The Women’s team—in its second year with Varsity Athletics—was headed by Kelly McMonigle Church. The Men’s team was headed by Pat Mulchay. It was our first race of the year. Moreover, it may have been one of the biggest races the club had attended—at least to start a spring season.
Why did we call this day the Clemson Massacre? Here are a few reasons that are fit for sharing….There are others—mark my words! But I’ll let you guys and girls reflect further in the comments section below. What follows is my account from this day.
The men’s and women’s teams traveled separately; the women in a charter bus, the men in a university passenger van and a rented station wagon. The weekend was off to an immediately vexing start when the emergency ringer on the station wagon would not switch off. We had just made it past Kentucky Lake when our convoy needed to pull off the road so the station wagon passengers could get out before the persistent ringing drove them to madness. Of course, the solution to this problem was simple: pull the ringer’s fuse. If only the rest of the weekend could have been fixed as easily.
With an auspicious start, we drove to South Carolina. There was a major traffic jam outside of Nashville—set us back at least two hours. Later, a game of Taboo that started out pleasantly enough got tedious as Shannon's, Chris's, and Joe’s responses locked on to one specific vulgar phrase that need not be repeated in polite company. Oh they were funny at first, but that drive was getting way too long at that point for three guys to keep reusing the same punch line over and over.
Saturday morning, we started rigging the Rosemary Crisp for competition. While we were doing this, a race official wandered into our staging area and looked at our boat with deep concern. In 1997, the boat collided with a pontoon during a head race. The damage had not yet been repaired. We thought that the race official was curious about the damage. No…The race official had a problem with our bow ball. Apparently it was not supple enough for his liking! We needed to get this fixed or we would be disqualified.
I do not recall how we addressed this problem…or if we even actually addressed it at all. Maybe coach found us a replacement. Maybe we jammed a tennis ball over the existing bow ball. Maybe we got another official to weigh in and retract the first’s ruling. But this was not—by any stretch—the end of our problems. Perhaps that’s why I don’t remember how the bow ball issue was resolved. What happened just a little while later, as we put the boat in the water for the men’s novice race, was when our trip to South Carolina got ugly.
Almost instantly, water rushed through the seals in the center of the boat. When the team first bought the Rosemary Crisp, it was a sectional shell. For the first two years of the club, we had no trailer. We traveled with the boat in two sections strapped to the roof of a panel van. Up to this point, we had yet to have it the shell permanently sealed. Although we had rowed on Kentucky Lake with no problems the day before our trip to Clemson, something was decidedly wrong. But the novices were already on the water heading to the starting line—doing their best to bail out water between lining up for the start and the actual start itself.
While a geyser of water jetted through the center of the shell, the novices encountered another problem. One of the guys had not quite mastered starts….When the flag went down, he popped off of his seat in the first few meters and spent the rest of the sprint trying to decide if he could (1) fix his seat, (2) jump out of the boat, or (3) row arms and back for 2000k. To the horror of us watching from the shore, he tried #3.
After the novice race, we had several hours to figure out what was wrong with the boat and fix it. Tensions were high, patience was low, and the Rosemary Crisp was not repaired in spite of our best efforts. Perhaps it was because of a change in humidity or the saltiness of the South Carolina air. We could not get a reliable seal on the boat. We even sent out a contingency of guys to a hardware store to buy new bolts, screws, and wood clamps. Still, when we put the boat in the water it did not take long for water to lap up over our heels. As such, the result of the men’s varsity race is not especially interesting or pleasant to discuss. Suffice to say we could have gone just as fast if we swam.
Midway through the 8 hour drive home, an antifreeze hose in the passenger van broke, spraying the floor of the passenger side front seat with noxious red vapors. A little later, we hit rain. Because the smell of the antifreeze was asphyxiating the 14 of us jammed in that van, we had to drive with the windows down. Thus, just as we were drenched in our broken boat earlier that day, we were now being soaked by a cool spring rain.
We were wet, shivering cold (especially Aik), stinky (especially Eric), barely able to breath (especially me), reeling at the severity of our loss (especially Adam and Kelly), fed up with each other…and this was just the first race of the season. Nevertheless, it was a character building experience.
2000 Varsity (left to right): Jason, Brian, Joe, Pat, Kelly, Robin, & Adam