Photograph: Werner Schmidt

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?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Tom Sullivan Family Connections

After posting an entry on 5 September about the professional sculler and coach, Tom Sullivan, I received a nice e-mail from Mrs. Anne-Marie Wallace of New Zealand. Mrs. Wallace is doing research on her family and her grandmother was a 1st cousin of Tom Sullivan. Mrs. Wallace has taken a special interest in Sullivan, who was born exactly 100 years before her own son, 18 September 1868, respectively 1968.

Sullivan was brought up in Puhoi, New Zealand, but his father, John Sullivan, was brought up in Southwark on the Thames, as was John Sullivan’s sister, who might still have family connections there or elsewhere in England, she writes. Tom Sullivan died in Vienna in 1947.

If anyone has more information about Tom Sullivan, e.g. if he was married and had any children, please contact me, so I can pass on the information to Mrs. Wallace. Thank you!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Go Fishing, Or The Eight That Forgot No. 3

After some serious rowing stuff as the lives of F.S. Kelly and Samuel F. Gordon, it could be nice with some ‘light’ material. I have chosen a funny post card from the mid-1910s. Unfortunately, I cannot read the name of the caricaturist.

While the men on the right seem to be deeply engaged in a momentous discussion of the secrets of rowing, the eight on the left has left in a hurry, forgetting No. 3 on the shore. The heavy coxswain, who probably is the coach of the crew, is making certain that his boat is rowing in the correct way - the English Orthodox Style.

A jocular rhymester gave his view of the English Orthodox Style in some verses in the Cambridge student magazine The Granta in 1927:

Beware the Orthodox, my son,
The slides that check, the arms that snatch;
Beware the drop-in blade, and shun
The Bourneish shoulder-catch.

The ‘Bourneish’ is referring to Dr. Gilbert C. Bourne, an ex-Eton wet-bob who had rowed in two winning boats for Oxford in the Boat Race in 1882 and 1883. His son, Robert C. Bourne, stroked four winning Oxford eights against Cambridge in 1909, 1910, 1911, and 1912 (with his father as the coach). Dr. Bourne was a strong believer in the English Orthodox Style, which is clearly shown in his book A Text-Book of Oarsmanship with an Essay on Muscular Action in Rowing, which was published in 1925. In his book, Bourne trashes the Jesus College coach Steve Fairbairn from Australia, who had other ideas on how to row.

Mischievously, Fairbairn said that rowing styles were like seasons in Australia, ‘bad, damned bad and bloody awful.’

The post card is sent on what seems to be 26 November 1917 with a half-penny stamp to a Mr. D. Masefield, who lives, or at least is staying at, Wyndham Hotel on Old Street in Cardiff. It reads: ‘Thought this card rather fine. Would be pleased to see you on Friday, and maybe we could go fishing for a change. Your friend Ernest’

Is Ernest an old oarsman who is tired of pulling a competitive oar and instead would like to go fishing with his fellow ‘oar’, Mr. D. Masefield? We will never know…

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Sam Gordon And The 1912 Olympic Rowing

After two successful Olympic Games for the American oarsmen in 1900 and 1904 – especially those from the Vesper Boat Club who took gold medals in the eights – the U.S. did not send any participants to the Olympic rowing events held in Henley-on-Thames in 1908. It was probably because of a rift between the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (N.A.A.O.) and the Henley Stewards, who ran the Henley Royal Regatta, that stopped the Americans’ entries to the Olympic rowing. The British took all the gold medals on their home waters. It was supposed to be different at the next Olympic rowing regatta in the Swedish capital, Stockholm, in 1912.

In 1909, the New York Athletic Club and the Arundel Boat Club in Baltimore had some good fours that did well racing against other American and Canadian clubs. Other likely Olympic rowers were Samuel F. Gordon of the Vesper BC and Everard Butler of Argonaut Rowing Club, Toronto, who were the best North American scullers at the time. Gordon won the N.A.A.O. champion title in the senior single scull in 1910 and in the elite double scull (together with George W. Engle) in 1911. Butler took the N.A.A.O. champion elite single scull title in both 1910 and 1911. In 1910, the Arundel BC took the championship title in the coxless four.

