Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Thursday, December 31, 2009

5th Rowing History Forum Is Coming Up!

On the Friends of Rowing History’s site, Bill Miller has just posted information about the upcoming 5th Rowing History Forum on Sunday, 21 March, 2010. As usual the Forum is going to be held at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Connecticut. Special guest speaker is Kent Mitchell, coxswain of the Olympic pair in 1960 and 1964. Other speakers are rowing historians Chris Dodd, Thomas E. Weil, and Bill Miller. Hart Perry will take everyone on a tour of the National Rowing Foundation’s National Rowing Hall of Fame, and Weil and Miller will take the attendees on a tour of the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run”.

More detailed information is given on the Friends of Rowing History’s site, where you will also find information about the National Rowing Foundation’s “Hall of Fame Induction Banquet”, which is going to be held in the evening of Saturday, 20 March. Hope to see you there!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Something Big And Useless

In the current issue of British Rowing’s Rowing & Regatta, No. 40, rowing historian and writer Chris Dodd has an article with a photograph showing members of Stavanger Roklub getting ready to participate in the town’s parade on Norway’s National Day on 17 of May.

This made me think of a funny story about Norway, from a Swedish point of view; and it has a very loose tie to rowing.

At the Peace Conference in 1814, Denmark, being an ally to France, lost the territory of Norway to Sweden. The Norwegians protested and nominated Kristian Fredrik to be King of Norway on 17 of May the same year. This led to a war declaration from the Swedish King and the Swedish army immediately attacked Norway. After a couple of weeks fighting, Norway surrendered, and was from thereon in a political union with its eastern neighbour, and technically run by the Swedish king.

Then in 1897, King Chulalongkorn of Siam visited King Oscar II of Sweden. The King of Siam was rowed up on the Royal Barge to meet King Oscar. Among the many gifts that King Chulalongkorn brought to the Swedish king was a big, white elephant.

To get some advice how to reciprocate this gift, King Oscar called in his friend Count Sven Lagerberg, who was a general and the supreme commander of the Swedish Army. Count Lagerberg, who was a witty man, was commonly known as “Sven - Hell, No”. He got the nick-name after his younger brother, also an army officer, happened to call him by his first name, not by his military rank, in front of the troops. General Lagerberg then barked at his brother, “Sven – Hell, No!” [“Sven – i helvete!”]

When King Oscar asked Lagerberg what he would suggest that the king could give to the King of Siam, adding, “What do I have that is big, and totally useless?” General Lagerberg replied, “Your Majesty, how about giving him Norway?”

Poor Norway! The country peacefully separated from Sweden in June 1905.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Happy Holidays!

Dear Friends,

The Holidays are arriving rapidly with all that entails. I will take some time off from researching and writing on my blog to be able to catch up and spend a relaxing time* with my family. I will be back with more interesting rowing stories in January!


* It was probably premature to write a “relaxing time” as, during the night, we got hit by a blizzard, so now there is tons of snow outside. Time to find the shovel and start digging!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

'Jazz Rowing'

Among the top five rowing oddities is ‘syncopated rowing’, or, as it was also called after the popular music tune of that day, ‘jazz rowing’. What it meant was that, in an eight, the oarsmen were divided up in four pairs, so that their stroke cycle would be in shifts, meaning there would always be 2 oars in the water at all times.

However, syncopated rowing was probably first tried out by the former professional rower, later coach and 'rowing appliance manufacturer', Michael Davis around the year 1880.

Dr. Gilbert C. Bourne did not have any high thoughts of syncopated rowing in his book A Textbook of Oarsmanship, which was published in 1925. He writes, “Mathematicians frequently assure me that, if only we could rig out and train a crew that one pair of oars was always at work, the boat would go much faster. An oarsman can only plead his experience in mitigation of his ignorance of mathematics and say politely that he is quite sure it would not.”

Of course, it would need a specially built boat with more space, especially in the middle of the craft to allow the different pairs more room to move back and forth without smacking their oar looms in the back of the fellow seated in front of them. In autumn 1929, this technique was actually tried out on the Thames by a crew of the London RC, trained and lead by F.E. Hellyer.

One newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, had a correspondent present, who wrote on 3 October “The crew starts together as usual till the boat is moving. Then stroke and No. 7 slide a shade ahead of the next pair, and so on down the boat. Consequently there is always a pair of oars in the water. It is dreadfully ugly.”

To view an almost 2 min. newsreel of these trials, please click here.

It was also tried out with the coxswain steering from the middle of the shell, and in Chris Dodd’s eminent book about the London RC, Water Boiling Aft (2006), there is a funny photograph of coxswain Edwin Phelps seated in the centre of an eight, looking terribly baffled. There were also some trials made at Cambridge in the 1930s.

In Dodd’s The Story of World Rowing (1992) the author notes that syncopated rowing has been tried out in the late 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s by the Russians (aka Soviets). Some Soviet women crews competed in fours with the coxswain in the centre of the shell at the World Championships and the Olympics, even taking medals in these boats. It was, however, concluded, both in the 1930s and 1980s, that there was no actual speed advantage to rowing this way.

Dr. Volker Nolte had an article about syncopated rowing published in Rowing News in May 2007, and to read the on-line article, click here.

Browsing around on the web, I actually found a patent for ‘stroke cycle phase shift rowing’ on ‘free patent online’ with the filing date 3 March 2003, and publication date 19 April 2005.

This entry shows two things: nothing is new under the rowing sun; and we never learn...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Boat Race Attractions

Late this evening, I opened an e-mail from the inimitable Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC, who writes,

“Dear Göran - I just came across this attached print on the internet and was reminded of your posting of 3rd December, 'A Suitable Bachelor?'. This one, 'Attractions of the Boat Race', is a little less innocent. The 'gentleman' looks like a cad and the 'lady' is, perhaps, 'no better than she should be'. The other people in the picture are more interested in what is happening on the river though the older gentleman in the bottom left hand corner looks as though he has seen it all before. I think they are on Putney Rail Bridge (built 1889) looking at Putney Road Bridge (built 1886).”

Many, many thanks for your contribution, Tim!

