I took up rowing about 25 years ago at the age of 32. Although the crew team recruited me heavily in college (I guess I had the build for it), I ran track and swam. I ran seriously through law school and eventually started doing triathlons, but knee surgery and a pretty stupendous bike crash got me seeking a new sport. At the time I was living right on Long Island Sound and could drop a boat in the drink right off my front yard, which I used to tell people went “all the way to Portugal.”

Leslie at about age 50—2008

Leslie at about age 50—2008

My first boat was an Alden double that was kind of sluggish but beamy, stable and fun. While I always rowed it as a single, it would comfortably accommodate a passenger, and often I’d let my girl friend row me around. On a scale of one to ten, Leslie was at least a fourteen-and-a-half, and with her at the oars in a skimpy bikini, while I lounged in the stern with Heineken in hand, I soon became the envy of many a yachtsman as we plied the waters around the Thimble Islands. “What’s that guy in the funny little boat got that I don’t?” Leslie is an accomplished actress and playwright who still lives on the shoreline. We usually get together once or twice a year and go for a row.

I have since moved inland, and, while I get out into the salt as much as I can, I do most of my rowing now on the Farmington and Connecticut Rivers, as well as some lakes in Northwest Connecticut. Currently I have two rowing boats, an Alden Star and an Appledore Peapod.

Martin in his Appledore—1995

Martin in his Appledore—1995

Named after one of the Isles of the Shoals in Southern Maine, the Appledore is an old workboat design modified for sliding seat rowing. It’s 16 feet long, 33 inches wide, and was the proudest creation of Arthur Martin who basically invented the sport of recreational rowing with the introduction of the Alden Ocean Shell in 1971. The boat has a real sharp entry, a lot of bow flare and is relatively flat amidships. She can be rowed single or double, carry a passenger and a lot of gear (yes, for old time’s sake, Leslie still rows) and handle incredibly rough conditions. Somebody rowed one around Cape Horn once, and there have been times when it’s started to blow that I would have felt more secure in the Appledore than my 23 foot powerboat.

An Alden Star (not Martin or Martin's scull)

An Alden Star (not Martin or Martin's scull)


The Star at 22 feet long and 18 inches beam is also somewhat flat bottomed but does not pound. Its most unique feature is a squared-off reverse step transom that supplies some hydrodynamic characteristics of a longer boat, as well as lift to keep you from pooping in a following sea. (Ed: pooping is when the sea comes over the stern—rear—of a vessel) This boat is also truly amazing in big waves. It’s rugged, and I have dropped it a number of times and run it into all manner of stumps, logs, lobster pot buoys and other obstacles, all without damage, although I did need to patch the transom once (an easy job) after my ex-wife ran into it with her little blue Volkswagen.

I have a high pressure, sit-down job as general counsel of a large engineering company, but my office is about five minutes from a beautiful stretch of the Farmington River. I keep the Star on a rack on my pickup truck, and most days when there is no ice, I drop it in the river at lunch time and am gone for about an hour. I row downstream to an old dam, then turn around and row upstream back to where I started. Things that seemed like problems when I started are mere bagatelles when I finish. As Arthur Martin used to say, “my boat is too small to take my cares with me.” The other day as I was loading the boat back onto the truck, I asked myself how much extra money would I take to go back to the high-rise law firm world where I couldn’t do my noontime rows. The answer was: “no amount of money in the world!”

A lot of people work out at lunch here, and when we moved into this building, we built in a couple of shower/changing rooms. We’re business casual most of the time, so changing isn’t a big deal. The overall workout’s about an hour with actual time on the water more like 45 minutes, except for Fridays, when I often head down into Windsor for a longer row.

For lunch I either pack something or grab some takeout from a deli. I usually start working at home at 5 AM, so I feel OK taking some time during the day. I try not to schedule calls etc. during my workout time, but I do have a waterproof box for my Blackberry and will confess to occasionally being in touch from the middle of the river.

I usually start rowing in April and stop in early December. When I lived on the Sound, I rowed all year except for January, when the harbors usually froze. Even now I get out in the salt water and the Connecticut River estuary a few times a month during February and March. I just bought a dry suit and am going to try to row outside a lot more this winter. I have a Concept 2 machine for indoor rowing, but there’s nothing like getting on the water. In the winter there are harbor seals in the Thimble Islands, and it’s fun to go out and watch them.

Rowing is a sport a lot of people could enjoy. Few sports provide as much of a total workout on pretty much all the major muscle groups and are as easy on the joints. Also there is an ineffable aesthetic to being out on the water, experiencing the weather and the birdlife and seeking to perfect the mechanics of the stroke, a process of which you never tire. It’s meditative and contemplative, all the while building strength, aerobic fitness and mental serenity.

