Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Malcolm Cook: Shaved Blades were used in the Boat Race in the 1920s and 1930s

In the 1931 Boat Race, the Oxford stroke, W. G. Holdsworth, had a blade 1/2 inch narrower than the rest of his crew.

HTBS received an interesting e-mail from Malcolm Cook of Quintin Boat Club (below on the right) regarding our blog posts about ‘shaved blades’ (or ‘narrow blades’ as they are also called). Malcolm writes:

‘In September HTBS discussed whether pre-war strokes sometimes used a narrower blade than the rest of their crew. You asked for any information about this practice. I’ve discovered that it was quite common in the Boat Race. While recently reading a pre-war Rowing Almanack I found a mention in its report of the Boat Race that both strokes had shaved blades. I decided to dig a little deeper by searching the online archive of The Times. I found that The Times’s report on the morning of each Boat Race often had detailed measurements of the crews’ boats, rigging and oars. Shaved blades were reported as being used in the following Boat Races between the wars.’

[Editor’s note: some newsreels from British Pathe have been thrown in between the races, so a film following the 1922 race is a film with that race, etc.]:

1922 Boat Race: Both stroke and 7 of the Cambridge crew had shaved blades. Stroke’s was 1/2 inch narrower and 7’s was 1/4 inch narrower.
(The Times, 28 March 1922)

VARSITY BOAT RACE



1924 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke had a blade 3/8 inch narrower than the rest of his crew.
(The Times, 5 April 1924)

THE BOAT RACE 1924 long version



1925 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke had a blade 3/8 inch narrower than the rest of his crew. Stroke and 7 of the Cambridge crew had blades that were 1/4 inch narrower but their oars were an inch longer than the rest of their crew.
(1926 Rowing Almanack)

1926 Boat Race: Both strokes had blades 1/4 inch narrower than the rest of their crew.
(The Times, 27 March 1926)

1927 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke had a blade 3/8 inch narrower than the rest of his crew.  Cambridge’s stroke had a blade 1/4 inch narrower.
(The Times, 2 April 1927)

1929 Boat Race: Both strokes had blades 1/4 inch narrower than the rest of their crews.
(The Times, 23 March 1929)

1930 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke and 7 had shaved blades. Stroke’s was 1/2 inch narrower than the rest of the crew and 7’s was 1/4 inch narrower.
(The Times, 12 April 1930)

1931 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke had a blade 1/2 inch narrower than the rest of his crew.
(The Times, 21 March 1931)

THE BOAT RACE



1933 Boat Race: Both strokes had blades 1/4 inch narrower than the rest of their crews.
(The Times, 1 April 1933)

1936 Boat Race: Oxford’s stroke had a blade 1/4 inch narrower than the rest of his crew.
(The Times, 4 April 1936)

THE BOAT RACE 1936



1939 Boat Race: Both strokes had blades 1/4 inch narrower than the rest of their crew.
(The Times, 1 April 1939)

THE BOAT RACE - OXFORD V CAMBRIDGE 1939



Malcolm also notes that ‘In a few instances a heavy oarsman in the middle of the crew was given a slightly wider blade than the rest of his crew.’

The interesting question is if it helped the crew to win the Boat Race if the stroke had a narrower blade? It is impossible to say, of course, but it should be noticed that all the races mentioned above in Malcolm’s list were won by Cambridge. This was a period, between the wars (1920-1939), when the Light Blues had a good run – Oxford only won the Boat Race in 1923, 1937 and 1938.

You might recall that the question about a stroke rowing with a narrower blade than the rest of his crew came up in the HTBS review of Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat (on 19 August). I was highly skeptical that Ran Laurie, the stroke in the 1936 British Olympic eight, rowed with a narrow blade in the Olympic final, where the British crew ended up fourth. However, Brown directed me, and other misbelievers, to his source, Stanley Pocock’s book “Way Enough!” – Recollections of a Life in Rowing (2000), where it states that Laurie had told Stanley Pocock’s father, George Pocock, ‘that he [Laurie] had not been able to pull hard enough to row himself out. The lighter water caused by the head wind had rendered his small blade too small’.
[p. 77]

I found it extremely interesting to read Malcolm’s list to find out that the years Laurie stroked the Cambridge winning crews, in 1935 and 1936 (he rowed in the 3 seat in 1934), he is not mentioned in The Times as having a shaved blade. Food for thought...

Many thanks to Malcolm for all the hard work going through The Times’s archives!

1 comment:

  1. Nice post. Your information is really good. Thank you for sharing

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