More Laurie

Talking about Hugh Laurie, when I was writing my previous entries about Hugh Laurie and his famous rowing father, Ran Laurie, I was desperately looking for an old issue of the Telegraph Magazine, which I knew that I should have in my archives (please read “messy piles of rowing stuff which is all over the place…”). I remember that Hugh Laurie was on the cover of the magazine, which was in the published mid-1990s.

Well, the other day, when I was looking for some rowing things in the closet off my Rowing Room, I found a box with old magazines – and there it was! The magazine, from 4 May 1996, which was a supplement to The Daily Telegraph, has a feature article about Laurie written by Lynn Barber Tangles. This is the time when he and Stephen Fry had finished their fourth round of the very popular Jeeves and Wooster series, and Laurie’s novel The Gun Seller had just been published.

Laurie says in the article that he thinks it is his Presbyterian upbringing that has made him feel guilty that he never had to pay any great price for being successful. He says about his father, who was still alive at that time, “my father, who is a man of extraordinary gifts and great accomplishments and really a heroic figure […] is the most modest man alive. If there is any queue that he can stand absolutely at the back of, he will find it. So that was the prevailing attitude. And I still admire that, I admire it in my father and I admire it generally, but it just so happens that in this particular career I’ve chosen it’s not actually very practical.”

In the interview, Hugh Laurie mentions that he showed his father The Gun Seller, which he dedicated to him, before it was published. Ran Laurie got upset on the number of invectives in the book, so Hugh Laurie decided to re-read the novel, “Oh God,” he says in the article, “there are quite a few, actually. More than my father would like to read.” So, being a good son, he took them out.

That is one thing I like about Hugh Laurie, he is such a nice and decent chap.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Rowing Interview about Laurie's "House"

As I have written about the British actor Hugh Laurie earlier on this blog, it might interest you that, today, "row 2k" published an interview with Princeton Heavyweight coach Greg Hughes as he and one of his crews are the ones you see rowing on the river in the beginning of the show, "House". To read the interview, click here.

See's Doggett Race In 1899

Our story about John ‘Jack’ See, the winner of the Doggett Coat and Badge Race in 1899, continues: six watermen were competing in this race on 3 August: Henry William Gobbett of Poplar, Moses Lewis Thomas Gibson of Putney, John Thomas Phelps of Putney, Thomas Alfred Chapman of Bermondsay, Charles William Terry of Bermondsay, and John ‘Jack’ See of Hammersmith.

The day after the race, which was between London Bridge and the Old Swan at Chelsea, a distance of close to five miles, The Times published a short race report. In the article it says that Gobbett was best off at the start, but after 50 yards Phelps passed him, and at Blackfriars Bridge, he had a two-and-a-half lengths lead. Gobbett was second, four lengths in front of Gibson, and then Chapman, See, and Terry.

The Times’s correspondent writes: “See wisely kept over on the Surrey shore in smooth water, and by the time Westminster Bridge was reached he was nearly, if not quite, level with Phelps.” At Lambeth and Vauxhall Bridges, See was ahead, and at Nine Elms, Phelps spurted but, ”made little impression on the leader, who was rowing with good judgment.”

See won easily in 27 min. 34 sec. However, The Times writes, “After the race the executive, considering that one of the competitors had been coached, which is against the rules, would not decide upon the winner.” At a dinner held by the Fishmongers’ Company, See was pronounced the winner. Gibson was second, Phelps third, and then Chapman, Terry, and Gobbett.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

See, Again

Today, a very exciting e-mail from Tim Koch in London arrived concerning the waterman John See, whom I wrote about on 2 December. Tim writes, “With reference to your recent posting [about See] I'm sure that, like anyone interested in the past, the idea of continuity appeals to you. The See family still works along the Hammersmith waterfront. Gordon See operates from the family barge proving various services and repairs to the boating (but not rowing) community. He took over when his brother Alan, a Waterman, died a few years ago. He says that John (known by the family as 'Jack') was the brother of his Grandfather or Great Grandfather.”

It seems Mr. Gordon See has promised to put Tim in contact with a member of the family who knows more about ‘Jack’ See. Hopefully there will be a picture of him, which I would be thrilled to post on this blog.

As you can see, Tim also sent some nice photographs of Gordon See and his barge ‘Elsie’. Many thanks, again, Tim for your continuing support of this blog and, most important, the history of rowing!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Americans At Henley In 1895

This drawing from the archive of Life Magazine depicts an event that comes with a good story that, although it has been told many times, is worth telling again. In 1895, Cornell University was going to compete at the Henley Royal Regatta for the first time. The American eight, however, was going to experience what R.D. Burnell calls, in his Henley Regatta (1957), “one of those unfortunate episodes.”

In the first round of the Grand Challenge Cup, Cornell was meeting the favourites, Leander, who had won this event four years in succession. The two crews seemed ready at the stake boats, but when the umpire called out “Are you ready?” several of the oarsmen in the Leander boat called out “No!” The umpired did not hear this and yelled “Go!” Cornell started, while some of the English oarsmen took one stroke and then stopped. They were counting on that the umpire was going to call back the Americans for a re-start. However, the umpire thought Leander made a bad start and allowed the Americans to go on. With Leander still at the start, Cornell crossed the finish line, winning the race.

Among the Henley crowd, it was commonly considered that the Americans, when they saw that their opponents did not start, should have stopped rowing. When they failed to do so, they were regarded to have shown unsportsmanlike manners. “Moreover,” Henry Bond writes in A History of Trinity Hall Boat Club (1930), “[the Americans were rowing] in a style, taught them by their professional coach, quite at variance with English doctrines.” The Americans’ coach was Charles Courtney, who had been a very successful amateur, then professional, sculler before he was hired to train Cornell’s oarsmen. It did not help that Courtney would not fraternize with the rest of the rowing community at Henley, which was also seen as a mark of incivility.

