1902 Encyclopedia > Rowing


ROWING is the act of driving forward or propelling a boat along the surface of the water by means of oars. It is remarkable how scanty, until quite recent times, are the records of this art, which at certain epochs has played no insignificant part in the world's history. It was the oar that brought Phoenician letters and civilization to Greece; it was the oar that propelled the Hellenic fleet to Troy; it was the oar that saved Europe from Persian despotism; it was the skilful use of the oar by free citizens which was the glory of Athens in her prime. It is to be regretted that so little is known of the details connected with it, or of the disposal of the rowers on board the splendid fleet which started in its pride for Sicily, when 17,000 oars at a given signal smote the brine, and 100 long ships raced as far as Aegina. The vessels of the ancient Greeks and Romans—the biremes, quadriremes, quinquiremes, and hexiremes—owed their pace to the exertions of men who plied the oar rather than to the sails with which they were fitted, and which were only used when the wind was favourable. Professor Gardner has shown that boat racing was not uncommon among the Greeks; and that it was practised among the Romans Virgil testifies in the well-known passage in the fifth book of the Atlneid. And the Venetian galleys which were subsequently used on the shores of the Mediterranean in mediaeval times were only a modified form of the older kind of craft. These were for the most part manned by slaves and criminals, and were in constant employment in most European countries.

Boat quintain, or tilting at one another on the water, was first brought into England by the Normans as an amusement for the spring and summer season, and prob-ably much of the success of the champions depended upon the skill of those who managed the boats. Before the beginning of the 12th century the rivers were commonly used for conveying passengers and merchandise on board barges and boats, and until the introduction of coaches they were almost the only means of transit for royalty, and for the nobility and gentry who had mansions and watergates on the banks of the Thames. It is, however, impossible to trace the first employment of bargemen, wherrymen, or watermen, but they seem to have been well established by that time, and were engaged in ferrying and other waterside duties. During the long frosts of the early part of the 13th century, frequent mention is made in the chronicles of the distress among the watermen, from which we may assume that their numbers were large. They were employed in conveying the nobles and their retinues to Runnymede, where they met King John and where Magna Charta was signed. Towards the close of this century the watermen of Greenwich were frequently fined for over-charging at the established ferries, and about the same time some of the city companies established barges for water processions. We learn from Fabian and Middleton that in 1454 "Sir John Norman, then lord mayor of London, built a noble barge at his own expense, and was rowed by watermen with silver oars, attended by such of the city companies as possessed barges, in a splendid manner," and further "that he made the barge he sat in burn on the water"; but there is no explanation of this statement. Sir John Norman was highly commended for this action by the members of the craft, as no doubt it helped to popularize the fashion then coming into vogue of being rowed on the Thames by the watermen who plied for hire in their wherries. The lord mayor's procession by water to Westminster, which figures on the front page of the Illustrated London News, was made annually until the year 1856, when it was discontinued. Rowing was understood by the ancient Britons, as they trusted themselves to the mercy of the waves in coracles composed of wicker-work covered with leather, similar no doubt in many respects to those now used in Wales; but these frail vessels were propelled by paddles and not by oars. The Saxons seem to have been expert in the management of the oar, as well as the Danes and Norwe-gians, as it is recorded that the highest nobles in the land devoted themselves to it. Alfred the Great introduced long galleys from the Mediterranean, which were propelled by forty or sixty oars on each side, and for some time these vessels were used for war purposes. It is stated by William of Malmesbury that Edgar the Peaceable was rowed in state on the river Dee from his palace, in the city of West Chester, to the church of St John and back again, by eight tributary kings, himself acting as coxswain.

