Skip to content. | Skip to navigation


Personal tools
You are here: Home / Blog / Our Sculling Caper

Our Sculling Caper

| filed under: , , , , , , ,

September 8, 2002, Washington, DC – It is true that Mark had talked to Paul about being okayed to be allowed to take out Sculls onto the river; it is true that Mark and I rowed in college at GWU. When Mark and I arrived to rent racing sculls from the Thompson Boat Center (from where Mark and I rowed during college), I hadn’t rowed any shells in ten-years, and I had never rowed in a single scull in my life.

Our Sculling Caper

My Hudson Heavyweight Single

We played it cool, and before long, Mark was using his Silver Tongue on the Manager. He was able to secure for each of us an 11-row pass, which gave us carte blanche to take out racing sculls onto the Potomac 11 times.

We both played it cool, but when we got to the river, it really was a comedy act like you would never have believed. We were pointing the oar locks in the wrong direction, we were awkwardly playing the boats and sitting wrongly, possibly injuring fiberglass and the single’s structure in the rush.

I even tipped and fell over the moment I tried to push off. Right into the drink. Soaked GAP Khaki shorts, black leather belt, and black tee, with a dead cell (I was expecting a call from Wendy — we were to Kayak later, after the Caper) I jumped in again, changed my oarlocks — thanks to the help of the Aussie who later narced on us — and pushed off!

With the oarlocks positioned like they’re supposed to (like pointing a gun, point the oarlock away from you!) it was like riding a bike. There are enough commonalities between the Heavyweight Eight Sweeps I used to row in College and sculling; between the Walden Pond Blue Kayaks and sculling. Within 100 meters, I was doing pretty well and moved on to using the full slide.

My hands bonked into each other, a caught a couple crabs, and there were a few times when I forgot to look behind me, but I felt the sun, I smelled the mildly fetid waters, and felt the muscles work in my gluts, in my back, and in my shoulders.

I row obsessively on my Concept II rowing ergometer. They call it an indoor rower. The strength and stamina I have acquired translated directly and all the training and fantasizing I has been doing came to fruit in that quick flee from what I was beginning to suspect was a bliss and abandon — the perfect caper on one hand and the ease with which I warmed up to this sport which has always been too sexy, too delicate, and too elite to actually pursue — was going to be short-lived. Before the Caper, cut wood and carry water; after the Caper, cut wood and carry water.

I figured I has been found out when Mark never did leave the dock. I was alone out there,

Squared blade. The catch. The drive. The finish. Feather blade. The recovery.

A Thomson’s Boat House skiff, like one skiff my coach used to take out from which to coach us, left the dock — I could see it in the distance for I was already passing the Potomac Boat Club’s boat house — and powering towards me, I was certain.

They took quite a while to arrive. There is such a difference between moving through the water in my Little Blue Kayak and cutting through the water in the racing shell. Their skiff, with its outboard engine, took forever and I tried to ignore their relatively lazy pursuit.

When they arrived, I was asked to board their boat. They took one oar, me, and then the other. They pulled the scull up next to the skiff, turned around, and powered me back. Instead of being screwed, though, I was told that it happens all the time. Instead of being busted, we were offered a generous opportunity:

“if you take the course we are offering starting Monday at 6pm,” said the Manager calmly, “we will credit the money you have paid to it and we will forget this ever happened.

“We came to get you as a matter of safety,” he added, still calmly, “and when you finish your five days of classes, you can come back here and rent the singles to your heart’s content.”

So we did just that, Mark and I. We will both me down at Thompson’s Boat House every evening at 6pm for our course; afterwards, we will be licensed to transcend any time we want or can afford — weather permitting.

It really doesn’t get better than this, to be sure.

My Hudson Heavyweight Single

What's a Scull and What's Sculling?

Sculling is a form of rowing where an athlete uses two oars, one in each hand, to propel a boat through the water. It is distinct from sweeping, where each rower holds one oar with both hands. Sculling can be done in single sculls, double sculls, or quad sculls, with the single scull being a popular choice for individuals seeking the challenge and satisfaction of managing a boat on their own.

Rowing a Single Scull

A single scull is a type of boat used in the sport of sculling, designed for use by one rower, who propels the boat with two oars. Single sculls are known for their sleek design, lightweight construction, and the unique challenge they present, requiring both physical skill and mental focus from the rower. Here's a deeper dive into various aspects of what a single scull is:

Characteristics of a Single Scull

  • Size and Weight: Single sculls are typically long and narrow, which makes them both fast and somewhat challenging to balance. They vary in length but are generally around 27 feet (8.2 meters) long and weigh as little as 30 pounds (14 kg), depending on the construction materials.
  • Construction Materials: Modern single sculls are usually made from carbon fiber, fiberglass, or a composite of materials to achieve a balance between strength and lightness. Older models might be made of wood.
  • Design: The design of a single scull is optimized for speed and efficiency in the water. It has a fine bow to cut through the water with minimal resistance and a streamlined hull to facilitate smooth movement.

