Camper Profiles

Bob Sleigh


I rowed in the Dartmouth lightweight eight in the early fifties. From then until retirement my rowing was confined to a fixed-seat rowboat, used primarily for fishing on Lake Winnipesauke. From the early fifties until retirement, swimming was my main form of exercise. Just before retirement it became clear that my left shoulder would no longer tolerate the crawl stroke, so I decided to return to rowing, taking up sculling for the first time in 1998. I started with an Alden Ocean Shell for the outdoor season, and a Concept 2 erg for the winter. Subsequently, I have moved into narrower boats, first, a Maas Aero in 2001, and then a Peinert X 25 in 2003. Since 1999, I have commenced each outdoor season with a weekend session at Craftsbury. And since 2001, my college roommate, Gerrit Zwart, has joined me at Craftsbury. We have ended each weekend session with a row in the double- a source of pleasure for each of us.

Aside from Craftsbury, and an occasional race, my rowing is done either on Lake Winnipesauke or out of the Yankee Rowing Club, located under the Coolidge Bridge, which spans the Connecticut River, connecting Hadley and Northampton, Massachusetts. Each setting has provided moments of intimate connection with nature.

After a hard piece of approximately 1000 meters on the Connecticut, I sat in my Peinert, breathing heavily, with my oars off the water at right angles to the hull. As I glided upstream the only sounds were my breathing, and the swish of the hull moving through the water. I noted a shadow on the water slightly astern of my boat- an almost exact replica of the current configuration of my boat and its oars. I looked up to see its source- a mature bald eagle, soaring about thirty feet above me, wings extended, following my course.

Rowing on Lake Winnipesauke sometimes requires ingenuity in the pursuit of calm waters, unroiled by powerboats. My favorite calm water venue is a somewhat narrow 500-meter course, between an island and the mainland, designated as a no-wake zone. It is also a loon nesting area. On occasion, when I set up to do a 500-meter piece, posing no threat to loon nests or chicks, I am confronted by a phalanx of mature loons, forming a picket line across my bow. Each loon takes a turn flapping its wings, rising up on its feet on the water, like a water polo goalie, attempting to block a shot. Intimidation is clearly their aim. I have the cure. I back away from them a bit, put my oars out at right angles to the hull and flap vigorously. The loons part peacefully, and let me through. They know a bigger bird when they see one.

In addition to exercise and intimate connections with nature, there has been some racing in my recreational sculls-racing in the narrow Peinert X 25 starts in the coming season. And there has been some success, which has been abetted by participating in a RoyleRow Performance Program. My first race was a 1200-meter sprint at the Alden Nationals, which I won in my age group. My strategy was this: I would go out hard for the first 400 meters, check my pulse on my Polar monitor-looking for a pulse rate of about 150 at that point-then determine whether to back off a bit, hold steady, or take it up. The Aldens use a headrace start- single file with about 15 seconds between each boat at the start. I was number 13. When number 11 was called to the starting line, I gently moved into position behind number 12, ready to go. I felt a bit of anxiety, so I checked my Polar monitor-156. I gave up on strategy and just rowed.

I enjoy competing. Emailing Marlene, informing her that I had won my group at the CRASH-Bs, I wrote something like this: "I know the point of rowing and erging at my age is the sense of well being that comes from being in shape, as well as the camaraderie of rowing, and the connections with nature. Still, winning is nice."

The sessions I've attended at Craftsbury have been invaluable. I have learned something significant from each coach who has taken a look at my stroke, which remains, without question, a work in progress. In June, I head north with my daughter for my seventh weekend of sculling at Craftsbury, her first. My oldest son will be finishing a week at Craftsbury when we arrive. It's now a family affair.