I just finished checking the rigging on our eight—putting the last tweaks on it for the qualifying heat—when a fellow coach ran up, coming to a screeching halt in front of me.
Between gasps for air he said, “Mike…Vespoli rigger…need two top bolts…fell off in the trailer….can’t find them…”
I had a few extra bolts—gave him two (three actually)…and off he ran.
Later that day the Coach swung by—this time at a more leisurely pace.
“You saved me. We looked and looked but couldn’t find those dang bolts. I got yours back just in time. We launched but arrived at the line late and got a false start. The stress flustered the kids to no end and about killed me. We barely made it…and don’t tell the kids this but I ended up puking in the bushes afterwards…”
The super-power of rowing spare parts
Spare parts, those bits and pieces standing by to replace something missing, something broken, or something faulty, can be invaluable.
A true gem of the tool box.
But unfortunately too many (way TOO many) coaches see rowing spare parts as a luxury (they are NOT). They are, and always have been, a necessity.
Why Spare Parts?
As boatman for the US national team, nightmares about spare parts would wake me up at 2:37 am all the time. Something would break at the worst possible moment and there I’d be…wishing I had a spare part with none to be found…and Olympic athletes getting ready to toss me off a cliff.
Because of that, I became, and still am, obsessive about spare parts for my rowing equipment (and just about everything in my life).
Spare parts can save the day. But they can do more too. A Stash of Spare Parts (SoSP) can and will:
- SoSP: Maximize practice time
- SoSP: Turns issues into opportunities
- SoSP: Reduce friction
- SoSP: Reduce cannibalization (taking a good part currently in use to replace a part somewhere else)
- SoSP: Save valuable (almost priceless) water time
- SoSP: Reflect positively on the holder
- SoSP: Is a competitive advantage
- SoSP: Saves $$$
- SoSP: Reduce the time you spend puking in the bushes
It comes down to this, if YOU want to be effective (rower/coach/coxswain) you will have spare parts. Those who have spare parts look wise, are cool, and can be wickedly helpful.
Those who don’t have rowing spare parts will always be dependent on, AND indebted to, those who do have them.
The 3 Elements of Rowing Spare Parts
Let’s explore three elements of spare parts to get us on our way:
Element 1: What spare parts do you need?
Element 2: Where can you get your spare parts?
Element 3: Where should you keep your spare parts?
Element 1: How many and what type of spare parts do you need?
I have a mental mandate when it comes to rowing spare parts: I look around for a small thing which could malfunction (break, go missing, etc.) and then in turn bring whatever I’m doing to a screeching-halt. That’s exactly what I want a spare part for—to avoid that.
In other words, what Small Piece >>> Big Impact?
You don’t have to scratch your head too hard to imagine what that could be for a rowing practice:
- rigger top bolt/nut
- seat wheel
- rigger bolt
When a part like one of those goes bad it stops a practice cold. So those spare parts are always with me—in my practice spare parts stash.
Three Stashes of Spare Parts
I’ve three stashes of spare parts, each to use at a specific time and place:
Stash #1: Practice Stash – those small items mentioned above, plus anything else a specific boat, or workout, will rely on (for example, batteries for indoor rower workouts). Anything that wears out or breaks frequently is a prime contender for the practice stash box.
Stash #2: Race Stash – the Practice Stash PLUS bigger items, such as a spare oar, bow numbers, entire seats, rigger stays, foot stretchers…anything and everything that I could/would/should need. (Sometimes it looks like I brought the entire boathouse with me. Come to think of it…I usually do.)
Brent Bode, Traveling Boatman at Community Rowing, Inc. and instructor for the Institute for Rowing Leadership spent time in the trenches (and pits) of Indy race cars. A teammate used to tell him this about spare parts: “If we don’t pack it in the trailer we are sure to need it on race weekend. So pack everything!“
Wise advice (and for tools too!).
Stash #3: Boathouse Stash – Practice and Race Stashes above, along with any other parts that need replacing frequently. For instance, I would have a stash of replacement seat tracks, quick release shoes, fins and rudders—and more, much more.
What Parts To Stash?
If you’re looking for suggestions of parts to put in your stashes, here are a few. It is by NO means an exhaustive list but I dare to include it here with the thought that it might get you thinking about what you should stash:
- rigger (including assorted parts and frame)
- seat (or at least wheel(s) or under carriage)
- bow ball
- electronics and chargers
- boat strap
- assorted stainless nuts and bolts
- oarlock pins
- rudder and cable
- seats and parts
- spare rigger(s) for each shell
- extra set of vehicle keys
And Bode’s Top 5 Spare Parts are:
- Oarlock Spacers
- Skegs / Fins for all boat types and sizes (includes rudders for coxed boats)
- Heel Ties
- Bow Balls
- Lane Numbers (for spring racing season)
Element 2: Where do spare parts come from?
Often…but not always…you can get spare parts from the manufacturer. In fact, many boat builders will include spare parts kits with purchases or have them ready to buy separately:
A thought to keep in mind—in most countries there is NO LEGAL OBLIGATION FOR A MANUFACTURER TO HAVE AND KEEP SPARE PARTS. So the day may come (or its already arrived) where you can’t get a spare/replacement part for older piece or speciality equipment.
You may need to turn to other sources. Here are a few recommendations:
- Hardware store: for fasteners and non-rowing specific items
- Online store: several companies, such as Adirondack Rowing carry spare parts for a wide range of equipment
- Cannabilization: be careful about robbing Peter to pay Paul. Meaning DO NOT take things in use as a spare part, because that thing seldom, if ever, gets put back. However, that shell that hasn’t been rowed in years (and the future doesn’t look very promising for it either) could be a good source of parts.
- Friends/family/fellow coaches: could be helpful in a pinch. Don’t forget quick and prompt repayment. Too many relationships have soured when repayment is delayed or never happens. DO NOT BE THAT COACH.
Element 3: Where should your spare parts stash live?
Tom Peters is known to say (quite often) “Excellence is the next 5 minutes.” My version as it relates to the topic at hand is: Excellence is having spare parts exactly when and where you need them.
That sounds like an oversimplification but it’s not. It’s reality.
The other part of this reality is that what works for me, in reference to what I put my spare parts in and where I keep them would probably not work for you. Our situations are different enough to require different solutions.
I suggest finding a container, a home, a nest, a whatever-you-want-to-call-it, and put your spare parts in it.
As long as it is where you need it, when you need it—you’ve got a winner.
Build a stash. Keep a stash. Use your stash. Love your stash.
The smallest of parts can make an enormous difference. At any rate, spare parts can make your life easier…maybe just a bit. But today that could be wonderful gift…and a competitive advantage.