On a chilly morning on the river, there’s a bunch of rowers and coxes who suffer more than most – those who, like me, have Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a bizarre circulatory disorder, affecting about 10 million people in the UK. It interrupts the blood supply to the extremities in a dramatic way that doesn’t happen to most people. During an attack of Raynaud’s your fingers and toes go bright white and numb. They may then go blue before, in a rush of pain, the blood returns. It can happen even when you step from a warm room to a colder one. Gripping a cold oar handle certainly triggers it, as does sitting in the cox’s seat for an hour or so on a cold day. Rowing with Raynaud’s – to say nothing of coxing – is no joke. And for someone who likes to look at least tolerably soignée when I’m rowing, it’s a bit of a nightmare.

Which is why I take my kit so seriously. Get it right and you can still come off the water with a smile on your face. Get it wrong and you’ll be weeping and wincing your way up and down the river. Over the last few years I’ve dedicated an abnormal amount of time and trouble to thinking about my rowing apparel and I think I’ve finally got it nailed. So here is Girl on the River’s guide to rowing and coxing with Raynaud’s.

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Rowing

I’d like to say it was rocket science, but really it’s not. The key to staying warm is layers – and lots of them. This Sunday, when I took these pictures, it a damp, bone-chilling 1ºC, yet I managed to stay warm enough not to think about my hands and feet at all when I was on the water.

My kit list was as follows:

  • Base layer (Queen B Athletics)
  • Thermal polo neck (Lidl)
  • Fleece (Craghoppers)
  • Warm leggings (I’d have gone for a second pair if we’d hit freezing point)
  • Leg warmers (so I’m a child of the eighties – don’t judge me. And these are actually key. If you keep your legs and ankles warm your feet have a much better chance of not seizing up).
  • Thermal socks
  • Thin buff
  • Thick buff
  • Hat (Queen B Athletics)
  • Coat (removed when I got into the boat)

Rowing - winter clothes

I also wore thick waterproof gloves from Sealskinz to carry the boat on and off the water.

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Once on the water I attached pogies (from Rock the Boat) to my handles. These are covers that protect your hands whilst allowing you to maintain contact with the handle. They’re not everybody’s cup of tea but I’m a fan – they keep the wind off and allow your hands to adjust to the cold of the handle a little less brutally. You can swipe them off when you warm up. The only problem is that they are fiddly to wriggle your hand into. If you start the outing by sitting the boat and then have to join in suddenly you may end up, as I did, with one pogie on and one pogie off.

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As the outing progressed, I shed more and more layers including, finally, my hat, pulling the buff up to create a faintly ridiculous and piratical bit of headwear. It kept the wind off my ears (which can also go numb) and my hair out of my eyes.

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The only time I really got cold was afterwards in our unheated clubhouse, when even a cup of coffee didn’t stop me shivering.

Coxing

As I stepped out of the house to cox this Saturday it was a biting minus 4°C. Happily I’d thought ahead and, amazingly, didn’t feel cold at all during the outing.

Coxing - the outfit

This was my kit list:

  • Base layer (Queen B Athletics)
  • Thermal polo neck (Lidl)
  • Soft shell top (MRC)
  • Padded jacket (Reebok)
  • Warm leggings (Queen B Athletics)
  • Ski trousers (so old I don’t even know what make they are)
  • Thin buff
  • Thick buff (Kit Crew)
  • Socks
  • Trainers
  • Neoprene overshoes
  • Thermal waterproof gloves (Sealskinz)
  • Cap (Crewroom)
  • Hat (Queen B Athletics)

The key to my joyous warmth was two-fold. In addition to all the layers I had handwarmers tucked into my gloves and footwarmers inside my trainers, providing a constant source of heat.

Winter coxing secret weapons

But my secret weapon was a pair of cyclist’s neoprene overshoes. These, brilliantly, kept the wind and splashes out and the heat in but were perfectly safe to wear in the boat as they have holes on the sole and the heels. I heartily recommend them.

I’m constantly tweaking and refining my rowing kit so if you have any brainy ideas or top tips for keeping warm on the water, I’m all ears (under my hat, that is). ‘Till then, stay warm and row like the wind.

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