Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

eehhh,...'The Boat Race'

I have to confess that my left eyebrow shivered a little when I read the news that the annual Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race – commonly known as ‘The Boat Race’ – the other day changed its name to The Xchanging Boat Race!

Xchanging, which is a global business processing company, became involved with ‘The Boat Race’ five years ago as a sponsor. In 2008, the company renewed its sponsorship for five more years. And then the other day, Xchanging became a so called title sponsor for ‘The Boat Race’.

Nowadays, it is quite an ordinary thing that sport teams, sport arenas, and sport events sell themselves (and might I add, their souls) to larger business companies. I am sad that the organizers of the ‘The Boat Race’ and Oxford and Cambridge have felt that they should do so, too. Especially, to a company that I cannot even pronounce correctly.

Of course, just as the Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race has been called ‘The Boat Race’, The Xchanging Boat Race can in the future be known as – ‘The Boat Race’.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pocock's Doggett Coat On Display

Last week, rowing historians Bill Miller and Hart Perry (the latter Executive Director of the National Rowing Foundation), and yours truly managed to put together a base and a cover for Dick Pocock’s Thomas Doggett’s coat and cap (see previous entries on 10 and 11 October) at the rowing exhibit “Let Her Run” at the National Rowing Hall of Fame. Miller had built the base, while a company in Massachusetts had built the cover. It took a couple of hours to put together, but now Pocock’s beautiful coat is on display for everyone to admire. It’s a wonderful addition to the rowing exhibit, and the showcase is right under Dick’s brother George’s single scull, hanging from the ceiling (see also entry 23 June).

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Rowing Myth Busters

So, you ask yourself, can you actually water ski behind a racing shell? Chris Partridge, who is running the eminent blog Rowing for Pleasure, posted the other day a Myth Buster episode showing just that! Enjoy!

Rowing In Japanese

Earlier this month rowing historian Bill Miller announced on his great site that Chris Dodd’s brilliant book The Story of World Rowing, published in 1992, has now been translated into Japanese by Akihiro Sakakibara. The Japanese version is published by Tohoku University Press.

Coincidentally, I received an e-mail from Hélène in France, one of the loyal readers of this blog (whom I have mentioned before – again, thank you, Hélène) where she points me in the direction of the Japanese magazines/comics called manga. The author Hidenori Hara has published series called Regatta [Japanese title: Regatta Kimi to Ita Eien]. The Japanese TV has also dramatized Regatta, and you can read more about it by clicking here.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Philadelphia Challenge Cup

At the 1920 Olympic rowing event, John “Jack” B. Kelly of Vesper Boat Club, Philadelphia, won the single scull race defeating Jack Beresford Jr., of Thames Rowing Club, London with one second. To celebrate the first American to take an Olympic gold medal in the single sculls, a group lead by J. Elliot Newlin, the Commodore of the Schuylkill Navy, raised $2,500 among the rowing community of Philadelphia to establish a prize, the Philadelphia Challenge Cup. The Schuylkill Navy wanted the Cup, which sometimes has also been referred to as the Philadelphia Gold Cup, to be regarded as the Amateur Single Sculling Championship of the World, and the first sculler being awarded the title was Jack Kelly.

For the years in between the Olympic single sculling races, the Schuylkill Navy would authorize a challenger to race the champion for the title. This happened in 1922, when Walter M. Hoover, of the Undine Barge Club, won a match race for the Cup in Philadelphia, overpowering Paul V. Costello of Vesper BC. Costello was Kelly’s cousin and they had won the gold in the double sculls in the 1920 Olympics (and they would do so again in 1924).

The year after, in 1923, W.E. Garrett Gilmore of the Bachelors Barge Club, beat Hoover, now of Duluth Boat Club, at Duluth, Michigan. Back on the Schuylkill River, on 26 May 1924, Costello defeated Gilmore in a race for the Cup. Later that year, at the Olympic rowing races at the Argenteuil, Paris on 17 July, Jack Beresford became the holder of the Cup by beating Gilmore in the final of the single sculls. The following year, on 13 July 1925, there was a challenge race on the River Thames between Putney and Hammersmith where Beresford successfully defended the Cup by easily overcoming Hoover.