The lord mayor's state barge was a magnificent species of shallop rowed by watermen; and the city companies had for the most part barges of their own, all rowed double-banked with oars in the fore half, the after part consisting of a cabin something like that of a gondola. The watermen became by degrees so large and numerous a body that in the sixth year of the reign of Henry VIII. (1514) an Act was passed making regulations for them. This Act has from time to time been amended by various statutes, and the last was passed in 1858. Much time seems to have been spent in pleasuring on the water in the 15th and 16th centuries, and no doubt competitions among the watermen were not uncommon, though there is no record of them. The principal occupation of watermen, who were obliged to serve an apprenticeship, used to be ferrying and rowing fares on the Thames, but in process of time the introduction of bridges and steamers drove them from this employment, and the majority of them now work as bargemen, lightermen, and steamboat hands, having still to serve an apprenticeship. For many years matches for money stakes were frequent (1831 to 1880), but the old race of watermen, of which Phelps, the senior Kelley, Campbell, Coombes, Newell, the MacKinneys, Messenger, Pocock, and Henry Kelley were prominent members, lias almost died out, and some of the best English scullers during the last fifteen years have been landsmen.

Apart from the reference already made to the ancients, we do not find any records of boat-racing before the establishment in England of the coat and badge, insti-tuted by the celebrated comedian Thomas Doggett in 1715, in honour of the house of Hanover, to commemo-rate the anniversary of "King George I.'s happy accession to the throne of Great Britain." The prize was a red coat with a large silver badge on the arm, bearing the white horse of Hanover, and the race had to be rowed on the 1st of August annually on the Thames, by six young watermen who were not to have exceeded the time of their apprentice-ship by twelve months. Although the first contest took place in the year above mentioned, the names of the winners have only been preserved since 1791. The race continues at the present day, but under slight modifica-tions. The first regatta appears to have occurred about sixty years later, for we learn from the Annual Register of the year 1775 that an entertainment called by that name (Ital., regata), introduced from Venice into England, was exhibited on the Thames off Ranelagh Gardens, and a lengthy account of it is given at the end of the work. The lord mayor's and several of the city companies' pleasure barges were conspicuous, and, although we learn very little indeed of the competing wager boats, it seems clear they were rowed by watermen. We find from Strutt's Sports and Pastimes (first published in 1801) that the proprietor of Vauxhall Gardens had for some years given a new wherry to be rowed for by watermen, two in a boat, which is perhaps the first pair-oared race on record. Similar prizes were also given by Astley, the celebrated horseman and circus proprietor of the Westminster Bridge Road, about the same period; but thus far rowing was apparently viewed as a laborious exercise, and the rowers were paid. At the commencement of the present century, however, rowing associations were formed, and the "Star," " Arrow," " Shark," and "Siren" Clubs had races amongst themselves, gene-rally over long courses and in heavy six-oared boats. The Star and Arrow Clubs ceased to exist in the early years of this century, and were merged in the newly formed Leander Club. The date of its establishment cannot be fixed exactly, but it was probably about 1818 or 1819. It ranked high, because the majority of its members had frequently distinguished themselves in matches with the oar and sculls. They were the first to patronize and lend a helping hand to young watermen who showed promise of aquatic fame, and they likewise instituted a coat and badge for scullers.

The first record of public-school racing which can now be seen is the Water Ledger of Westminster School, which commences in the year 1813 with a list of the crew of the six-oared Fly. This craft continued for some time to be the only boat of the school, and in 1816 beat the Temple six-oar in a race from Johnson's Dock to Westminster Bridge by half a length. Eton possessed a fleet of boats in 1811, if not at an earlier date, consisting of a ten-oar and three boats with eight oars. In those days some of the crews had a waterman to pull stroke and drill the crew, but this practice was abolished in 1828, as the waterman frequently rowed a bad stroke and the crew were obliged to subscribe for his day's pay, beer, and clothes ; thenceforward the captain of each crew rowed the stroke-oar. Tho earliest record of a race at Eton is when Mr Carter's four rowed against the watermen and beat them in 1817 ; but the pro-fessionals had a boat too small for them. In 1818 Eton challenged Westminster School to row from Westminster to Kew Bridge against the tide, but the match was stopped by the authorities ; and it was not until 1829 that the first contest between the two schools was brought to an issue.

