Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rowing Evening May 26

Rowers! Mark your calendars.

On Tuesday, May 26 at 6:30 p.m., Bank Square Books on 53 West Main Street in historical downtown of Mystic is holding "A Rowers Evening".

Dana Avery of Mystic River Boathouse in Noank and yours truly, together with representatives from different rowing organizations in the Mystic area: the National Rowing Foundation; the National Rowing Hall of Fame at Mystic Seaport Museum; the Battle Between the Bridges and Coastweeks Regatta; Mystic River Rowers at the Y; Groton Community BC; Fitch High School Crew Club; and Stonington High School's rowing team, are going to introduce and inform about the rowing possibilities in and around Mystic.

Get ready to talk, chat, and breath rowing and sculling for a couple of hours. Of course there will be rowing books to buy, and refreshments will be served.

Do you have questions? Please call the bookstore at 860-536-3795.

Hope to see you there!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Celebrating 30 Years

Here is a little post script to the previous entry, “Time of Glory”, posted on April 21.

One of the first articles I ever wrote about rowing was about Jack Farrell as a coach. (In this old picture from 1917, Farrell is sitting at the head of the table.) Yesterday, when I was flipping through some old Swedish rowing magazines, I happened to come across my article on Farrell, published in 1980 in the Swedish Rowing Association’s RODD. The way I remember it was that prior to that article, I had only written and published one article, about The Boat Race. I managed to find that article too, and I saw that it was actually published already in March 1979, in a local newspaper (and later reprinted in RODD).

This in fact means that I, this spring 2009, celebrate thirty years as a rowing scribe of some sort. Three decades - how is this possible?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Time of Glory

On May the 14th 1911, James Farrell of the London Rowing Club arrived in Malmö, Sweden. He was invited by the Swedish Olympic Rowing Committee, which had been formed for the forthcoming 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. In the previous Games, Sweden had not taken part in the rowing events, but it would look bad if the host nation did not have any oarsmen competing at their own Games. Farrell’s task was to visit some of the Swedish rowing clubs to select rowers and train them for the Olympic regatta on the waters of Djurgårdsbrunnsviken.

At an Olympic conference in Budapest earlier that year, Sweden’s suggestions of boat types at the regatta had been approved: single scull, coxed outrigger four, eight, and, for the Olympics, the very odd coxed inrigger, a boat type that was used in the Nordic countries on the sometimes rough waters along their coastlines. The inrigger, the origin of which was a gig, was a wide boat with the oarlocks attached directly on the gunwale, and the four rowers sitting in a zigzag way. Germany and Great Britain had protested as they also wanted double sculls, coxless pair, and coxless four to be represented at the Games. The congress said no. The British sport magazine The Field wrote sourly that an inrigger had no business in an Olympic regatta. This boat type would never again appear at an Olympic rowing event, and has to be regarded as an Olympic curiosity.

It was not a coincidence that Farrell’s first stop was Malmö in the south of Sweden. It was some distinguished members of the local rowing club in town, Malmö Roddklubb, that had suggested to the Swedish Rowing Committee to contact Farrell. The club had asked Farrell to stay for three weeks in Malmö, to train some of their oarsmen, before he was to travel to other rowing clubs in the country. The club paid him three pounds a week and gave him free board and lodging, probably something that violated ARA’s amateur rules back home in England.

When James Farrell - Jack to his friends - came to Sweden that spring, he was 54 years old. He had joined the London RC in 1873 and had rowed in the bow seat in fours and eights at the Henley Royal Regatta on six occasions. In 1880, he was in the eight that won Thames Challenge Cup. He had also raced three times in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, and made it to the final in 1884. In 1892, at the age of 35, he rowed his last single race at Henley. On August the 5th, Farrell started his first rowing camp in Malmö. The Rowing Committee had decided that Farrell and his oarsmen were to concentrate on the eight and the inrigger, the latter being crewed with the four best rowers, C. Brunkman, W. Bruhn-Möller, T. Rosvall, stroke H. Dahlbäck, and coxswain W. Wilkens. Lack of funding, forced them also to row in the eight.

James Farrell went back to England later that autumn, only to return to Malmö in April the next year for a pre-Olympic training camp. On the first day, Farrell gathered the rowers around him, and said: ”Well, gentlemen, from now on, no boozing, smoking or dancing!” It did not come as a surprise to the rowers that their coach put a ban on liquor and cigarettes, but dancing? Farrell explained: when you dance you are using muscles that you do not use in rowing, and this will disturb your rowing muscles - so no dancing!

