In the winter, when air temperatures hover in the 20s and the ice coats the water’s surface like a protective tarpaulin, recreational rowers tend to store their oars for the season.

But the power rowing teams of Come Boating! keep rowing.

The dozen or so rowers who fill the organization’s two 32-foot Cornish pilot gigs aren’t gluttons for punishment. They simply don’t like losing.

Both teams — a coed team rowing in a boat named Selkie and an all-women’s team in a boat named Belle Fast — are competing in the annual Snow Row, a 3.75-mile race in the waters off Hull, Mass., on March 10. To win, teams need to prepare, even when it’s freezing outside.

“Who rows in the winter?” said Wes Reddick, a Come Boating! member and rower for team Selkie. “You’re freezing, wondering, ‘What are we doing?'”

The Snow Row lures rowers from New England, the East Coast and Cornwall, U.K., where the pilot gig, a six-oared rowing boat, retains a long and competitive history. More than 100 boats turn out, including work boats, kayaks, canoes, shells and pilot gigs. With so much traffic in the water, things can get a little chaotic.

Boats begin the race with their bows on the beach, requiring the crew to sprint across the sand, scramble in and row backwards before attempting to turn their boat around. The coastal water quickly becomes an uproar of oars and calls from the coxswains. Boats jockey for space to turn around, sometimes colliding like wheel-less bumper cars. Oars tangle, sometimes thwacking a fellow rower.

“Imagine 20 to 30 gigs with 12-foot oars on each side,” said Reddick. “It’s pandemonium.”

The race is divided into waves of similar class boats, which helps reduce the bedlam. But not by much.

“Boats are turning around and bumping into each other. One year one boat tore our rudder off,” said Willy Reddick, a rower for Belle Fast who is also Wes Reddick’s wife.

All that action draws a crowd. And winning the Snow Row brings cachet. Bringing home a trophy and some bragging rights also helps ignite interest in the free community rowing programs offered during the warm months. And that interest is the driving force behind Come Boating!

That, and a healthy appreciation for frigid weather, layered fleece and a bit of Snow Row commotion.

“It’s pandemonium,” said Wes Reddick, “and it’s wonderful.”


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