Rowing appears to have commenced at the universities soon after the beginning of the century, but earlier at Oxford than at Cam-bridge. There were college boats on the river for some time before there were any races. Those first recorded at Oxford were in 1815, said to be college eights, but the boats used are more likely to have been fours, when Brasenose was '' head of the river " and Jesus their chief opponent. These two clubs were constantly rowing races, but they were not very particular about the oarsmen in the boats, as the Brasenose crew in 1824 was composed of two members of the college, a Worcester man, and a waterman. The first authentic records commence in 1836, and the Oxford University Boat Club was established in 1839. At Cambridge eight-oared rowing was not in fashion so soon as at Oxford, the first eight (belonging to St John's College) not having been launched until 1826 ; and between that year and 1829 tho Cambridge University Boat Club was formed. Eight-oared races were established on the Cam in 1827, when First Trinity was "head of the river," and in 1828 the first Oxford and Cambridge University boat race was proposed and fixed for June 10, 1829, on the Thames, from Hamblcdon Lock to Henley Bridge. The race was rowed at intermittent periods up to 1856, since which year it has been annual. In 1830 the amateur championship of the'i'hames was instituted by Mr Henry C. Wingfield, who presented a pair of silver sculls to be rowed for annually by the amateur scullers of the Thames on the 10th August from Westminster to Putney at half flood, but the course and date of the race have been changed since then. The first scullers' race for the professional championship of the Thames was rowed from Westminster to Putney on the 8th September 1831, Charles Campbell of West-minster defeating John Williams of Waterloo Bridge. During the next eight years rowing increased in favour among amateurs, and, as it had taken its proper place among tho national pastimes, and the want of a central spot for a regatta was much felt, Henley-on-Thames was chosen, and it was decided that a regatta should bo held there in 1839, and the Grand Challenge cup for eight oars was established. This has been an annual fixture ever since, prizes being given for four oars, pair oars, and scullers, as well as for eight oars. In 1843 the Royal Thames Regatta was started at Putney, and it gave a gold challenge cup for eight oars and a silver challenge cup for four oars, to be rowed by amateurs. In 1844 Oxford beat Cambridge at this regatta, and in the same year the committee added a champion prize for watermen. About this time the Old Thames Club was established, and they carried off the gold challenge cup by winning it for three years in succession, viz., 1846 to 1848. In 1852 the Argonauts Club first appeared at Henley and won the Visitors' cup, and in 1853 the Royal Chester Rowing Club were successful in the Stewards' cup for four oars, and won the Grand Challenge cup for eight oars the next year. In 1856 the London Rowing Club was established, but those members of it who rowed at Henley were obliged to enter under the name of the Argonauts Club, as, not having been in existence a year, its crew could not compete under its name. The next year, however, they carried off the Grand Challenge cup from Oxford University, and were successful in the Stewards' cup as well. Many more clubs, such as the Kingston, Radley, West London, Twickenham, Thames, Moulsey, and other metropolitan and provincial clubs were subse-quently established, and have met with varied success.