The drawing is showing the next day’s semi-final race between Trinity Hall and Cornell, where the Cambridge crew did the impossible; they rowed Cornell to a stand-still, or as Bond writes, that ‘the Hall’ “began to gain steadily, and when they were passed, Cornell collapsed, and the Hall paddles in amid the greatest noise ever heard at the Regatta.” Burnell states, that the town of Henley was very noisy that night. The Americans’ battle-cry “Cornell, Cornell, I yell Cornell” was now defied with the newly coined “The Hall, the Hall, I bawl the Hall.”

In the final the following day, the Hall beat New College in a great race.

A footnote is that there was actually a countryman to the Americans in the Trinity Hall boat. No. 6 was B.H. Howell of New York. He would later become more known as a victorious sculler in the Diamonds and the Wingfields, but that is another story.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A Suitable Bachelor?

Among the many exciting rowing images in the archive of Life Magazine (see entry on 1 December), I have picked one where the main interest is some of the spectators, not the rowing race which is going on in the background. I do not know from which magazine or paper this drawing is taken, but two scribbles, one on the left, saying “March”, and one on the right, saying “1872”. It is showing a scene from the day of The Boat Race, or as the sub-title reads: “The Oxford and Cambridge Boat-Race: an ex-university oarsman looking on”.

If we were without the sub-title, we would still understand that it was an image of The Boat Race, as the scruffy-looking man in the lower right-hand corner is selling flowers with bands in the colours of the two crews. He has two bands around his hat saying ‘Cambridge’ and ‘Oxford’.

The key person in the picture is the “ex-university oarsman,” an ‘old Blue’, who is dressed in a black coat and top-hat. The white collar around his neck reveals that his is a clergyman. His eyes are staring out towards the activities on the river, and he seems unaware of the stir his good-looks are making among the women around him in the crowd. The ladies, all from the upper-classes, have totally lost interest in the boat race, instead almost ogling the young man’s noble face with a Roman nose, steady, clear eyes, a ‘Cary Grant’ chin, and side-whiskers; the latter a fashion of the day.

In an earlier entry, called “The Female Spectator”, posted on 28 September, I have brought up the interface between the young women as on-lookers and the young men rowing. In this case, with the image above, the ‘masculine ideals’ can be found in an ex-oarsman among the audience.

(The actual boat race was rowed on 23 March, 1872, and Cambridge won with three boat lengths!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

...And See's Badge

In my entry on 22 November, I neglected to mention an important thing. On a recent visit to England, Hart Perry, Executive Director of the NRF (seen in the picture below), brought back a Doggett’s badge, which he had borrowed from the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. It is now on display together with Dick Pocock’s coat and cap (see also previous entries on 10 and 11 October) at the National Rowing Hall of Fame and the exhibit “Let Her Run” at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic.

The silver badge once belonged to John See of Hammersmith who won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race on 3 August 1899. In the picture on top, taken in the beginning of the 1900s, you see winners of the Doggett’s Coat and Badge between 1868 and 1904. Unfortunately, John See is not included.

Mr. Richard Goddard, recent Master of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames, and retired Secretary of the Henley Royal Regatta, has very generously made it possible for the NRF to have See’s badge on a long-term loan.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

"Life Magazine" Pictures

One reason for me posting and publishing texts and images on this blog is to let everyone in on my passion for rowing history. I cannot understand those sport historians who ‘lock up’ their treasures and knowledge only to be admired behind closed doors by a select few devotees. Luckily, the rowing historians I know do not belong to these narrow-minded individuals. Instead they can be counted in the lot of sharing people.

One good example of the latter group is Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC in London, who sent me an e-mail a couple of days ago where he very kindly asked if I was aware of the Life Magazine’s archives which went on-line last year. He writes, ‘If you put “rowing” in the search you get some great old rowing prints and photographs (in full size and high resolution if you click twice).’

So I did, and I can only agree with Tim, what marvellous things you can come across. One of Tim’s favourites you can see above, while I will take a closer look and post some of mine on a later occasion. You, dear reader, will be able to make your choice by clicking here (put in ‘rowing’ in the search box).

Many thanks to Tim!

Dave Vogel, New NRF Director of Development

In a press release today, the National Rowing Foundation (NRF) named their new Director of Development - Dave Vogel. Mr. Vogel (seen in a picture from last year), a former US Rowing National Team athlete and coach, was most recently Senior Associate Director of Development of Major Gifts at Yale University. Prior to that position, Vogel had an impressive career as the Head Coach of Yale’s Heavyweight Men’s crew, and, earlier, he coached Yale’s lightweight crew.

In a statement, Dave Vogel said, “The mission of the NRF has never been more important. Rowing is expanding on all fronts and we need to stand ready to meet the increasing financial challenges of the future. The leadership team at the NRF is perfectly suited to this task and I am eager to join them as their Director of Development.”

Vogel is uniquely qualified to lead the NRF’s efforts to build a substantial financial foundation for U.S. athletes, having been part of the US National Teams in several roles. Vogel has coached and competed at the highest levels of rowing, spending several years as a National team member in the 1970s and coaching the silver medal lightweight eight in 1988. As President of the Board of Directors of the USRowing Association from 1995 to 2000, Vogel led the national sports governing body during a period of financial and competitive success.

NRF’s Executive Director, Hart Perry, commented, “Dave Vogel is the perfect person to assume this position. His rowing background as a competitor, national team athlete, coach at the collegiate and international levels, and President of USRowing is outstanding.” Perry continued, “Add to this his exceptional professional fundraising experience and his passion for the sport and I am confident that Dave will add tremendous value to the organization.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

eehhh,...'The Boat Race'

I have to confess that my left eyebrow shivered a little when I read the news that the annual Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race – commonly known as ‘The Boat Race’ – the other day changed its name to The Xchanging Boat Race!

Xchanging, which is a global business processing company, became involved with ‘The Boat Race’ five years ago as a sponsor. In 2008, the company renewed its sponsorship for five more years. And then the other day, Xchanging became a so called title sponsor for ‘The Boat Race’.

Nowadays, it is quite an ordinary thing that sport teams, sport arenas, and sport events sell themselves (and might I add, their souls) to larger business companies. I am sad that the organizers of the ‘The Boat Race’ and Oxford and Cambridge have felt that they should do so, too. Especially, to a company that I cannot even pronounce correctly.

