Today at Berkeley Lab

HR’s Rachel Carl Races Whaleboats in Her Off Hours

By Sabin Russell

Carl (2nd from right, front row) with her teammates and their trophies

When Rachel Carl relaxes after a hard day’s work at Berkeley Lab, she drives down to the Oakland waterfront, grabs a 12-foot long oar and her seat aboard the wooden whaleboat Carl Larkin, and propels it across the cold and choppy waters of San Francisco Bay.
Her team of broad-shouldered male and female athletes calls itself The Row’d Warriors, and in whaleboat racing competitions on San Francisco Bay — and as far away as Warrnambol, Australia — they often come in first.

The Carl Larkin is a 26-foot long, one-ton Monomoy pulling surfboat, a banana-shaped lifeboat used by the U.S. Coast Guard for rough water rescues. It is modeled after the powerful rowboats that New England whalers used to chase down and harpoon their prey. “They are hefty boats,’’ says Carl. “They are used for rescues because they don’t tip over.”
The Row’d Warriors are a contingent of eight men and women rowers; a coxswain who steers from the stern and directs the pace; and a lightweight “bowhook,” who sits in the forward seat to carry the team flag and call out encouragement. Whaleboat racing has been a tradition on San Francisco Bay since the 1800’s. The Bay Area Whaleboat Rowing Association (BAWRA) sponsors ten major races a year, and crews practice at least three days a week on the water in preparation for them.

Back at the Lab, Carl is a Human Resources Center Manager, responsible for an HR team that supports the Advanced Light Source, Engineering, General Sciences, and the next-generation light source strategic initiative. Not surprisingly, she’s known for her energy, insight, and good cheer, as well as for that splash of pink on the side of her jet black hair. On the Bay, half her crewmates work as firefighters, while the rest have office jobs. Common among them all: strong bodies, self-discipline, a passion for the outdoors, and a powerful competitive streak. Sound interesting? The Row’d Warriors are looking for men and women willing to give it a try.

Row'd Warriors out on the Bay

This weekend, the Row’d Warriors will be competing in the annual Bridge to Bridge regatta, a grueling six mile row from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Bay Bridge. Depending on wind and tides, it can take 30 minutes to an hour for the winning crew to cross the finish line. This year, BAWRA will host a team from Australia, where the sport is wildly popular. The Aussies were determined to come to San Francisco after the Row’d Warriors travelled to Warrnambol, Victoria, in 2010 and — as she puts it — “we dominated them.”

Carl says she was always athletic, picking up sports easily as a child. Exercise not only makes her feels good, it helps channel her energy. “I like being outdoors, and I like endurance,’’ she says. “It’s about the work/life balance. Everyone has to have an outlet.” Carl is also avid bicyclist and long-distance runner, although she concedes she “dies at mile 20” in marathons — so the half marathon is her race of choice. “If I put my mind to something, I will do it,’’ she says. “But to enjoy it, you have to be passionate about it.” She’s not above actually watching sports, either. She and her husband are A’s season ticket holders.

Her bicycling passion and her social conscience drew her into the AIDS/Lifecycle, the annual fund-raising bike ride down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Four times she has taken the seven-day, 545 mile ride, “one of the best experiences of my life,’’ she recalls. This year, she’s going to be a “Roadie,” part of a team of road crew volunteers who get up at 3:30 a.m. each morning of the trek to make sure the route is safe and the support network is up and running for the nearly 2,500 cyclists. The AIDs ride begins on Sunday June 3, so she’ll have a few hours to rest after racing that one-ton whaleboat for six miles on San Francisco Bay and, presumably, beating the Aussies once again.