By clicking on the following link, you will be able to watch one and a half minutes of this race on the Thames. Please click here.

Later in July 1925, Beresford returned the Cup to the Schuylkill Navy as he did not want to defend it. After that the world’s top scullers have been holders of the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, the last one being the Russian sculler Vladimir Ivanov in 1964. Thereafter, the Cup mysteriously disappeared, but was found in June 1996 in an antique store in Philadelphia. You can read the story about the Philadelphia Challenge Cup, its disappearing and re-surfacing, on the following link, please click here (there you will also find a list of all the holders of the Cup).

The photograph above, showing Beresford and Hoover, is from the Thomas E. Weil Collection of the National Rowing Foundation. It is now on display at the rowing exhibit "Let Her Run" at Mystic Seaport Museum. Below the photograph is Beresford's famous saying: "There is no disgrace in being beaten when you are trying to win."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

New Rowing Film

One of the loyal readers of this blog, Hélène in France, sent an e-mail earlier today, telling me about an upcoming rowing film, La Régate [The Regatta]. The film is about the fifteen year old boy, Alex, who lives alone with his aggressive father. To escape the violence, Alex takes to the oar and decides, at all costs, to win the rowing Championships of Belgium.

The film is directed by the Belgian Bernard Bellefroid, who was born in 1978. He graduated in 2003 from the National Film School of Belgium (INSAS) and has previously made documentary films. La Régate is Bellefroid’s first longer feature film, which is produced by Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne. It will be released in France in February 2010. However, I find it unlikely that the film will find it’s way to the U.S., which is a pity.

If you would like to get more information about this film, click here (information in French!). Many thanks to Hélène!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Maine Built Whitehall

One blog I enjoy reading is Chris Partridge’s Rowing for Pleasure. On 5 November, Chris had a great entry about a new Whitehall boat built by Maine based company Shaw and Tenney, who has crafted wooden oars and paddles since 1858. The extravagant version of the Whitehall is $19,000, while there is a cheaper version, too. Read Chris’s entry about Shaw and Tenney by clicking here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

The Life-Boat

When I was working in the publishing business in Sweden, I regularly had to travel to Stockholm for meetings. At that time (this was in the 1990s), Stockholm had a lot of good antiquarian booksellers, so I always made certain that I had the time to browse around in some of them. Of course, I looked for rowing books, but it was rare to find something I did not already have.

But then one time, I saw in the window of a bookseller on Drottninggatan a copy of Sir John Cameron Lamb’s book The Life-Boat And Its Work, published in 1911 by William Clowes and Sons Ltd in London. I went inside to take a closer look. The book condition was very good +. It was a nice clean tight copy, with no inscriptions, and it still had both the appeal and bequest forms in the back. It was not cheap, but I decided to buy it anyway.

It is really a very nice little book, which gives the story of lifeboats and how it all began – that special boats were built to rescue passengers and crews from shipwrecked vessels. There are several inventors and boat builders that claim to be the ones to have built the first lifeboat. Already in 1765, a Monsieur Bernières of France invented an unsinkable boat for nine people, but according to Lamb’s book, Bernières’s invention was never set to practical use.

Gentlemen from Tyneside and the Thames created models to suit the newly founded “Tyne Life-Boat Society” and the Royal National Life-Boat Institution. The most famous names were Lionel Lukin, William Wouldhave, and Henry Greathead. The illustration above shows a drawing made from a model presented by Greathead to the Admiralty around the year 1800.

Lamb’s book has a lot of black & white photographs and drawings, and around ten different copies are now available to buy on

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Next Rowing History Forum

Last Saturday, the River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames, England was hosting a Rowing History Forum (read more about it in my entry on 8 September). Sadly, I missed it.