Of course, just as the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race has been called ‘The Boat Race’, The Xchanging Boat Race can in the future be known as – ‘The Boat Race’.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pocock's Doggett Coat On Display

Last week, rowing historians Bill Miller and Hart Perry (the latter Executive Director of the National Rowing Foundation), and yours truly managed to put together a base and a cover for Dick Pocock’s Thomas Doggett’s coat and cap (see previous entries on 10 and 11 October) at the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run” at the National Rowing Hall of Fame. Miller had built the base, while a company in Massachusetts had built the cover. It took a couple of hours to put together, but now Pocock’s beautiful coat is on display for everyone to admire. It’s a wonderful addition to the rowing exhibit, and the showcase is right under Dick’s brother George’s single scull, hanging from the ceiling (see also entry 23 June).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rowing Myth Busters

So, you ask yourself, can you actually water ski behind a racing shell? Chris Partridge, who is running the eminent blog Rowing for Pleasure, posted the other day a Myth Buster episode showing just that! Enjoy!

Rowing In Japanese

Earlier this month rowing historian Bill Miller announced on his great site that Chris Dodd’s brilliant book The Story of World Rowing, published in 1992, has now been translated into Japanese by Akihiro Sakakibara. The Japanese version is published by Tohoku University Press.

Coincidentally, I received an e-mail from Hélène in France, one of the loyal readers of this blog (whom I have mentioned before – again, thank you, Hélène) where she points me in the direction of the Japanese magazines/comics called manga. The author Hidenori Hara has published series called Regatta [Japanese title: Regatta Kimi to Ita Eien]. The Japanese TV has also dramatized Regatta, and you can read more about it by clicking here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Philadelphia Challenge Cup

At the 1920 Olympic rowing event, John “Jack” B. Kelly of Vesper Boat Club, Philadelphia, won the single scull race defeating Jack Beresford Jr., of Thames Rowing Club, London with one second. To celebrate the first American to take an Olympic gold medal in the single sculls, a group lead by J. Elliot Newlin, the Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, raised $2,500 among the rowing community of Philadelphia to establish a prize, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup. The Schuylkill Navy wanted the Cup, which sometimes has also been referred to as the Philadelphia Gold Cup, to be regarded as the Amateur Single Sculling Championship of the World, and the first sculler being awarded the title was Jack Kelly.

For the years in between the Olympic single sculling races, the Schuylkill Navy would authorize a challenger to race the champion for the title. This happened in 1922, when Walter M. Hoover, of the Undine Barge Club, won a match race for the Cup in Philadelphia, overpowering Paul V. Costello of Vesper BC. Costello was Kelly’s cousin and they had won the gold in the double sculls in the 1920 Olympics (and they would do so again in 1924).

The year after, in 1923, W.E. Garrett Gilmore of the Bachelors Barge Club, beat Hoover, now of Duluth Boat Club, at Duluth, Michigan. Back on the Schuylkill River, on 26 May 1924, Costello defeated Gilmore in a race for the Cup. Later that year, at the Olympic rowing races at the Argenteuil, Paris on 17 July, Jack Beresford became the holder of the Cup by beating Gilmore in the final of the single sculls. The following year, on 13 July 1925, there was a challenge race on the River Thames between Putney and Hammersmith where Beresford successfully defended the Cup by easily overcoming Hoover.

By clicking on the following link, you will be able to watch one and a half minutes of this race on the Thames. Please click here.

Later in July 1925, Beresford returned the Cup to the Schuylkill Navy as he did not want to defend it. After that the world’s top scullers have been holders of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, the last one being the Russian sculler Vladimir Ivanov in 1964. Thereafter, the Cup mysteriously disappeared, but was found in June 1996 in an antique store in Philadelphia. You can read the story about the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, its disappearing and re-surfacing, on the following link, please click here (there you will also find a list of all the holders of the Cup).

The photograph above, showing Beresford and Hoover, is from the Thomas E. Weil Collection of the National Rowing Foundation. It is now on display at the rowing exhibit "Let Her Run" at Mystic Seaport Museum. Below the photograph is Beresford's famous saying: "There is no disgrace in being beaten when you are trying to win."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Rowing Film

One of the loyal readers of this blog, Hélène in France, sent an e-mail earlier today, telling me about an upcoming rowing film, La Régate [The Regatta]. The film is about the fifteen year old boy, Alex, who lives alone with his aggressive father. To escape the violence, Alex takes to the oar and decides, at all costs, to win the rowing Championships of Belgium.

The film is directed by the Belgian Bernard Bellefroid, who was born in 1978. He graduated in 2003 from the National Film School of Belgium (INSAS) and has previously made documentary films. La Régate is Bellefroid’s first longer feature film, which is produced by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. It will be released in France in February 2010. However, I find it unlikely that the film will find it’s way to the U.S., which is a pity.

If you would like to get more information about this film, click here (information in French!). Many thanks to Hélène!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maine Built Whitehall

One blog I enjoy reading is Chris Partridge’s Rowing for Pleasure. On 5 November, Chris had a great entry about a new Whitehall boat built by Maine based company Shaw and Tenney, who has crafted wooden oars and paddles since 1858. The extravagant version of the Whitehall is $19,000, while there is a cheaper version, too. Read Chris’s entry about Shaw and Tenney by clicking here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Life-Boat

When I was working in the publishing business in Sweden, I regularly had to travel to Stockholm for meetings. At that time (this was in the 1990s), Stockholm had a lot of good antiquarian booksellers, so I always made certain that I had the time to browse around in some of them. Of course, I looked for rowing books, but it was rare to find something I did not already have.

But then one time, I saw in the window of a bookseller on Drottninggatan a copy of Sir John Cameron Lamb’s book The Life-Boat And Its Work, published in 1911 by William Clowes and Sons Ltd in London. I went inside to take a closer look. The book condition was very good +. It was a nice clean tight copy, with no inscriptions, and it still had both the appeal and bequest forms in the back. It was not cheap, but I decided to buy it anyway.

