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.”