Rowing By the Numbers: Ed Monahan’s Aquatic Passion
Back in early January, during a brief thaw in what turned out to be an epic winter, Ed Monahan opened the sliding door to the cellar of his waterfront home on Long Pond in Ledyard, extracted a long, sleek rowing shell, carried it down a narrow ramp, placed the boat along a pier, climbed aboard, set his global positioning system and began pulling on the oars.
Because ice had begun to form he could only go a short distance before adjusting his course, and wound up over an hour or so covering about 3 miles via a circuitous route.
After his workout, Ed dutifully downloaded the distance data from his GPS onto a computer, a procedure he has faithfully followed for five years; before then he wrote down estimated mileage.
Thus far in 2011, Ed has logged 317 miles during 174 workouts. Since he began rowing in 1990, Ed has been out on the water 4,208 times, covering 12,704 miles – more than half the earth’s circumference.
“It is something of an obsession,” Ed admitted the other day after tallying his totals.
With a PhD in physics from MIT and a long, distinguished career in academics and research, including serving as director of the Connecticut Sea Grant Program in Groton and director of education and research at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass., Ed takes a scientific approach to sculling – at least when it comes to data analysis.
Ed can break down the propulsion properties of rowing into Newtonian terms using complex formulas, but there also is a joy in his description of the sport – especially now that he is less fixated on competition and more on the simple act of gliding smoothly through the water while taking in the sights.
“These days if I want to stop and count the turtles on a log, I’ll stop and count the turtles on a log,” he said.
At age 75, he has earned that privilege.
Ed began rowing at age 50, when he and his wife, Betty, returned to the United States after a decade in Ireland, where he taught at the national university at Galway. He left the Emerald Isle to take a job as professor of marine sciences at the University of Connecticut’s Avery Point campus in Groton, and began noticing the Mystic and Thames rivers attracted numerous rowers. After a friend suggested they take up the sport Ed purchased his first vessel, an 18-foot Alden shell. He soon was hooked.
The following year he bought a 16-foot single, and then continued collecting boats the way kids collect baseball cards, eventually amassing an impressive fleet of single, double and quad shells, including a 42-foot vessel that had been rowed by a European team in the 1976 Montreal Olympics. Having gotten a taste of competition with various clubs, most recently, the Niantic River Sculling Warthogs, Ed helped organize the Coastweeks Regatta, a 2,000-meter race on the Mystic River near Mystic Seaport that initially attracted a handful of amateur competitors and now is a major rowing race.
“This Sept. 18 is our 20th anniversary, and we expect 200 shells to be entered. Counting doubles and quads we’ll probably have
350 rowers and coxes,” he said.
Ever focused on statistics, Ed noted he has competed in 181 heats in 135 regattas, including 65 major regattas on such rivers as the Connecticut, Schuylkill, Hudson and Charles, winning 20 gold medals, 15 silver and 17 bronze, as well as 16 other trophies. He also has rowed in 16 states, four countries and three continents.
And as if that weren’t enough time at the oars, Ed also has become fixated on rowing machines, particularly when ice covers his favorite outdoor waters. Not surprisingly, he has kept records: 5,075,968 meters on his Concept II since February 1996.
Ed also took time to write a book, “Rowing Retrospectives. A Personal View of New England Masters Sculling,” that is an eclectic blend of analysis and insight. Interspersed with chapters explaining waves, wind and their effect on boat speed are descriptions of encounters with herons in Beebe Cove.
Though he still competes occasionally, Ed mostly rows recreationally these days, usually in a single.
“I’ve worn out all of my partners,” he joked. “Rowers tend to become loners as they grow older.”
Though he still takes his boats to other lakes and rivers, Ed does most of his rowing these days on Long Pond, which measures only a mile long and a few hundred yards across. That means he covers a lot of laps over the same water, but Ed doesn’t mind.
“The change of seasons, the weather conditions, the time of day … It’s always different,” he said.
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