It is really a very nice little book, which gives the story of lifeboats and how it all began – that special boats were built to rescue passengers and crews from shipwrecked vessels. There are several inventors and boat builders that claim to be the ones to have built the first lifeboat. Already in 1765, a Monsieur Bernières of France invented an unsinkable boat for nine people, but according to Lamb’s book, Bernières’s invention was never set to practical use.

Gentlemen from Tyneside and the Thames created models to suit the newly founded “Tyne Life-Boat Society” and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. The most famous names were Lionel Lukin, William Wouldhave, and Henry Greathead. The illustration above shows a drawing made from a model presented by Greathead to the Admiralty around the year 1800.

Lamb’s book has a lot of black & white photographs and drawings, and around ten different copies are now available to buy on

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Next Rowing History Forum

Last Saturday, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames, England was hosting a Rowing History Forum (read more about it in my entry on 8 September). Sadly, I missed it.

The other day, Bill Miller announced on the rowing history site Friends of Rowing History ( that the next Forum will be on Sunday, 21 March 2010 in Mystic, Connecticut. As usual, this event will be organized by the Friends of Rowing History, the National Rowing Foundation (NRF), and Mystic Seaport Museum. Special guest speaker will be Kent Mitchell, U.S. Olympic oarsman 1960 and 1964. Miller promised to post more information on his site soon.

That weekend will also be a celebration in honour of the up to 20 inductees for the NRF’s National Rowing Hall of Fame. There will be a dinner at the Seamen’s Inne in Mystic on the eve of 20 March for the inductees and everyone else who would like to mark this very special occasion.

So jot down the 20 and 21 March 2010 in your calendars. These are events that I for sure will not miss.

Finally, I also would like to share the information about the honour that has been bestowed upon me. The Directors of the Friends of Rowing History have very kindly asked me to join their ranks, which I very gladly and humbly accepted.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A 1954 Oxford Rowing Footnote

In the 1954 Boat Race, which was the hundredth in the series, Oxford won with four and a half boat lengths. Being that year’s winner, the Oxford crew was invited to row in Sweden at one of the longest river races in Europe, Göta Älvrodden. The previous year, the race had been organized for the first time for eights, and was a 20,000-metre long race on a fairly straight course on the river Göta Älv between the town of Kungälv and the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg).

In the beginning of the 1950s, the Swedes wanted to create a long race to promote the sport of rowing. There was a race on Göta Älv in 1952 for coxed inrigger fours, but glancing towards London, the oarsmen in ‘Lilla London’ [‘Little London’] – as the people in Gothenburg sometimes refer to their city – desired something more like the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge. One of the organizers, Reinhold Bråkenhielm, talked to the head of the Gothenburg Sport Federation’s rowing section, Bertil Göransson, to get his blessing to invite 1954 winners of the Boat Race. Göransson, who was active as a coxswain and would actually steer the Swedish eight who reached the final in the Grand at Henley in 1955 and the Olympic final the following year, was of course very positive to bring Oxford over to Sweden.

In the spring 1954, Bråkenhielm was working in London for a Swedish company. He contacted ARA’s Chairman Gully Nickalls, who arranged a meeting between the Swede and Oxford’s famous coach H.R.A. ‘Jumbo’ Edwards and one member of the crew, Jim Gobbo of Australia. In the beginning of the talk, Bråkenhielm did not want to bring up the length of the course as it was three times as long as the course between Putney and Mortlake, being afraid that it would scare off the Brit and the Australian, but when he eventually did, both Edwards and Gobbo thought it was fine. If you can row almost 7,000 metres on the Thames, you can row 20,000 metres on a Swedish river they seemed to think, Bråkenhielm once said in an interview published in a Swedish rowing magazine.

In September, a week before the race, Oxford arrived at Gothenburg, together with Jumbo Edwards. The local newspaper Göteborgs-Posten paid for the accommodations at the hotel Fars Hatt. When it was time for the race, the Oxford crew had rowed the course several times. When they heard that last year’s winner, the local rowing club Kungälvs Roddklubb, had taken 57 minutes, 25 seconds to complete the race, the Oxfordians joked and said that the Swedish crew probably stayed somewhere along the course to have tea.

Well, first crossing the finish line in the 1954 race was Oxford. The winning time was 1 hour, 2 minutes and 29 seconds – if they stayed along the course for tea, no one knows. Due to different weather and current conditions, it is of course impossible to compare the times from one year to another. The race was followed by around 80,000 spectators, and became an enormous success for the sport of rowing on the west coast of Sweden. Edwards never mentions the trip to Sweden in his The Way of a Man with a Blade (1963), nor has it found its way into books about the history of Oxford rowing. This is quite understandable. After all, this is only a little footnote in the history of the Boat Race.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Beginner's Guide To Rowing

The current issue of Wooden Boat magazine, December 2009, No. 211, comes with a lovely 8-page supplement about oars, oarlocks, and rowing. It is “A Beginner’s Guide” and it is written and compiled by Karen Wales, who is the associate editor of Wooden Boat magazine.

However, before you dash off to a newsstand or wherever you buy your magazines, be aware that the supplement is restricted to work and pleasure boats, only, not narrow competitive racing shells (including the wider Alden Ocean shell). This means that the rowing technique depicted in the article is for fixed seat. The oarlocks, or rowlocks if you like, are not swivels, the oars shown are made out of wood and for skiffs, pulling-boats, etc. The most peculiar thing, for a former or active competitive sculler is the page describing “sculling”. Here it means one-oar sculling, not two-oar sculling, which, I have to confess, is the first thing I think of when I hear sculling. But Wooden Boat is to be congratulated for a very nice supplement.

The Wooden Boat magazine has previously had very informative and nice articles about [two-oar] sculling. I am going to go through my magazine stacks to see if I can make a little list to post in a future entry.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What Is Rowing?

Exactly three years ago, in October 2006, the magazine Rowing News, published an article about “rowing cousins” – other water activities in the rowing family tree, as it was called. What was featured was Ocean rowing and Dragon Boat racing. On the whole, I am a very understanding fellow, but I have to confess that I had a hard time accepting Dragon Boat racing as one sport in the rowing family tree.