Boats.—The boats of the present day differ very much from those formerly used, and the heavy lumbering craft which alone were known to our forefathers have been superseded by a lighter descrip-tion,—skiffs, gigs, and racing outriggers. The old Thames wherry with its long projecting bow is now seldom seen, and a roomy skiff, often used with a sail when the wind is favourable, has taken its _dace. The gig is an open boat with several strakes, having the row-looks or pieces of wood between which the oar works, fixed upon the gunwale, which is level all round. The skiff is wider and longer than the gig and of greater depth, and, rising higher fore and ait, with rowlocks placed on a curved and elevated gunwale, has greatei carrying power and rows lighter than the gig. The wherry rises high at the bows with a long nose pointed upwards and a very low stern, being consequently unsuited for rough water. The modern racing boat differs much from the foregoing, as its width has been decreased so as to offer as little resistance to the water as possible, while it is propelled by oars working between rowlocks fixed on projecting iron rods and cross pieces which are made fast to the timbers. These rods and cross pieces are rigged out from the side of the boats, and hence the term outriggers. These boats are constructed for single scullers, for pairs, for fours, for eights, and occasionally for twelve oars. The outrigger was first brought to perfection by tho late Henry Clasper of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who is generally believed to have been its inventor; but the first outriggers, which were only rude pieces of wood fastened on the boat's sides, were used in 1828, and were fixed to a boat at Ouseburn-on-Tyne. The first iron outriggers were affixed to a boat in 1830 at Dents' Hole on Tyne. In 1844 Clasper, who had been improving upon these inventions, made his first boat of the kind and brought her to London ; but her outriggers were only 8 inches in length, and she was built of several strakes, with a small keel. In process of time keels were dispensed with, the outriggers were lengtheued, and the skin of the boat is now composed of a single strake ot cedar planed very thin and bent by means of hot water to take the form of the timbers of the boat. It is fastened by copper nails to curved timbers of ash, one extremity of which is fixed into the keelson while the other is made fast to long pieces of deal that run from end to end of the boat and are called inwales. The timbers in the middle are thicker than the rest, so as to support the iron outriggers which are fastened to them, and the thwart, which is wider than it used to be in order to carry the sliding seat, which works backward and forward with the oarsman, is screwed to the inwales. This seat moves to and fro on rollers made of steel, wood, or brass, and travels over a distance varying from 12 to 6 inches according to the judgment of the instructor. The sliding seat seems to have been the invention of an American oarsman, who fixed one to a sculling boat in 1857, but it was not until 1870 that he had mastered the principles sufficiently to discover how much was gained mechanically and physically. The value of the improvement is now universally recognized, but it was some little time before it was understood and came into general use. The members of the London Rowing Club, who defeated the representatives of the New York Atalanta Club at Putney in June 1872, used sliding seats, and the club also had them fitted to their eight, which easily carried off the Grand Challenge cup at Henley a few days after-wards. In 1873 the sliding seat was adopted by the crews rowing in the University boat race. The Americans have also the credit of two other inventions, viz., the steering apparatus, which enables a crew to dispense with a coxswain, and the swivel rowlock ; but, though the former is now fitted to the majority of non-coxswain pairs and fours, the use of the latter is confined for the most part to sculling boats. In outrigged eights, fours, and pairs the outriggers are placed, one for each thwart, at each side alternately, but in gigs, skiffs, wherries, and funnies they are placed opposite one another, so as to be used on either side at discretion. The oars generally vised are about 12 feet long, varying with the width of the boat, and sculls are as much as 10 feet long.

Directions for Rowing.—In modern rowing the oarsman, grasping the handle of the oar with both hands, sits forward on the edge of his seat, stretches out his arms until they are fully extended—tho blade of the oar being, just previous to entering the water, at right angles to its surface. It is then dipped into the water just so far as to cover it, and the handle pulled towards the oarsman's body, the weight 'of the latter being thrown backward at the same time, so as to make one movement, and the legs pressed hard against the stretcher, and the handle finally pulled home to the chest with the arms, the elbows being allowed to pass the sides until the handle of the oar just touches the lower extremity of the breast. The blade of the oar thus appears to be forced through the water, but in reality this is very slightly the case, as the water, which is the fulcrum, remains almost immovable. In sculling, the operation is the same except that the sculler has a scull in each hand.and drives the boat himself, whereas a man rowing an oar must have one or more com-rades to assist him. Rowing is made up of two parts, the stroke and the feather. Feathering is turning the oar at the end of the stroke by lowering tho hands and dropping the wrists, thus bringing the flat blade of the oar parallel with the surface of the water, and is generally considered to include the driving forward of the handle of the oar and the consequent carrying back of the blade previous to the beginning of a new stroke.