Components of a Single Scull

  • Shell: The shell is the main body of the boat, designed to be as lightweight and strong as possible.
  • Seat: The rower sits on a sliding seat that moves on rails, allowing them to use their leg power effectively during the stroke.
  • Foot Stretcher: This is where the rower's feet are secured, adjustable to accommodate different leg lengths and provide a solid base for the power phase of the stroke.
  • Riggers: Metal or carbon frames that extend from the sides of the scull, holding the oarlocks away from the shell to provide leverage for the rower.
  • Oarlocks: Swiveling locks that hold the oars in place and act as a fulcrum for the rowing stroke.
  • Oars: Sculling oars are longer than those used in sweeping and are designed to be lightweight and strong, with a blade that enters the water at the catch and exits at the finish.

Technique in a Single Scull

  • Balance: One of the biggest challenges when rowing a single scull is maintaining balance, as the narrow hull offers less stability than larger boats.
  • Stroke Cycle: The rowing stroke in a single scull consists of the catch, drive, finish, and recovery, requiring precise timing and coordination to be efficient.
  • Turning and Steering: Rowers in single sculls often use slight differences in power applied to each oar to steer the boat, in addition to or instead of a rudder.

Training and Racing in a Single Scull

  • Physical Demands: Rowing in a single scull demands excellent cardiovascular fitness, strength, and endurance, as the rower must control the boat and propel it efficiently through the water.
  • Mental Focus: Success in a single scull requires mental resilience and focus, as rowers must maintain technique, balance, and strategic pacing throughout training and racing.
  • Racing: Single scull races are a test of individual skill and endurance, with rowers competing over distances typically ranging from 2,000 meters in Olympic and international competitions to shorter distances in local and club races.

Advantages of Rowing a Single Scull

  • Individual Skill Development: Rowing a single scull allows rowers to focus on their technique and physical conditioning without relying on a crew.
  • Flexibility in Training: Single scullers can train on their own schedule, allowing for a more personalized training regime.
  • Connection to the Water: Rowing a single offers a unique connection to the water and the sport, providing a peaceful yet challenging experience.

Rowing a single scull is often seen as the purest form of rowing, offering a unique blend of physical challenge, technical skill, and mental discipline. It allows rowers to experience the sport in its most individualized form, pushing their limits and enjoying the tranquility and intensity of being alone on the water.

Advantages of Sculling for Fitness

Sculling offers numerous fitness benefits, making it a comprehensive workout that combines cardiovascular training with strength building. It engages multiple muscle groups, including the legs, back, shoulders, and arms, providing a balanced exercise regime. The resistance of the water against the oars offers a natural way to build strength while the continuous rowing motion improves cardiovascular health. Moreover, sculling enhances coordination, balance, and flexibility, as it requires precise control over the boat and oars.

Parts of a Scull

A scull consists of several key parts:

  • Hull: The body of the boat, designed to be lightweight and streamlined for speed and efficiency in the water.
  • Bow and Stern: The front and back ends of the scull, respectively. The bow is pointed to cut through the water, while the stern is where the boat trails off.
  • Oars: In sculling, each rower has two oars, one on each side of the boat. Oars are composed of a blade, shaft, and handle.
  • Seat: The rower sits on a sliding seat that moves back and forth along a track, allowing for the use of leg power during the rowing stroke.
  • Foot Stretcher: Adjustable footplates that allow the rower to secure their feet and use them to push off during each stroke.
  • Rigger: The metal or carbon fiber framework attached to the side of the boat that holds the oarlocks, where the oars are secured.


  1. Q: What is sculling? A: Sculling is a form of rowing where each rower uses two oars to propel the boat.

  2. Q: How does sculling differ from sweeping? A: In sculling, rowers use two oars each, whereas in sweeping, each rower uses one oar held with both hands.

  3. Q: What fitness benefits does sculling offer? A: Sculling is a full-body workout that improves cardiovascular health, builds muscle strength, and enhances coordination and balance.

  4. Q: Can beginners try sculling? A: Yes, beginners can try sculling, but it's recommended to take lessons or a course to learn proper technique and safety measures.

  5. Q: What equipment is needed for sculling? A: Essential equipment includes a scull (boat), two oars, and personal safety gear like a life jacket.

Glossary of Terms

  • Bow: The front end of the boat.
  • Stern: The back end of the boat.
  • Scull: A type of boat used in sculling. Can also refer to the act of rowing with two oars.
  • Oar: A tool used to propel the boat through the water. In sculling, each rower has two.
  • Catch: The part of the stroke where the oar blade enters the water.
  • Drive: The portion of the stroke where the rower applies power, moving the boat forward.
  • Finish: The end of the stroke where the oar is lifted out of the water.
  • Feather: Rotating the oar blade parallel to the water to reduce wind resistance.
  • Recovery: The phase where the rower returns to the catch position to begin another stroke.

The narrative of "Our Sculling Caper" wonderfully captures the essence of sculling as both a challenging and rewarding sport. It highlights the initial difficulties newcomers might face, such as handling the equipment and mastering the technique, but also reflects the rapid improvement and joy that can come from perseverance. The story serves as a testament to sculling's appeal, not just as a form of physical exercise but as a pursuit of mastery over water and self.

Nov 06, 2017 03:55 PM