This is the beginning of a longer article that I today got posted on the Friends of Rowing History's wonderful site You can read the entire article by clicking here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Rowing In Punch

Coach (on cycle). “Hang You, Cox! You’ll Be Into The Bank.
Why Can’t You Look Where You ‘re Going!”

Ahh, these demanding coaches… [From Punch, 5 July 1911].

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

F. S. Kelly – A Life of Rowing and Music 2

Here the F. S. Kelly story continues:

Already in 1903, Kelly went to Germany as a music student, and would be there on and off. It was in Frankfurt at a café he read the article about his old rival, Lou F. Scholes, and the Olympic rowing in Henley at the end of July 1908. Kelly would not get his revenge as the Canadian was beaten in his first heat, and Kelly would not be picked to represent Great Britain in the single scull. Instead he was asked by Leander’s coach, ‘Tarka’ Gold, to train and race in the club’s eight, which was going to be Britain’s second boat in the Olympic eights; the first eight was from Cambridge. From 18 June, on a daily basis, Kelly wrote down in his diary the laborious training he and his fellow oarsmen in the eight went through. The ‘old men’ of Leander – two others were Guy Nickalls and R. B. Etherington-Smith - won the Olympic gold in the eights, giving Kelly another medal to his collection. The Olympic champion race would be Kelly’s last rowing race.

A couple of weeks after the Olympic rowing, an important printed work on rowing saw the light of day, The Complete Oarsman by R. C. Lehmann, who was a Liberal MP, a contributor to Punch, a poet, and an authority on rowing. The book also has chapters written by other authorities of the sport. The section on sculling was written by, as Lehmann elegantly put it, ‘Mr. F. S. Kelly, the master of the art.’ Even if this chapter was written 100 years ago, there are still some highly valuable pointers about sculling technique for today’s scullers. Kelly’s chapter was illustrated with twelve black & white photographs of the author in his shell.

After 1908, Kelly fully concentrated on his music career. He would, however, now and then be remembered for his extraordinary rowing career. After giving a concert on 17 October 1910, Kelly and his friend, the cellist Pablo Casals, were reading the newspaper critiques on a train from Newcastle to London. Kelly wrote in his diary on 18 October 1910: ‘On the whole they were fairly just, but one critic said a thing which I foresee will be repeated wherever it is known that I was a sculler – i.e. my playing was perhaps a little too muscular for an interpretation of Chopin.’

Kelly made his professional debut as a pianist with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Town Hall on 17 June 1911. He played the Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 4 in G, op.59. The critics in the Sydney papers were delighted, which could not be said about the London critics when Kelly performed in England the following year. He continued his professional performances sporadically, but at the outbreak of the war in 1914, he enlisted in the 63rd Royal Naval Division, and was involved in the defence of Antwerp. When sailing to the Dardanelles with the Hood Battalion, he befriended fellow pianist and composer William Denis Browne and the poet Rupert Brooke, whose most famous lines are from his poem ‘The Soldier’: If I should die think only this of me: / That there's some corner of a foreign field / That is for ever England. /

Brooke did not reach the Dardanelles. En route, he contracted septicaemia after a mosquito bite and died on 23 April 1915. He was buried on the Greek island of Skyros with his friends Kelly and Browne present. Both Kelly and Browne were wounded at the ill-fated campaign at Gallipoli. While recuperating, Kelly wrote the Elegy for string orchestra in memory of Brooke. Although not fully well, Browne rejoined his unit and was fatally wounded at the Third Battle at Krithia on 4 June 1915. His body was never found. Kelly returned to Gallipoli in July and was among the last soldiers to be evacuated off the Gallipoli Peninsula. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ at Gallipoli.