This began already when I was rowing in Sweden, and the local newspapers mixed up rowing with dragon boat paddling and canoeing. The few times rowing was mentioned in the sport pages, we rowers were either “using paddles in our rowing boats” or “rowing in our kayaks or canoes”. Normally, I would contact the sport editor to explain the difference, and he would always promise that the next time the reporters would write about rowing, they would get it right. Which, of course, very rarely happened. In the next rowing article, we were still in our darn canoes using the blasted paddles.

So, it was not strange that I found myself sitting down to write Chip Davis, the publisher of Rowing News, a letter. It read as follows:

“Though I don’t have a problem with ocean rowing being in the rowing family tree [Rowing News Vol. 13, No. 8], I cannot recognize dragon boating as one of the family; not even a cousin, third removed. On the branches of the rowing family tree you will find gigs, skiffs, church boats, inriggers, life saving boats, and gondolas, to mention a few. Even an odd activity as water jousting is rowing – but dragon boats – I don’t think so.
Of course, what it comes down to is to define the characteristics of rowing, or maybe what rowing is not. Are you rowing when you propel a craft facing the direction in which the boat is traveling? Yes, just as a gondolier sweeps his oar through the water to move his gondola.
The only criteria that makes rowing (including sculling of course) rowing is that the oar is attached, locked or not locked, into an oarlock or resting on a device that will hold the oar in place.”

To my surprise, my little note to The Editor was published in the December issue of Rowing News – with my name misspelled. (No, no, not my typical Swedish first name, but my last name…) Who cares? After living in the USA for more than nine years, very few people can actually pronounce my name correctly. I have stopped being picky about my name - “Mr. Buckhorn” works fine with me!

I have never seen any discussion or essay published about the “criteria” for what makes rowing, rowing, which I find odd. The only thing I know is that dragon boat paddling is not rowing. Nor is punting, but this activity has its own rich history, and no one would ever suggest that punting is anything else than… well, punting.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Another Laurie-Wilson Cambridge Film

Well, while I am at it, here is another newsreel with Laurie and Wilson and Cambridge. Now from 1936 - enjoy!

More Rowing Films - Good And Bad

My dear wife told me the other day that she had been looking for something on the site, and for fun she did a search for rowing in the moving images section. There were some things, and what she thought would interest me most was a film from 1941 called Let’s Go Collegiate. Although, I am not an expert on rowing films, I have seen quite a lot of lists on rowing films, but I have never heard about this film. So, of course I had to have a look. The film is for sale at internet sites selling films and movies. And this is how it is described on one of the sites:

“Rawley University is about to receive a star athlete who could give it the first championship rowing team it's ever had. Unfortunately, he gets drafted into the army before he's able to join the team. Two of the team's members get the bright idea of passing off a burly truck driver as the ‘athlete’.”

Well, do not bother to buy a copy of the film as the rowing scenes are terribly bad, and you can watch it for free on, click here.

Earlier today I happened to stumble over two interesting old newsreels on Youtube that I find both interesting and thrilling. They are both from The Boat Race in 1935 when Ran Laurie and Jack Wilson rowed in the winning boat for Cambridge (see also my entries on 31 May and 1 June). Laurie and Wilson rowed in three victorious Cambridge crews, 1934, 1935, and 1936. Below you will see the two clips from 1935. In the first one, where Cambridge is training for the race, Laurie is in 6-seat, while on race day he was stroke.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Rowing Expert

“Beautiful, Ain’t It – All Those Oars Going Through The Water Like One Man? “
[From Punch, 16 March 1932]

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dick's Red Coat

In the beginning of the summer, the rowing historian Tom Weil brought a nice red coat and cap to the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run”, which is connected to the National Rowing Hall of Fame in Mystic. The coat, which is not just any ordinary coat, once belonged to Richard “Dick” Pocock, who, 21-years old, won the Thomas Doggett Coat and Badge Race on the River Thames in 1910. The following year Dick and his younger brother, George, immigrated to Canada.

Both Dick and George had grown up messing about in boats on the Thames. Their father, Aaron, was a boat builder who had served his apprenticeship under his father-in-law, “Grandpa Vicars”, but although Aaron Pocock was a skilled boat builder, he was not a good businessman, George recalls in his manuscript that would be integrated in the book Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing (1987) by Gordon Newell.

After a year in Canada, Dick and George moved to Seattle – Dick bringing the Doggett’s coat with him. The brothers began to build boats for University of Washington, a trade that George would continue to do there for the rest of his life. In 1923, Dick moved to New Haven to build boats for Yale, but he left his red coat and cap behind in Seattle, where it was once on display at the university.

After Dick’s death, George’s son Stanley reclaimed the coat to send it to his cousin, Dick’s son Jim, in Connecticut. And earlier this year Jim Pocock thought that his father’s prize coat should be on display at the marvellous rowing exhibit “Let Her Run”. He handed over the coat and cap to Tom Weil, who took it to Mystic.

Right now, rowing historian Bill Miller is building a showcase for Dick’s Doggett coat, so that visitors will be able to see it at the Rowing Hall of Fame. Not only is this coat and cap a part of the English rowing history, it is now also a part of the American rowing history.

[Special thanks to Tom Weil for providing information about the background of Dick Pocock’s coat.]

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thomas Doggett Coat and Badge Race

Doggett Coat and Badge Race is the oldest exciting rowing race in the world. The Irish actor and comedian Thomas Doggett instituted the race in 1714 in honour of the accession of George I to the English throne. According to Doggett it was to be an annually race on 1 August that was going to go on ‘for ever’. The first race was in 1715 between London Bridge and Chelsea for six watermen, who were in their ‘first year of freedom’, meaning the first year out of their apprenticeship. Not only were the winner given a cash prize, he would also be given ‘an Orange Livery with a Badge representing Liberty’. The badge shows a ‘Wild Horse (of Hanover)’.

Little is know about Thomas Doggett before he came to London around 1690, but he was an actor at Drury Lane where he later became manager. He was also active in politics as a Whig, and during this time he frequently appeared in The Spectator and The Tatler. After his death in 1721, the Fishmongers' Company has been organizing the race with some modifications.