The Olympic rowing event of 1912 was to that point the world’s largest regatta, 45 boats from 14 countries. All the major rowing nations, except USA, had come to Stockholm. The first Olympic race on July the 17th was the inrigger four. As the 2,000-metre course only had room for two boats, several heats were needed. Farrell’s crew easily defeated a crew from Norway. In the semifinal they had to work harder for the victory beating a second team from Norway. In the final the next day, they were to meet last year’s Nordic champions from Denmark. But a couple of hours before this race, the Swedes had to row in the eight. Their opponents were New College. The Oxford boat had the lead from start to finish, not allowing the Swedish eight to come closer then half a boat length. Slightly more than three hours after the Swedes were beaten by New College, the Swedish inrigger four sat at the start again. The Danish boat got a brilliant start leaving the young Swedes behind. The Swedish crew fought bravely but it was extra hard with the eight race still in their bodies. At the end of the race, the Swedes put on a spurt, but the masterful Danes held the lead and took the first Danish Olympic rowing gold, leaving Sweden with a silver.

The day after the Olympic Rowing, the Swedes got their revenge. At the Nordic Championships, which were held on the Olympic course, the Swedish eight won without trouble. During 1914, 1915, and 1916, Jack Farrell was coaching Sweden’s eight (a club crew from Malmö RK), helping them becoming Nordic champions all three years. This was the time of glory for Swedish rowing.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

One of the Great Professional Scullers

Today it is exactly one month since I started this blog on rowing history. To celebrate this I am posting a rare photograph of the English professional sculler Ernest Barry, with his autograph. Ernest Barry (1882-1968) was a professional waterman who won the Doggett’s Coat and Badge Race in 1903 and took the British Championship title in 1908 by beating George Towns of Australia.

Two years later, Barry raced Dick Arnst of New Zealand for the World Professional Championships on the Zambezi River in South Africa. Arnst won the race, but two years later, on 29 July 1912, he lost the World title to Barry on the River Thames. Barry successfully defended the title three times before he lost it to Alf Felton of Sydney in 1919. A year later Barry regained the title from Felton and retired from professional sculling. In 1913, he had been appointed a Royal Waterman and in 1950 the Royal Barge Master to King George VI and later to Queen Elizabeth II. During several years, Ernest Barry was also coaching crews in Ireland, Germany, and Denmark.

Friday, April 10, 2009

How much did you say?

When I began collecting rowing books years ago, no antiquarian book dealers posted their books on sites on the internet, mainly because the was no internet to post them on. Instead, I had to call or visit the dealers to see if I could find anything “new”. Of course, it was when I visited England that I was able to make the best finds, especially in London, Oxford, and Henley-on-Thames. Richard Way Bookseller on Friday Street in Henley had shelves after shelves with new and out-of-print books on rowing, and for certain, I would find several books there that I did not already have.

Here I found, for example, Alison Gill’s hard to come by The Yanks at Oxford (1991), Steve Fairbairn’s autobiography Fairbairn of Jesus (1931), and Edmond Warre’s On the Grammar of Rowing (1st edition published in 1909, and the 2nd published in 1990 by Richard Way Bookseller). Even today, Richard Way Bookseller is the bookshop to first contact if you are looking for new or out-of-print books on rowing. To contact the bookshop, send an e-mail to:

Nowadays, the internet has made it easier to find copies of rowing books that are carried by book dealers around the world. Although, be ware, there are traps and pitfalls to look out for. Some, so called “booksellers”, forget to state the condition of a book, or even which year it was printed, or which edition/printing the book is. Sometimes the reason for this is that they physically do not have the book on their own shelves – if they have any bookshelves at all. Instead, these “megalisters,” as they are called, have employees who scan other booksellers’ sites, and list their books on their own site. This way they can stock millions of books that they do not have. If they would get an order, they order it from the other dealer, making a little money on each copy by charging more for shipping. Mike Sussman wrote a good article, "Attack of the Megalisters," about the “megalisters” in the New York Times Book Review on 14 September 2008.

In my hunt for rowing books, I visit online marketplaces for books several times a week, especially – which claims to have thousands of booksellers around the world linked to their site. These booksellers offer “110 million new, used, rare, and out-of-print books”. AbeBooks, with headquarters in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, was acquired by on 1 December 2008.

What I like about AbeBooks is that it is easy to find what is out there. I can search for books by author, title, subject, or ISBN. I can also choose to have the list show only first editions, hard cover copies, or convert the prices into Swedish kronor, Pound Sterling, or Japanese yen.

More than a year ago, when I was searching for some special books, I happened to click on the wrong button on AbeBooks. Instead of getting the newly posted rowing books, I got the most expensive ones. To my astonishment I found that a bookseller in Portland, Oregon – this beautiful town of books – was offering C.V.P. Young’s The Cornell Navy: 1871-1906 – A Review for US$50,000 (yes – a 5 followed by four zeros: US$50,000!). Young’s book, from 1907, in red cloth with two crossed oars as decorations on the cover, has 71 pages and many nice photographs as illustrations. Young, professor of “Physical Culture at Cornell University and Director of the Gymnasium,” had dedicated the book to Cornell’s head coach at the time, Charles Courtney, to all rowing Cornellians known as, the “Old Man”. Courtney was a very successful amateur sculler and rower, and, later, is also to be regarded as one of America’s most prominent professional scullers, who, after his career as a professional rower, became a famous coach for Cornell Navy.

