Photograph: Werner Schmidt

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!