Keeping it Shipshape

Braun and Furtek clean and buff one of the racing shells.
Joel Furtek and Allison Braun clean and buff one of the racing shells. Photos by Robert DeSanto

Home to Yale’s three varsity rowing teams, Gilder Boathouse sits on the Housatonic River in Derby, Connecticut. Crew Operations Coordinator Joel Furtek is responsible for the daily operations of Yale’s rowing teams, including the maintenance, repair, and transportation of rowing shells, safety launches, and training equipment contained in Gilder Boathouse.

Furtek uses a ratcheting torque wrench to change spark plugs on the safety launch engine. Standard and ratcheting wrenches are used to rig the rowing shells, position the button on the oar, set the distance between oarlocks, and adjust the foot stretchers.

Gilder’s five cavernous bays contain over 80 rowing shells, hundreds of oars, several trailers, and two trucks located nearby. Moored along the expansive wooden docks are a dozen safety launches and a work boat.

Furtek and Allison Braun, assistant operations coordinator, spend most of their time in the boathouse’s maintenance shop. Using a large assortment of hand and power tools, they make repairs and intricate adjustments to the oarlocks, rudders, seats, and tracks in the boats, which experience the most wear and tear.

As a former coxswain and coach, Furtek understands the importance of using the right tool to accommodate the different builds and styles of rowing so that the oars move in a similar arc for optimal comfort and speed.

Furtek inspects a spark plug from a safety launch’s engine.

While efficiency is important, Furtek stresses that safety is a primary concern. “Our motto is ‘report it today, row it tomorrow.’ When made aware of a needed repair, we hustle to complete it so the boat can be used the next day,” he said. “If the report involves a safety launch, we repair it immediately, or switch to a backup so that our coaches and crews are as safe as can be.”

Furtek disassembles a carburetor from a safety launch using a Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) screwdriver inside Gilder’s maintenance shop.

Gilder Boathouse 

The Gilder Boathouse in Derby, Connecticut, is a 22,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility for Yale men’s lightweight and heavyweight crew and women’s rowing. Designed to mimic the shape of a ship wedged onto the bank, the boathouse was named to honor former Olympic rower Virginia Gilder ’79 and her father Richard Gilder ’54, who gave $4 million towards construction. One stipulation of the Gilder gift was establishing a community rowing program at the site, allowing New Haven and Naugatuck Valley youths to learn rowing skills during the summer.