My first kayak race paddling with a kid's plastic paddle—9/17/06

My first kayak race paddling with a kid's plastic paddle—9/17/06


A couple of years ago I also took up sea kayaking, which shares some of the characteristics of rowing, but also has some differences. For one, you’re facing forward and can see where you’re going. What a concept! This is an advantage in exploring and sneaking up on wildlife. Also you don’t have the wide spread of the sculling oars, can maneuver more easily in tight water and can get way up into creeks and marshes. Paddling uses a lot of the same upper body and core muscles as rowing and can be just as aerobic, but the legs are less involved. I’ve also come to believe that the right kayak can be more efficient for long distance cruising than a rowing boat.

When I turned 50 I got the bright idea to row 50 miles on the Connecticut River in one day, basically Hartford to the sea. The other long-term part of the plan was to do this every year, but in recognition of the passage of time, knock off a mile each year…so at 51, I do 49 miles and so forth, babying myself with only 1 mile on my 99th birthday. Well, 50 miles was a little ambitious, and I stopped early, took in a show at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam and spent the night at the old Gelston Hotel catching the outgoing tide the next morning. I still remember that crab and corn chowder, which after a long day of pulling was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tasted.

The next year I discovered the metric system and found 49 clicks eminently doable. This year, however, I did the trip in my 19 foot kayak and have to admit that up until the end, when I had to fight an onshore breeze and a steep chop, the kayak was easier and able to keep up a higher average speed than the Appledore would have been. For those who appreciate complex math problems, try to plan a trip like this and optimize the tide/current/wind factors. Overall the river flows to the sea, the current is downstream, the tide changes every six hours, and the time of tide change varies as you head downstream. At certain times of the day at the mouth of the river, it actually flows upstream, and on and on.

my old neighborhood—late 80's

my old neighborhood—late 80's

(This is our old neighborhood in Stony Creek, Connecticut showing the beach where I used to launch. I lived in the little white house behind the stone house for about 9 years. Ayn Rand used to live there, and legend is that’s where she wrote The Fountainhead.)

For those who’d like to take up rowing, I guess I’d offer a few thoughts.

Boats: The important thing is to get a boat that will be easy for you to use alot. Ease of storage and transportation, durability and ability to handle a variety of water conditions are, in my book, a lot more important than the potential capacity for speed. Remember these two fundamental principles:

1. It’s not the boat, it’s the motor; and

2. Boats don’t go very fast upside down.

Racing singles are great for the purist and for those seeking the bliss of the perfect stroke, but at 25 feet plus they are hard to transport and store. They also tend to be somewhat delicate and easily damaged and are tippy and only reach their potential in limited conditions. Given the relative handling characteristics I think most people will actually row an open water boat harder and, in fact, faster than a racing single.

Instrumentation: While I am somewhat of the Luddite around the house and the office, I am a firm believer that the right electronics, a GPS, a Strokecoach and a heart rate monitor, are indispensable to a successful rowing program.

A GPS will tell you generally how fast you’re going, how far you went, your average speed, and most importantly, especially if you get into fog (which can roll in thick in a matter of minutes) or otherwise out of sight of land, where to go and how to get home. In a muscle-powered boat, you are largely at the mercy of the currents, tides and winds, and the GPS corrects for all that: plug in a waypoint and it gives you the heading. It’s important to have a rowing compass too (one that reads backwards because you’re facing stern) and understand “Eldredge style” navigation, but on a long-haul, say crossing the Sound, if you’re off by a few degrees, over time you could be way off your final destination at a point where you’re a little low on steam to get to where you need to be. Most of the time I use a Garmin 305 bicycle computer that also has a built-in heart rate monitor but pretty rudimentary navigation capability. In the salt I use a Garmin Geko 201 which is a real navigational tool and seems more waterproof than the 305.

The Strokecoach is a device that counts how many strokes per minute you are rowing as well as cumulative strokes and elapsed time. NK recently introduced a wireless model that senses acceleration changes in the stroke, rather than counting the times the sliding seat crosses a sensor. This should work well on kayaks and I plan to install one.

Nothing will revolutionize your training like a heart rate monitor and understanding your training pulse rate and training zones. For the most part I find the HRM pushes me to row harder, but there are times, when it’s especially hot and humid, that it’s told me to slow down a little. People kid me that at my age I should get a monitor that can also automatically dial 911. That’s funny, but I plan to keep rowing and be out there on the water on my 99th. Hope to see you there.