The Hood Battalion was shipped to France in May 1916. At the end of the great Battle of the Somme, Kelly was killed on 13 November, age 35, while leading an attack against enemy lines at Beaucourt-sur-Ancre. Frederick Septimus Kelly now rests in a grave at Martinsart British Cemetery, Somme.

In May 1915, Kelly’s sister Maisie married Captain John Kelly (not related), whom later reached the rank of Admiral and for whom the famous destroyer, commanded by Mountbatten, was named. F. S. Kelly’s diaries, which he began to write in 1907, were bought by the National Library of Australia in 1979, and were published under the title Race Against Time – The Diaries of F.S. Kelly, selected, edited and introduced by Thérese Radic in 2004.

* * *

Acknowledgement: Writing this two-piece article, a very good source of information about F.S. Kelly’s early life and his music studies has been Race Against Time – The Diaries of F.S. Kelly, which was selected, edited and introduced by Thérese Radic. Dr. Radic has very kindly allowed me to use her research for this article, for which I am immensely grateful.

F. S. Kelly – A Life of Rowing and Music 1

While in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, to study piano and composition at Dr. Hoch Konservatorium, F. S. Kelly one day picks up a copy of The Times where he reads that Lou F. Scholes is going to represent Canada in the single scull at the Olympic rowing regatta in Henley-on-Thames. In his diary the same day, 10 May 1908, Kelly writes that the news ‘roused my fighting spirit so much that I went off to ask Director Scholz about the date of the Concert at which I am to play and conduct, to find out for certain whether it will possible for me to scull and have my revenge.’

This entry in Kelly’s diary gives an excellent illustration of what was close to his heart: music and rowing.

Frederick Septimus Kelly was born on 29 May 1881 in Sydney. Frederick was the seventh child of Thomas Hussey Kelly, a wealthy Irish businessman, and his wife, Mary Anne, born in Australia. Like his brothers, ‘Sep’, as he was called by the family, was sent to Eton, where he began to row in 1897 - stroking the eight to victory in the Ladies’ Plate at the Henley Royal Regatta in 1899. As a Lewis Nettleship musical scholar, he went up to Balliol College at Oxford. In Oxford, Kelly – or ‘Cleg’ as he was known there - also took up sculling, winning the Diamond Challenge Sculls at Henley for his college in 1902. On his way to his first Diamond victory, he beat prominent scullers as A. H. Cloutte (London RC), C. S. Titus (Union BC, New York), and R. B. Etherington-Smith (Leander Club).

The following year was very successful for Kelly, although his Oxford eight lost the Boat Race. In the cerise colours of Leander Club, Kelly won the Wingfield Sculls, and the Grand and the Diamond trophies at Henley. After his first Diamonds, Kelly had rapidly been regarded as a brilliant sculler. At his second Diamonds, he easily sculled away from Julius Beresford (Kensington RC) and H. T. Blackstaffe (Vesta RC) to claim the trophy. A contemporary source wrote that ‘his swinging and sliding were perfect in unison and symmetry’ and another one said, ‘that the grace with which his hands left the body at the finish of the stroke was like the down-ward beat of a swallow’s wing.’

It was, therefore, all the more surprising when, in a heat in the Diamonds in 1904, Lou F. Scholes of Toronto RC defeated Kelly. Scholes had been two lengths behind at Remenham, when suddenly he put on a spurt and easily gained on Kelly. At the Grand Stand, Kelly was two lengths behind and, totally exhausted, had to stop. He was lifted out of his shell into a launch while the Toronto oarsman crossed the finish line. The Henley crowd was astonished that ‘a sculler with the style of the Canadian, who depended on his arms and legs, and was without body swing, could beat one with the easy and natural form of the Anglo-Australian.’

