Any tips on keeping a straight course in the dark when it’s hard to see things to point at?
I hadn’t coxed in actual pitch black darkness until I was in college. It was hard but as time went on what helped me the most was becoming very familiar with the water during the daylight hours. Doing this meant that I could stay on autopilot with my steering when it was dark out instead of forgetting about all my other responsibilities and constantly leaning out of the boat, looking around, etc. to see where I was (although I still did this on occasion if it was raining, snowing, or foggy). When I first started coxing at Syracuse, since I was pretty unfamiliar with the river, I’d pick out various markers along the shore, typically a light of some kind, a boat that was docked nearby, etc. and count the number of strokes it would take to get to a bend or turn. When we got to that point I’d know that in three strokes I’m gonna need to steer lightly to starboard. It was a pretty simple solution that didn’t require much effort or overthinking. In Boston I didn’t have to worry about this as much because there’s so much ambient light around that we were never really in the dark.
If you’re already comfortable with steering then you’re probably operating on autopilot the majority of the time you’re on the water anyways but you’ve got the benefit of being able to see your surroundings. When you lose that ability or it becomes harder to do you’ve got to use what you know of what the river looks like during the day to help you out. One of the big cons of autopilot is that you only focus on what’s directly in front of you instead of everything that’s surrounding you. The more you’re aware of your surroundings the easier it can be to steer, regardless of the time of day.
When you’re on a river, you might be tempted to get close to the shoreline (closer than you normally would) and follow it but I’d advise against that because you never know what’s under or hanging out into the water, how shallow it is, etc. and you risk damaging the boat or injuring a teammate. If anything, I’d say position yourself slightly closer to the middle of the river (provided there are no crews coming in the other direction) so that you’ve got more of a buffer against the things you can’t see.
If you’re on an open lake or body of water, the biggest tip I can offer is to just not steer. Hold the rudder straight and only make adjustments if your coach tells you to. Also talk to your rowers – let them know that it’s tough to see and you need them to work with you so that you can maintain the point you’ve got. This means rowing at the same pressure as everyone else and/or making immediate adjustments when you call for one side to come up or go down in pressure for a stroke or two. If you can see something far off in the distance, like a cell phone tower or something, use that as your point.
If you really can’t see anything though, you should say something to your coach. They can sometimes underestimate what our field of vision is like and how tough it can be to see as it gets darker.