The famous artist and caricaturist Thomas Rowlandson ((1756–1827) has depicted the race and the watermen a couple of times, and many versifier have tried their hands on illustrating the race:

Let your oars like lightning flog it,
Up the Thames as swiftly jog it,
An you’d win the Prize of Doggett
The glory of the River!
Bending, bowing, straining, rowing,
Perhaps the wind in fury blowing
Or the Tide against you flowing
The Coat and Badge for ever!

In 1908, the well-known rowing authorities Theodore Andrea Cook and Guy Nickalls published Thomas Doggett Deceased – A Famous Comedian, which not only tells the story about Doggett, but also gives a good insight in the London theatre world during the late 1600s and the beginning of 1700s.

Today, the Fishmongers' Company is still organizing the race, although the race is now held varies days in July.

Click here to watch a couple of minutes of the Doggett’s race in 1960, showing some of the members of the famous family of watermen, the Phelps.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Farewell ARA!

As of Monday 28 September 2009, The Amateur Rowing Association, ARA, is no more! ARA, which replaced the Metropolitan Rowing Association in 1882, is now called British Rowing. Read more about it on British Rowing's web site by clicking here.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

'In this month' in R&R

On 16 August, I had an entry about how I got an article published in ARA’s fine magazine Rowing & Regatta, the August/September issue. I finished off the entry by writing that it might be the beginning of something more: well it was! In the latest issue of the magazine, No. 38 October, I have my first piece of the history column “In this month…”, which is for October 1930, when Bert Barry met Ted Phelps for the World Professional Sculling Championship title on the Championship course between Putney and Mortlake.

The editor, Ms. Wendy Kewley, also very kindly asked me a couple of questions for the piece ‘Featured contributor’, which the Rowing & Regatta has in every issue. It came out very nicely, if I may say so myself. However, the photograph of yours truly, well, let’s just say that I never come out good in any picture. It is as my dear old mother always says about being photographed: ‘Either it comes out well, or you just look like yourself’!

After all, there is a reason why there is an old drawing of a chap in a single scull up in the right hand corner of this page instead of a photograph…

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Female Rower, 1930 Style!

Let’s continue with another entry on the subject of female rowers, and how they can be seen …

In 1932, the painting “The Young Rower” by Lancelot Myles Glasson (1894-1959) was shown at the Royal Academy in London. It created both admiration and dismay among the public and the critics. Of course, a painting of a young woman with the upper part of her body naked was daring for its time. Nevertheless, “The Young Rower” was chosen as Picture of the Year in 1932. For many of the women at that time, it was seen as a symbol of the “modern woman”, while others saw the painting only as an erotic picture.

If it had not been for the title of the painting, and that we can see the handle and loom of an oar on the right, it would be difficult to see it as a “rowing picture”. Without the title of the painting and the detail of the loom, it had been a half naked young woman in a locker room. And one can wonder why on earth is there an oar in the locker room?

I read on the web somewhere that the model’s name was Freda, but I have also seen someone claiming that the model was her mother, age 22 “and unmarried in 1932”. But this lady’s mother’s name was “Kate (aka Kitty or Kay) Hyder,” not Freda. There is more information about Glasson’s painting in the magazine Picture Post, last week of January 1939, but I have not been able to get hold of that article.

The original oil painting is now at Rochdale Art Gallery in Rochdale, Lancashire, England.

In autumn 1991, the magazine Regatta had an ad for reproduced limited prints of Glasson’s oil painting, which were sold by The Amateur Rowing Association, ARA. For £145 you could get your own copy of “The Young Rower”. Soon the magazine’s letters-to-the-editor column was filled with both angry and supportive letters. So one could say that after 60 years nothing had changed in this matter in England.

And if you wonder, yes, I did buy a copy - and no, it is not for sale!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Female Sculler, 1920 Style!

Still during the 1920s very few women could, or were allowed to, join rowing clubs around the world. Some rowing clubs in Scandinavia and Germany, and colleges in England and in the U.S. had female rowers. The ordinary view, however, seems to have been at this time that women were not athletes - they were not actually supposed to ‘break a sweat’. Instead they were objects for the male on-lookers to enjoy. A good example – or bad, if you like – I found in a jubilee book of the Swedish rowing club, Göteborgs Roddförening which in 1929 celebrated the club’s first 50 years. The club did not have any women as members at this time, which maybe explains the choice of the illustration above – a sculling pin-up girl!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Female Spectator

I received an e-mail from one of the loyal readers of this blog, Hélène from France. She came to think of Auguste Donnay's painting Sculler and Woman in Plumed Hat (1865) when reading the entry about “Women Rowing in 1866” (posted on 23 September). Hélène writes “I was thinking that they [the women] have often been featured as having a spectator role rather than rowing themselves in the 19th century.” Hélène continues to mention an article published in June 1984 in the Bulletin of the British Society of Sports History. In the article, “Playing Like Gentlemen While Behaving Like Ladies” by Jennifer Hargreaves, Hélène quotes from the article, “At competitive events such as regattas [...], women reinforced the superiority of men by adopting a spectator role as members of an admiring female audience watching the physical antics of men.”

Paul R. Deslandes also brings up these thoughts in his book Oxbridge Men: British Masculinity and the Undergraduate Experience, 1850-1920 (2005). About the rituals of Eights Week and May Week, he writes, “The most celebrated position a man could occupy was that of an active, fully engaged, athletic participant – the rower.” Especially at races like these the “masculine ideals and the cult of athleticism” were celebrating triumphs, it seems. The female spectators, as one undergraduate poet sees it, really had something to look at,

She saw her brother in a boat,
Exerting every muscle,
With staring eyes and gasping breath,
Join in the friendly tussle.

[published in a 1891 Eights Weeks supplement to the Oxford magazine New Rattle]

Of course, it was at these annual spring gatherings at the universities that a young woman met her brother’s friends and other young men under somewhat less formal circumstances. Deslandes has written a very interesting book about British culture at the Oxbridge universities during the period 1850 to 1920.

