Brother Number One

Learning to row with Rob Hamill

Rob and Kevin in the heat chamber.

The last in a series of blogs from Kevin Biggar, who trained with Rob Hamill for the Transatlantic.

On the boat ramp at Lake Karapiro we undo the straps that hold the boat in place on the trailer. Rob suggests I hop on board while he backs the last few feet into the water. “Hold on!” he shouts.

The car accelerates backwards and as the trailer hits the water he jams on the brakes and skids to a splashy halt. The untethered boat rockets off and hits the water much like the end of an amusement park log flume ride.

Rob gets out of the car and laughs at me as I sit helplessly heading backwards out into the lake. Then he looks concerned, “Hey, did you put the bungs in?” he shouts.
I scamper madly around the boat for a minute until I realise that the bungs are in. Rob is doubled over.

I get the boat back to the ramp and Rob jumps in. I put my head into the cabin to get a seat out and immediately feel a convulsion in my stomach. Could I be sea sick in the first two minutes on a flat calm lake? But back on deck and rowing I soon have other things to worry about.

In the gentle, enigmatic Zen-like manner of the Buddhist masters Rob begins instructing his new grasshopper on the subtle mysteries of the art of rowing.

“Jingos Kev, your technique is crap! You won’t beat an egg doing that. Rowing is like making love, slow it down and lengthen out!”

After some brief pointers Rob sits behind and grades each stroke into pass or fail, “Nup…nup…nup….” Then every hundred strokes or so, “That is a good one”, then “Nup… nup… nup...” until the planets swing into alignment again. I thought that I had been getting pretty competent with my rowing and so this critique is very frustrating. Finally, after visiting every corner of the lake we returned to the boat ramp, chat to the curious onlookers that gather around every time the boat is taken out, and head home.

This became the pattern for many similar trips. Sometimes on sunny days, Rob's wife Rachel would join us with their baby Finn. They would bring lunch and we would putter around the lake as if we were on the Serpentine. Sometimes if we were very unlucky Rob would burst into song. He did a fine version of Pokarekareana that could bring any amorous walrus to the surface.


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