Morning on the water
Lights from the commercial docks on the other side are the only illumination along the banks of the St. Johns River.

The wind is up, the water is choppy and men’s rowing coach Jim Mitchell is navigating his pontoon boat away from the JU docks on the east side of the river.

It’s 6:20 a.m. and Mitchell has just given the team a pre-practice rundown which centered around efficiency of strokes and how that will produce power. At the end, he sounds like a coach from any other sport.

“Everyone has an opportunity to get better every practice,’’ he says. And with that, team members carry the 200-pound boats to the dock, put them in the water and climb aboard.

The grueling nature of what these guys do is evident from the beginning as they work their way south toward and under the Mathews Bridge into the teeth of a pretty stiff headwind. The choppy water it produces doesn’t make things easier and a turn into the Arlington River is a tough go.

Along the way, Mitchell in his boat and assistant Montia Rice in another assess and encourage or correct various nuances of the rowers’ work; some of it understandable and some in language only a rower would get.

As we move along, the rowers can do a 2,000-meter race in under six minutes, Mitchell has a solid description of his sport where being long and lanky, and strong, isn’t a bad thing.

“It’s the perfect definition of synergy,’’ he said. “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What each person has to contribute individually to the whole of the boats. We’re looking at a lot of timing issues, a lot of dynamic, technical issues and trying to get them all to be doing the same thing the most efficient way they can do it.’’

To further demonstrate, he uses his truck as an example.

“If my truck is stuck in the mud and we have eight guys to push it out and they each push at individual times, it’s probably not going to move. If all eight push together it will move. We anchor the oars in the water and push the boat by the anchor. We’re not moving the oars through the water.’’

The 8-mile run to the Atlantic Boulevard Bridge is done about 7:45 and the scenery is as beautiful as you'd expect although it's doubtful the rowers notice. There have been a couple of breaks, some personnel changes within the boats and the continuous eagle-eyed assessments by Mitchell, who also is using a megaphone to give instruction and guidance.

By 8, the boats are out of the water, cleaned and stowed until the next time. “We got some fitness out of it,’’ Mitchell said of the day’s work. “It wasn’t ideal conditions but we need to learn how to row in these conditions. It was a pretty good practice through wind and chop.’’

The Dolphins, both men and women, open the season March 10 against Temple in DeLand, Fla.

- Jim Nasella