One reason for the loss, T. A. Cook wrote, was that Kelly had only trained in his boat for three weeks before his first race in the Diamonds that year. Kelly’s unwillingness to train, made Vivian Nickalls write in his Oars, Wars, and Horses (1932) that Kelly ‘hated training and spent his whole time playing the violin.’ Vivian’s brother, Guy, agreed and wrote in his posthumous published memoirs, Life’s a Pudding (1939), that Kelly ‘was most likely the fastest sculler of all time – quick, neat and polished’ but added solemnly ‘a difficult man to train.’ Unfortunately, Vivian Nickalls’s comment about which instrument Kelly played would later make rowing historians joke and incorrectly remark that Kelly was a sculling ‘fiddler’.

Revengeful at the 1905 Henley Royal Regatta, Kelly easily outclassed all his opponents in the Diamonds (Scholes was not competing), trashing poor Blackstaffe in the final with 15 seconds, winning in the new record time, 8 minutes, 10 seconds, beating the Canadian’s record time from the previous year by 13 seconds. Kelly’s record would last until 1938, when the American Joe Burk knocked 8 seconds off Kelly’s time. In 1905, Kelly would also win the Grand (as he had done in 1904), and adding another triumph in 1906 in the Stewards’ Cup.

In Kelly’s personal life, his father’s death in 1901, and his mother’s death the following year, was a hard blow for Kelly, whose academic studies suffered, and he graduated with fourth-class honours in history. However, his father’s passing left Kelly economically independent, which allowed him to set up a comfortable life with his sister Mary, ‘Maisie’, at Bisham Grange, a house close to Marlow. There they lived a high-society life with trips to London and abroad. Kelly, with his good-looks, was also invited by aristocratic friends to give piano concerts in their country houses.

To be continued...

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Rowing History Forum, 31 October 2009

This year’s Rowing History Forum is going to be held at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames on Saturday, 31 October from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Among the speakers are Thomas E Weil on the Mothers of Inventions, Rob van Mesdag on the Vogalonga, John Beresford on his famous father Jack Beresford Jr., (see picture, together with Dick Southwood, on stroke, just after they had taken the Olympic gold medal at the Berlin Games in 1936), Boris Rankov on Ancient Greeks, Gail McGarva on Cornish gigs and Lyme Bay boats, to mention some of the speakers.

To register, please contact Joanne Gibbison, at or snail mail, at Joanne Gibbison, RRM, Mill Meadows, Henley-on-Thames. You can also call her: +44(0)491-415605. Price is £30 (which include coffee, buffet lunch and tea). Make cheques payable to River & Rowing Museum.

On Friday, 30 October, Rowing History Forum Dinner at Leander Club. Price £39.50/person. For reservations and accommodation enquiries, please contact Sheila Harrington, +44(0)491-636760, or

More information is available by visiting or by contacting Chris Dodd at

Monday, September 7, 2009

Magical Boats

Later this month, in the autumn issue of the Swedish rowing magazine Svensk Rodd, No. 3, 2009, I will have a review published about Darryl J. Strickler’s book Rowable Classics: Wooden Single Sculling Boats and Oars. Here is the article just slightly revised in English.

There is something special with wooden boats.

Before I moved to the U.S. in 2000, I was out sculling almost daily on the canals in my old hometown of Malmö, in the south of Sweden. If the canals were not frozen or the weather was not too bad, I would scull both in the morning and in the evening in one of Malmö Rowing Club’s wooden singles. It was magical to make the boat glide and to feel the connection between the wooden hull and the water. The boat, built by Karlisch in Germany, came to the club in 1980, and was one of many wooden shells that the club owned.

When I began to row at Malmö RC in the 1970s, most of the shells in the boathouse were built out of wood. The boats were built by, to mention a few, Karlisch and Pirsch in Germany, Henry Larsen in Denmark, Sims in England, and by Holger Eklund, who owned and operated the boat building company Ramsövarvet, located outside of Stockholm. The Sims coxed four was a small sensation at her first regatta in Copenhagen, I was told. The regatta was held during the Second World War, and it was amazing that she had made it from England through blockades and other trade barriers. I do not know how she was smuggled to Sweden.

