Mac Carter said rowing a 32-foot boat with a crew of six is as easy as closing his eyes and listening to the sounds of the oar locks.

But there is a reason why he sits at the front of the boat.

“One of the reason’s I chose the bow seat is no one can see what I’m doing,” Carter said. “No one can tell when I’m messing up.”

Carter grew up rowing a 22-foot dory on a New Hampshire lake with his brother, Dustin. He has raced and won competitions across the Northeast. He was even 10-time champion in a particular race.

But at age 74, rowing for Carter is no longer about winning.

“It’s Sunday morning and we are out for a casual stroll,” Carter said as he and Team Zulu rowed across Lake Auburn on Sunday morning.

Team Zulu is an informal club composed of 10 members and a boat named Zulu.

The Cornish pilot gig originates from a British design and the original purpose of the boats was to take pilots to their incoming ships in harbors around the world. Today, pilots are taken to their waiting vessels by motorboats and pilot gigs are used primarily for sport.

There are about 30 of the boats in the Northeast, with the closest one, other than Carter’s, in Belfast Harbor.

Team Zulu launches its boat from the Lake Auburn boat launch every Sunday morning, and the club is open to adding members.

“You can have any job except mine,” said Gary Spalding of New Gloucester, who as coxswain is the only one who does not have to row.

Spalding’s job is to sit at the stern and steer the boat.

Carter and his crew make it to five or six races a year, with the first race of the season, the Snow Row, held in March in Hull, Massachusetts.

“We just show up for that one,” Carter said. “No practice, no nothing.”

Carter said he remembers one Snow Row when Team Zulu faced a stiff headwind and it took an hour and 15 minutes to cover 1 mile.

“We usually go 5 miles in that,” Carter said.

Some rowing clubs have as many as 60 members, and competitions within the club determine the six rowers who will climb aboard and compete.

“Most often, we don’t do any of that,” Carter said. “We just row. Hell, were lucky to get six people that can even go to the race.”

On a typical Sunday, Team Zulu rows at about 28 to 29 oar strokes per minute. Race day calls for 38 to 39 strokes per minute, with occasional bursts of 50 to 52 when boats are neck and neck.

“Your heart feels like it’s going to burst out of your chest,” Carter said of rowing toward the finish line in a tight race. “The first team that says uncle comes in second.”

“Surprisingly, we do pretty well during the races,” Carter said, adding his team puts more emphasis on camaraderie, being outside and the Zen of rowing.

“Our motto,” he said, “is good looks and native ability.”


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