Although the bookseller in Portland claims that The Cornell Navy: 1871-1906 – A Review is “an extremely rare, exceedingly difficult to find title”, and the book is in a “very good plus” condition, it is hard to justify the US$50,000 he wants for it. Can it really be worth that much money? The answer, of course, is that it is – as with all books - worth as much as a buyer is willing to pay for it. And that is probably not US$50,000. About three years ago, I saw this book posted by another seller on AbeBooks for a little over US$2,000, and already then, I thought it was an absurd price.

These days there is actually a new phenomenon that has risen on the horizon, print-on-demand. Hang on you say, that is not new, it has been around for more than a decade, which is true. However, the “new” thing is that “publishers” have started to re-publish old books, also rowing books, which have “lost” their copyright, and therefore can be reprinted without paying a royalty to the long-since passed author. And that is done the print-on-demand way, meaning you print a few copies after you have received the orders. Copies of The Cornell Navy: 1871-1906 – A Review are now being offered this way on for as low as US$22 - of course making the US$50,000 even more ridiculous.

Whether you are willing to pay US$2,000 or US$50,000 for Young’s book, I got my copy – an original one from 1907 - for much less at a bookseller in Rhode Island. The copy I found was in a much poorer condition than the one out in Portland. Maybe a bookseller would have called it “fair”, with a faded cover, some wrinkled pages, some pages being water damaged, a hole in one page, and a tear in another. So, how much did I pay? The book had no price, so I asked the bookseller, he said US$75. I said that I did not have US$75, nor was I willing to pay that much. I said he could have the US$25 I had in my wallet. The bookseller smiled and said: “Okay”.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Merry Rowing Christmas 1913

In December 1913, Ernest Hellström, a Swede who had immigrated to the United States and lived in the town East Orange, New Jersey, received a card from his friend Wilhelm in Stockholm. The card, which has Christmas greetings, has two green, old 5-öres stamps with the portrait of King Oscar II, and carries the postmark, 15/12 1913. The date, 15 December 1913, reveals that Wilhelm had sent this Christmas card a little late if he wanted Ernest to receive it before Christmas Eve. Wilhelm’s message is short: “I hope to soon receive some lines from you. Have a Merry Christmas, Best Wishes, Your Friend Wilhelm.”

Nowadays, slightly 96 years later, we know nothing of Ernest and Wilhelm. Maybe they once rowed together in one of the rowing clubs in the Swedish capital? The motif on the front of the card is very much a rowing scene. In the front is an oarsman, with a red cap and socks, wearing a blue blazer, which has something red pinned on the lapel. The rower is holding an oar with a red painted blade with white stripes. In the background, we can see a coxed four getting ready for the first stroke. The coxswain and the oarsmen in the four are all wearing the same red cap as the oarsman in the foreground. For certain the colour red is to be found on the club’s flag.

Further off from the shell, are some steamboats and a habour and a silouette of a shoreline. It is impossible to know if the motif and its details are from a real place, but for sure it is not a site in Sweden, nor are the oarsmen members of a Swedish rowing club. The reverse side, where Ernest’s name and his USA address are written, discloses German spelling, as does the printed “Hipp, hipp, hurrah” on the front of the card.

But German, or not, the essence is there, and that is probably what Wilhelm was thinking about when he sent his Christmas card to his friend Ernest across the Atlantic Ocean: the battle between crews, the camaraderie, the spirit of friendship, and the pure joy of pulling an oar in a boat with fellow oarsmen.

And as we all know, as Ratty so accurately put it: “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"New" boat type to be launched

Nowadays, as you know, almost every builder of racing shells around the world can offer a customized boat for a buyer’s special needs. It does not matter whether it is a club, a college, or a national federation, a buyer can, for example, choose if the coxswain should be steering on a seat in the stern (stern-coxed) or lying down in the bow (bow-coxed) of an eight. To easier transport the shell on a trailer, one can order a boat that can be divided in the middle, or even in three or more sections. It is even possible to order one-seat sections and that way put together a four, six, or eight. Around ten years ago, the Swiss boat maker Stämpfli built a boat for 24 rowers or scullers. The boat, which still exists, is known as the Stämpfli Express, or Stämpfli 24.

The well-reputed French rowing magazine Le Bateau d'Aviron pour les Fous revealed just the other day, that the new French boat builder Puan T. Fromage, outside the town of Lyon, has developed a “flexible” shell for 50 rowers, called “Quinquaginta”. With this new boat it will be easier for those clubs that are operating on narrow rivers with plenty of sharp bends to allow their oarsmen to get the training they need.

However, as always when it comes to rowing, nothing is new under the sun. This “new” invention is more than one hundred years old! Already in July 1888, the British magazine Punch published a picture of “a new flexible, patent-jointed, vertebral outrigger” – “The Centipede”.

Anyone who is interested in Mr. Fromage’s “Quinquaginta” should contact him immediately as he only takes orders for the boat today – 1 April.