The other day, Bill Miller announced on the rowing history site Friends of Rowing History ( that the next Forum will be on Sunday, 21 March 2010 in Mystic, Connecticut. As usual, this event will be organized by the Friends of Rowing History, the National Rowing Foundation (NRF), and Mystic Seaport Museum. Special guest speaker will be Kent Mitchell, U.S. Olympic oarsman 1960 and 1964. Miller promised to post more information on his site soon.

That weekend will also be a celebration in honour of the up to 20 inductees for the NRF’s National Rowing Hall of Fame. There will be a dinner at the Seamen’s Inne in Mystic on the eve of 20 March for the inductees and everyone else who would like to mark this very special occasion.

So jot down the 20 and 21 March 2010 in your calendars. These are events that I for sure will not miss.

Finally, I also would like to share the information about the honour that has been bestowed upon me. The Directors of the Friends of Rowing History have very kindly asked me to join their ranks, which I very gladly and humbly accepted.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A 1954 Oxford Rowing Footnote

In the 1954 Boat Race, which was the hundredth in the series, Oxford won with four and a half boat lengths. Being that year’s winner, the Oxford crew was invited to row in Sweden at one of the longest river races in Europe, Göta Älvrodden. The previous year, the race had been organized for the first time for eights, and was a 20,000-metre long race on a fairly straight course on the river Göta Älv between the town of Kungälv and the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg).

In the beginning of the 1950s, the Swedes wanted to create a long race to promote the sport of rowing. There was a race on Göta Älv in 1952 for coxed inrigger fours, but glancing towards London, the oarsmen in ‘Lilla London’ [‘Little London’] – as the people in Gothenburg sometimes refer to their city – desired something more like the Boat Race between Oxford and Cambridge. One of the organizers, Reinhold Bråkenhielm, talked to the head of the Gothenburg Sport Federation’s rowing section, Bertil Göransson, to get his blessing to invite 1954 winners of the Boat Race. Göransson, who was active as a coxswain and would actually steer the Swedish eight who reached the final in the Grand at Henley in 1955 and the Olympic final the following year, was of course very positive to bring Oxford over to Sweden.

In the spring 1954, Bråkenhielm was working in London for a Swedish company. He contacted ARA’s Chairman Gully Nickalls, who arranged a meeting between the Swede and Oxford’s famous coach H.R.A. ‘Jumbo’ Edwards and one member of the crew, Jim Gobbo of Australia. In the beginning of the talk, Bråkenhielm did not want to bring up the length of the course as it was three times as long as the course between Putney and Mortlake, being afraid that it would scare off the Brit and the Australian, but when he eventually did, both Edwards and Gobbo thought it was fine. If you can row almost 7,000 metres on the Thames, you can row 20,000 metres on a Swedish river they seemed to think, Bråkenhielm once said in an interview published in a Swedish rowing magazine.

In September, a week before the race, Oxford arrived at Gothenburg, together with Jumbo Edwards. The local newspaper Göteborgs-Posten paid for the accommodations at the hotel Fars Hatt. When it was time for the race, the Oxford crew had rowed the course several times. When they heard that last year’s winner, the local rowing club Kungälvs Roddklubb, had taken 57 minutes, 25 seconds to complete the race, the Oxfordians joked and said that the Swedish crew probably stayed somewhere along the course to have tea.

Well, first crossing the finish line in the 1954 race was Oxford. The winning time was 1 hour, 2 minutes and 29 seconds – if they stayed along the course for tea, no one knows. Due to different weather and current conditions, it is of course impossible to compare the times from one year to another. The race was followed by around 80,000 spectators, and became an enormous success for the sport of rowing on the west coast of Sweden. Edwards never mentions the trip to Sweden in his The Way of a Man with a Blade (1963), nor has it found its way into books about the history of Oxford rowing. This is quite understandable. After all, this is only a little footnote in the history of the Boat Race.