I came to think about the beautiful wooden boats at Malmö RC when I read Darryl J. Strickler’s book Rowable Classics: Wooden Single Sculling Boats and Oars, which was published by Wooden Boat Publications in 2008. Strickler, who is a sculling addict and a collector of wooden singles, has written a unique book about wooden racing shells. While other so called coffee table books with beautiful illustrations about the sport of rowing have seen the light of day, there has never been a book that entirely tells the story about the boat builders, the wooden singles they built, their design, and about some of the current owners of these shells. The closest I can think of is G.C. Bourne’s Textbook of Oarsmanship (1925), which mentions some of the most important English boat builders who built the eights for Oxford and Cambridge.

Strickler is, of course, concentrating his book on builders in England and the U.S. In different chapters the author is writing about English boat builders like, Edwin H. Phelps, Carl Douglas, and the big boat building family, the Sims, who had at least eight men building boats, if I count them correctly. It seems, however, most of them could not agree on anything, so four of them started their own boat building businesses. In the U.S., George and his son, Stanley Pocock in Seattle, are the most well-known builders, while Joe Garofalo and his Worchester Oar & Paddle Co. is the best known on the American east coast. Garofalo became known among his customers as the man who could build everything. He told his customers that he could build them a ‘Pocock’ or a ‘Stämpfli’ if they wanted one – of course for less money than the originals. Graeme King, who originates from Australia, is now running a boat building company in Putney, Vermont, and he is one of the very few that still builds wooden boats. In Canada there is Kaschper, Levator, and Hudson, and in Australia there is Sargeant & Burton and Jeff Sykes.

When it comes to boat builders in Europe, only the most renown have got their story told by Strickler. Therefore, you can read about Empacher, Pirsch, Stämpfli, and Filippi, but that is it. No Scandinavian boat builders are mentioned. Karlisch in Möln is in the book, but only as an oarmaker, not as a boat builder (although, it is mentioned in the text that they also built larger boats). In the special chapters on wooden oars, their makers are mentioned, aside from the above mentioned boat builders, also Aylings, Collar, Sutton, and Crocker, to mention some.

The publisher has done a great job when it comes to the book’s design; it is a fine book with beautiful illustrations in colour. For the most part, the author has done a terrific job too, although there are some flaws and mishaps here and there. To mention some: the famous boat builder Harry Clasper did not move from Newcastle to London in the 1850s to build boats at Putney, that was his son, John Hawks Clasper, who did that in the 1860s. The Henley Royal Regatta was established in 1839, but the Diamond Challenge Sculls was instituted first in 1844. The students at Cambridge began sculling for the Colquhoun in 1837, not in 1835. The public’s interest for sculling got a real boost in 1830 with the Wingfields Sculls for amateurs, which Strickler correctly writes, but he fails to mention the equally important Championships of the Thames for the professionals, which started the year after, in 1831. It is true that the Americans were first to found a rowing federation for amateurs, the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen (N.A.A.O.) in 1872, and ten years later the British Amateur Rowing Association (ARA) was founded. The ARA was, however, not a newly founded association, it was merely a name change from the Metropolitan Rowing Association, which existed already in 1879.

I also find it unnecessary to repeat some information in both the sections about the boat builders and the boat owners, so that the owners’ accounts mirror the author’s text about the builders, which feels redundant. The editor for the book should have rewritten, removed or done some editorial changes of these parts. I also think that the chapters dealing with the boat owners’ stories of how they acquired their shells, often raving about how wonderful their boats are, are at times too long and too similar to each other. Darryl Strickler does point out in his preface that his book is dealing with wooden singles built after 1946, and that it is not a ‘history’ book on rowing, although historic flashbacks are given. Personally, I believe it is a pity that it is not a rowing history book with facts and stories about the old boat builders from the 1800s, the Claspers, Matthew Taylor, Swaddle & Winship, etc, who came up with amazing innovations and famous racing shells.