When women would find themselves in a boat it was not necessary at the oars, as I have tried to show in my essay “Rowing Women as Belles des Bateaux, or (To Say Nothing of the Cat)”. And when women would finally get to row, they were still seen more as sexual objects than female athletes in the eyes of the male on-lookers.

David Farmer, who organized a rowing exhibit at the University of California when the Olympic Games were held in Los Angeles in 1984, used a detail – the sculler, but not the lady in her plumed hat – from Donnay’s painting for the poster and the cover of the exhibit catalogue Rowing/Olympics.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Boaters Off!

A week ago straw hat season ended. It means the gentleman oarsman puts his boater, or other straw hat, in a hat box in the wardrobe, and waits for straw hat season to begin next year.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Women Rowing In The Year 1866

Boat-Race Of The Future – Drifting Down To The Starting-Point.

It might be that the artist of this image, published in Punch in 1866, though that he was terribly funny: women rowing and racing in eights, what a hilarious idea. Well, now more than 140 years later, we know it is not a laughing matter… [From Punch, 2 June 1866].

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The 'Perfect Style'

On Sunday, at the Coastweeks Regatta, I bumped into a friend of mine, Bill, who had been out racing in the masters single event. I asked him how it went, and although Bill did not win his race, he was happy. This was his second year racing in the Coastweeks. As a matter of fact, it is not only his second year racing, it is Bill’s second year rowing. He began last year in April, taking some sculling classes during the summer, racing in the Coastweeks in September, and before the year had ended, he bought himself a shell of his own, lucky fellow.

Bill, who is a very nice man, has the right attitude towards his new sport. He enjoys being out on the water trying the get one perfect stroke after another. Adding them up, one outing after another. And though, sometimes he manages to get very few ‘perfect’ strokes on an outing, he enjoys what he is doing. Bill is having pure pleasure being out in his boat. And to me, this makes absolute sense, because whatever you are doing, it has to be fun!

Bill had read one of my entries from 13 September, showing an old ‘funny post card’. Being interested in different rowing styles, Bill asked me about the English Orthodox Style, which predominated during the time the card came out (it was sent in 1917). Some years later, in the beginning of the 1920s, Steve Fairbairn’s method (he refused to call it a ‘style’) became popular – or one could even say it came to be ‘in fashion’! It is hard to try to compare Fairbairn’s new method to the old English Orthodox Style. The only thing, more or less, that Fairbairn wanted his oarsmen, and later oarswomen, to think about was his or her oar in the water. They were not to spend a lot of time learning how their body, arms and legs were supposed to be at a certain time during the stroke, it would come naturally.

I have found two drawings in two old Swedish rowing books showing the difference between the Fairbairn method and other rowing ‘styles’ for Bill and you other readers to see and compare. The one on top shows the Fairbairn in black and the old style in grey, while the image on the left shows the ‘old orthodox style’, ‘younger orthodox style’, the ‘continental style’, and, at the bottom, Fairbairn’s style, or method.

Of course, today, rowers are not rowing in any of these ‘styles’, in their purest forms. However, I will leave that discussion to a later date. In the mean time, Bill and all you others, have fun out on the water!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Battle Between The Bridges 2009

Under a beautiful, blue sky the first day out of two for Mystic Weekend of Rowing, the Battle Between The Bridges, was held in Downtown Mystic today. It was the 7th Annual Saturday regatta, while the Sunday races for the Coastweeks Regatta will be held tomorrow with the finish line at the Mystic Seaport Museum’s north end lawn.

But for today, roughly ten top-notch male and ten female scullers were racing on the 500 metre long course between the Amtrak Railway Bridge and the Mystic Bascule Drawbridge for the honour and for the Battle Between the Bridges’ ‘trophies’. Among the scullers were, for example, Megan Kalmoe (who won the female races), Laura Larsen-Strecker, Jessi Reel, Lindsay Shoop, Scott Killen, Jon Winter, Chad Healy, and local, Harrison Macris.

Yale University lightweight varsity men’s coach, Andy Card, was, as usual, the witty and entertaining commentator close to the Drawbridge. Of course, a lot of the local rowing dignitaries were present, to mention a few, Ed Monahan, veteran rower and author of Rowing Retrospections - A Personal View of New England Master Sculling (2004), Jim Dietz, Dean Macris, and Hart Perry, Executive Director of the National Rowing Foundation. Hart Perry was kind enough to introduce me to one of the finish line judges, Michele Guerette, Olympic silver medalist in the single scull in Beijing. I could tell Miss Guerette that I actually bumped into her father two weeks back at Mystic Seaport Museum. At that time I had the great honour to show him the National Rowing Hall of Fame and the eminent rowing exhibit ‘Let Her Run’.

Now, let me ask you, in what other sport could you see, and actually talk to, the top, elite athletes as we did today? Any other sport would charge you at least $50 for a seat far up on a spectator stand. Today we all had a front row seat for free. Thank you organizers of the Mystic Weekend of Rowing!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rowing on the Seine

The other day I received a nice e-mail from one of the readers of my blog, Hélène from France. She attached a drawing of some ‘Parisian Boating Men’. The image, she writes, can be found in the book Canotage, Glouglou, Stella et Mignonne by Alain Chartier. Hélène continues, ‘it is a humorous album featuring boating scenes on the Seine between 1861 and 1878’. Hélène also points me in the direction of the National Maritime Museum, Musée National de la Marine, which is running a blog on maritime matters.

Hélène mentions in her e-mail a blog entry entitled ‘Le Canotier a Paris’ where one can read an interesting article based on the thesis of Frédéric Delaive, who came out with his doctor’s thesis, ‘Canotage et canotiers de la Seine: genèse du premier loisir moderne à Paris et ses environs (1800-1860)’ in 2003. Monsieur Delaive will soon have his thesis published by Presses Universitaires de Rennes. Then everyone can take part in this interesting subject, everyone that can read French, that is.

However, to come back to the image. It made me think of Guy de Maupassant’s short story Fly, or Mouche, which I, as a rowing advocate, think is one of his best. May I, however, warn you all to not spend any time watching a horrible movie based on de Maupassant’s story. The film is called Daddy Who, and it is terrible… Why is it so hard to make a good rowing film?