic dipping of our oars in the water breaks the prevailing silence.
Rowing engages every large muscle group in the body. Most of the stroke's power comes from the legs' push. The back and arms wrap up the stroke then start the recovery part, in which the body moves forward and gets ready for the next stroke. Rowing for me is like swimming the butterfly on my back: The oars are my arms, their blades my hands. When I let the blades fall in the water, they dip deep enough on their own. With the drive, I propel myself on the water and I feel the boat glide. I see the wake I leave behind, a long stroke as if painted by a Japanese calligraphy brush.
Repeating the same sequence of movements becomes a dance. When I swim, I go on autopilot. When I row, I must concentrate on every stroke, so my mind empties itself of what is not strictly necessary to execute the task at hand.
Docking is like yoga's savasana, the final pose, when I let everything go and there is a rush of profound well-being soaking every cell. Sculling requires a bit more than rolling up my mat when it's over, but the unexciting steps of carrying the boats up from the dock to the boathouse, washing them and putting them away are like pennies in exchange for the precious time spent out on the water with seals, pelicans, egrets and all the birds that love Humboldt Bay as much as we do.
Simona Carini is a writer and photographer. You can see some of her work on her website www.simonacarini.com.
Want to try it?
The Humboldt Bay Rowing Association (HBRA) provides rowing instruction to individuals of all ages. HBRA hosts both junior and master competitive teams, as well as recreational rowing on an independent level with their recreational sculling program.
For information on private lessons, the upcoming Summer Rowing Clinics for juniors and adult rowers, how to become certified as an "independent rower" or to join one of the club teams, visit www.hbra.org.
If you want to give rowing a try first, take advantage of the National Learn to Row Day on Saturday June 3. Ages 11 and up can sign up to get a taste of being out on the water with other people practicing sweep rowing. For more information, visit www.eventbrite.com/e/national-learn-to-row-day-registration-32592881185.
HBRA operates out of two boathouses: the sculling boathouse is located at the Adorni Center next to the HSU Aquatic Center. The sweep program is located at the HSU/HBRA Boathouse up the road from the Adorni Center on Waterfront Drive, just south of the Samoa Bridge.
For other perspectives, see Amy Barnes' previous North Coast Journal's article on sweep rowing ("Oars on the Water," May 28, 2015) and a recent Washington Post article on sculling and age (wapo.st/2pfemRG).