But, I guess, then it had been another book, and it is wonderful and magical as it is. So, well done, Mr. Strickler!

Darryl J. Strickler: Rowable Classics: Wooden Single Sculling Boats and Oars (2008), $29.95. Order your copy on the Wooden Boat Publications’ site by clicking here.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Birthday Girl!

Today’s entry is another very personal one: our daughter, Ingrid, is turning 8 years old. Earlier today, my dear wife snapped a photo of Ingrid, standing below a poster of the professional oarsman John Biglin. This is, indeed, very appropriate, as this image, painted by Thomas Eakins in 1873, probably is the first ‘image’ that Ingrid recognized as a young child.

At the two previous houses we lived in, from the time Ingrid was a baby to a 5-year-old girl, we had this poster hanging above the staircase between the first and second floor. Each morning, when I took her down to the kitchen for breakfast, we would pass the Eakins print. It became a ritual to say to Ingrid every morning: ‘Ingrid. Say good morning, John Biglin!’ And sometimes, she did.

Then in 2005, when I was sitting on the sofa in the living room, admiring an article that I just had managed to get published in a magazine – an article about the American sculler Charles Courtney and the decline of professional sculling in the U.S. – Ingrid came climbing up on the sofa and onto my lap, asking: ‘What are you doing, Papa?’ I answered as off-handedly as I could: ‘Oh, it is just a little article I got published, and…’ when Ingrid suddenly interrupted me, screaming for joy, ‘Look, look, Papa, there is a picture of John Biglin!’ And right she was, that cute girl. There was an illustration of John Biglin, not the one in oil, but one of the water-coloured ones Eakins painted of his friend. She made her father very proud.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY - sweet girl!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tom Sullivan – The ‘Old Devil’

The other week, I received an e-mail from Michael Grace, who is writing the story of his club, the Wellington Rowing Club in New Zealand. One of the great characters at the club was Tom Sullivan (1869-1947). Michael asked me for some help with a couple of pictures I have of Sullivan, who, of course, is getting his own chapter in the book.

Tom Sullivan was born in Auckland, and won his first rowing race at the age of 13. As an amateur sculler, Sullivan met with huge success, which made him join the professionals’ ranks in late 1890. Already in 1892, Sullivan raced the reigning world champion, Jim Stanbury of Australia, for the title. Sullivan lost, and the following year he challenged George Bubear of Chelsea for the Championship of England on the Championship course on the Thames in London. The New Zealander won, but was later challenged by his own professional coach, Charles ‘Wag’ Hardy, for the title. In a race on the ‘northern river’, the Tyne in Newcastle, in February 1895, Harding beat Sullivan, and again in September that year.

Later, Tom Sullivan turned to coaching, and being very successful, he moved to Berlin where he trained crews at the Berliner Ruder-Klub. Sullivan was interned during the Great War, where he organized the physical training for the Allied prisoners in the concentration camp where he was held. After the war, the ‘Old Devil’, as he called himself, spent some time at De Amstel in the Netherlands before returning to the Berliner RK in 1925. The ‘Old Devil’ – he ruled his oarsmen with severity – coached the German coxed four to an Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 1932, the same year his adepts Herbert Buhtz and Gerhard Boetzelen took an Olympic silver medal in the double sculls. Buhtz also won the Diamonds that year, and also in 1934.

There are some great stories about Tom Sullivan in Hylton Cleaver’s Sporting Rhapsody (1951) and A History of Rowing (1957), and also in Chris Dodd’s eminent The Story of World Rowing (1992).

I am eagerly waiting for Michael Grace’s book about Wellington RC, which is coming out next year to celebrate the club's 125th anniversary.