When prepared to embark, the pupil should lay his oar on the water if an outside or upon the land if a shoreside oar, and step into the boat with his face to the stern, when he should at once seat himself and ship his oar, and then try the length of his stretcher to see that it suits his length of leg. This arranged, he should proceed to settle himself firmly upon his thwart, sitting quite square and upright but not too near the edge of it, because if so the chances are that the lower part of the back will not be straight, a.nd if his seat is not firm he cannot aid in balancing the boat. He should sit about three quarters of the thwart aft in an ordinary racing boat, about an inch and a half from the edge, and he must he exactly opposite the handle of his oar. His feet must be planted firmly against the stretcher and immediately opposite his body and oar,—the heel as well as the ball of the foot pressing against the stretcher, and the two heels close together with the toes wide apart, so as to keep the knees open and separate. Of course if the pupil sits fair and square, and immediately opposite the handle of his oar, he will be at one side and not in the centre of the boat. The stretcher, it may be added, should be as short as possible con-veniently for clearing the knees and for exercising complete control over the oar. The body should be upright, not bent forward and sunk down upon the trunk ; the shoulders should be thrown back, the chest out, and the elbows down close alongside the flanks. The oar should be held firmly, but withal lightly, in both hands, not clutched and cramped as in a vice—the outside hand close to the end of the handle, with the fingers above and the thumb underneath it, and the inside hand, or that nearest the body of the oar, from an inch and a half to 2 inches away from its fellow, but grasping the oar more convexly than the latter, the thumb being kept under-neath. The forearms should be below the level of the handle, and the wrists dropped and relaxed, the oar lying flat and feathered upon the surface of the water. The diverse positions of the two hands and wrists enable the oar to be wielded with greater facility than if they were alike, and allow both arms to be stretched out perfectly straight, a crooked arm being perhaps the least pardonable fault in rowing. In taking the stroke the body should be inclined forwards with the backbone straight, the stomach well out and down between the legs, the chest forward and elevated as much as possible. The knees must be pressed slightly outwards; and the shoulders should come moderately forward, but perfectly level, and at an equal height. The arms should play freely in the shoulder joints, and should be perfectly straight from the shoulders to the wrists ; the action of the hips also should be free. The inside wrist, however, must be somewhat raised, and the outside one be bent slightly round, in order that the knuckles may be parallel to the oar, and the oar itself be firmly grasped with both hands, not with the tips of the fingers but with the whole of the fingers well round it, and each one feeling the handle distinctly; the knuckles of the thumbs should be about an inch and a half or 2 inches apart. In reaching forward the hands should be shot out straight from the body without the least pause, and as soon as the oar has passed the knees the wrists should be raised to bring the blade at right angles to the water preparatory to dipping it, and when the arms are at their extreme limit, which will be just over the stretcher, the oar should be struck down firmly and decisively into the water until covered up to the shoulder, and the weight of the body be thrown entirely upon it, by which the beginning of the stroke is caught, and the stroke itself pulled through; in a word, the pupil should, as it were, knit himself up, and then spring back like a bow when the string is loosened, bringing the muscles of his back and legs into play. The stroke should be finished with the arms and shoulders, the elbows being kept close to the sides, and the shoulders down and back, the head still up, and the chest out, and the oar itself be brought straight home to the chest, the knuckles touching the body about an inch or less below the bottom of the breast bone where the ribs branch off; when there the hands should be dropped down and then turned over, and shot out again close along the legs, the body following at once. Care should likewise be taken not to lessen the force applied to the oar as the stroke draws to a conclu-sion, but to put the whole strength of the arms and shoulders into the finish of the stroke, where it will naturally diminish quite fast enough, as the oar forms an obtuse angle with that portion of the boat before the rowlock. To effect a quick recovery the back must be kept straight, the knees must not be dropped too low, and the muscles of the body, especially of the stomach, must be used to enable the pupil to get forward for the next stroke. At the same time, no matter how minute and precise written instructions may be, they can never impart the knowledge that can be picked up by watching the actions of an accomplished oarsman for the space of five minutes ; hence the imperative necessity of a practical exponent of the principles of the art in contradistinction to a merely theoretical " coach."

The foregoing are the essentials of rowing, and have been given at some length and in detail as the motions are necessarily very com-plicated. The operations are much the same whether a person be rowing on a fixed or sliding seat, but a novice should be taught to row on a fixed seat, and he will afterwards be easily able to acquire the art of sliding, which may soon be done from following the accompanying directions. The oarsman, in getting forward, should extend his arms to their full length, and with the assistance of the straps on the stretcher, simultaneously draw himself as close up to the latter as he can, his knees beingislightly and symmetri-cally opened, and the body reached forward as much as possible, the back being kept quite straight. On catching hold of the water, the knees must be gradually straightened and the body thrown back, the two actions going on simultaneously, so that the legs are straight out by the time the stroke is finished and not before, the body and shoulders at the end of the stroke being thrown well back. The body is then recovered to the upright position from the hips, the hands thrown forward, and by the timo they are just past the knees the body is being drawn forward, and the knees bent. The motion then begins the same as before. (E. D. B.)

