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My oldest son rowed in college. He was part of the university 4-plus-coxswain crew that won the National Championships twice and went to England to row in the Henley Royal Regatta. They came in third at Henley. The German National team was amazing.

When we were talking about the Republican field he said, “This is just like crew. Everybody comes to the start hoping to win. There is wind and waves and even the best crew can ‘catch a crab’ and they are out of the race.”

For the non-rowers, the ‘boat’ is a narrow, tippy sliver of fiberglass. The seats move forward and back on rails, so the legs provide most of the power for the stroke. In “skull” boats, each rower has two oars, one on each side. In “sweep” boats, each of the four or eight rowers has a single oar, with half on one side and half on the other. Done well, rowing is graceful and powerful.

But rowing requires precise timing. At the end of each stroke, the rowers must push down on their oar handles to lift the vertical blade out of the water, then turn their wrists to rotate the blade horizontal while they prepare for the next stroke. If a rower is late, or doesn’t lift the blade out of the water before turning it horizontal, or doesn’t lift it high enough to clear the ripples in the water, the blade will get caught underwater. Rowers call it “catching a crab.” The momentum of the still-moving boat will rip the oar handle from the rower’s hands, tangling it with the other oars and even capsizing the boat.

If a rower catches a crab, that crew is out of the race. Here’s a video that shows what it looks like. Note how far ahead the near boat is until the third rower from the back catches a crab (6 seconds into the video). By the time he recovers control of his oar, they’ve lost.

One spring the Mississippi River was flooded and filled with debris and they asked if they could practice on the lake where I lived. I’d look out at the arbor and see oars and racing shells propped up against it and take out my camera. This was pre-digital so I have no photos to share. I asked my next door neighbors if they had any problems with this and both were out at 5:30 am with their tea or coffee, bundled up and watching practice.

The teamwork required to row well is amazing. Each member is in unbelievably good shape. Crews spend two or three hours on the water each day, and another two or three hours in lifting weights or running to build endurance. Then the crew and the coxswain need to become a rowing unit with perfectly coordinated timing. Yet even the best crew can catch a crab.

This is just another example of “luck” and results. I love the phrase, “anyone can catch a crab.” My son thought that maybe Cain had caught more than a crab, FYI.

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