Boat-Racing in America.—This pastime can be traced back to the beginning of the present century. The earliest important affair was in 1811,—a sectional match, New York City against all Long Island, four-oared barges, with coxswains, from Harsimus, New Jersey, to the flag-staff on the Battery. New York won easily, and such was the popular enthusiasm over the race that its boat, the " Knickerbocker, was suspended in a public museum, where it remained for fifty-four years, a constant recipient of public admira-tion until destroyed by fire in July 1865. Since this historic con-test no year has been without boat races. At that time the words amateur and professional were unknown on the water ; the Castle Garden Amateur Boat Club Association—America's first avowedly amateur club—was founded in 1834.

There had been informal clubs and desultory racing at Yale College as early as 1833, but the first regular organization was in March 1843. Harvard followed in September 1844, and Yale and Harvard first met on the water at Lake Winnepiseogee, New Hampshire, August 3, 1852 ; since 1878 they have met annually at New London, Conn. In 1865 Harvard, Yale, Trinity, and Brown formed the Union College Regatta Association, which lasted three years. The Racing Association of American Colleges, which at one time included sixteen colleges, died in 1876. In 1883 Bowdoin, Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Rutgers, University of Pennsylvania, and Wesleyan formed the Intercollegiate Racing Association, which still flourishes and gives annual regattas.

The control of amateur racing in America belongs to the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, founded in 1873, whose member-ship includes all the better class of amateur boat clubs. Its management is vested in an Executive Committee of nine members, three of whom are elected at each annual meeting of the association. The rulings of this committee are subject to review, approval, or reversal, at each annual meeting of the full association. This association gives an annual open amateur regatta, similar to the Royal Henley Regatta in being the chief aquatic event of the year, but unlike it in not being rowed always on the same course, but moving about from year to year—having, since 1873, been rowed at Philadelphia, Newark, Troy, and Watkins (N.Y.), Detroit, Washington, and Boston. There are in the United States eleven regularly organized amateur rowing associations, formed by the union of amateur rowing clubs and giving each year one or more regattas. These associations are the National Association of Amateur Oarsmen, the North-Western Amateur Rowing Association, the Mississippi Yalley Amateur Rowing Association, the Passaic River Amateur Rowing Association, the Intercollegiate Rowing Association, the Harlem Regatta Association, the Louisiana State Amateur Rowing Association, the Virginia State Rowing Associa-tion, the Schuylkill Navy, the Upper Hudson Navy, and the Kill von Kull Regatta Association. At English regattas it is usual to start three boats in a heat, sometimes four, five being the utmost limit, whereas at Saratoga, in the great regattas of 1874 and 1875, there were started abreast, in four separate races, eleven singles (twice), thirteen coxswainless fours, and thirteen coxswainless sixes,

The primary division of American racing craft is into (a) lap-streaks or clinkers, built of wood in narrow streaks with overlapping edges at eaeh joint, and (V) smooth bottoms, made of wood or paper, and having a fair surface, without projecting joint or seam. Lap-streak boats are, however, now rarely used save in barge races. Then follows the subdivision into barges, which are open inrigged boats, gigs, which are open outrigged boats, and shells, which are covered outrigged boats. These three classes of boats are further subdivided, in accordance with the means of propulsion, into single, double, and quadruple sculling boats, and pair-, four-, six-, and eight-oared boats. In America the double-scull is more frequent than the pair, and the six-oar much more common than the eight-oar.

The sliding seat is now being gradually superseded by various styles of rolling seats, in which the actual seat travels backward and forward on frictionless wheels or balls. The best of these de-vices run more easily, are cleaner, and less liable to accident than the ordinary sliding seat. English oarsmen use the sliding seat as a means of making their old accustomed stroke longer and more powerful. American oarsmen hold that what is needed by an oars-man is not the addition of the long slide to the old-fashioned long swing, but the almost total substitution of slide for swing, the transfer of the labour from hack to legs—in fact, a totally new style.

The above article was written by: Edwin D. Brickwood.

Search the Encyclopedia:

About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us

© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries