R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

The complete oarsman online

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will be found that this invariably prevents them bringing


their slides right up. The correct position, we think, is to
bring the knees just outside the arms, touching them, in fact.

" I have said that all parts of the stroke should be blended.
There should be no distinct or separate actions, and no pause
at any part of the stroke. The points at which one often sees
a break in the stroke are, I think, (i) after the catch, when
the blade is dropped into the water, and then a tug made with
the shoulders ; this is making two bites of it, instead of driving
it through in one piece as already described ; (2) when the
drop of the knuckles and shooting of the hands over the knees
are made two actions ; and (3) when the shoulders are lifted
up over the slide and then checked until the legs come into

At the end of the pamphlet is printed the following :


i. The Seat

Sit on the buttocks (not in " the tail "), adjust the stretcher
so that when you slide right forward you can touch the front
chocks with ease. When the slide is right back, the legs are
still a little bent. Sit square, plant the feet square and
hands square.

2. The Grip of the Oar

Grip the oar with the hands about three inches apart.
Grip with the fingers not with the palms of the hands
thumbs underneath.

Grip firmly, but not rigidly. A rigid grip causes cramp
in the forearm.

3. To Reach Out

Bring the slide right forward against the chocks. When
the slide is in this position, the body should have swung so
far forward from the hips (with the arms straight) that the
blade of the oar is well ahead of the poppet i.e. reach well


out, but without screwing the body round after the oar

4. To Catch

Keep the arms straight and lift the shoulders smartly
from the hips, throwing the whole weight of the body on to
the oar. At the same time press the feet firmly against the
stretcher and do not move the slide until the body has swung
back just beyond the perpendicular. Grip the water exactly
where the blade is when you are right out.

5. To Drive

Almost, but not quite, simultaneously with the catch,
drive both feet against the stretcher as vigorously as possible.
As the slide is thus being driven back, keep the arms
straight and continue to swing back from the hips (without

This brings into action at the same time the full strength
of the legs, the back, and the loins.

6. To Finish

When the slide has reached the back chocks, bend the
arms and rip the hands home to the body as hard and as fast
as you can the root of the thumb against the ribs. Let the
elbows pass close to the sides of the body.

While bringing the hands home, keep the abdominal
muscles firm so as to prevent the body from sinking away or
rolling (i.e. " sit up at the finish ").

7. To Recover

The instant the root of the thumbs touch the ribs drop the
hands and forearm from the elbows sufficiently to lift the
blade clear of the water. Turn on the feather and drive the
hands right out until the arms are quite straight. Do not
turn on feather until the hands have been dropped. Swing


the shoulders up after the hands until the shoulders are just
past the perpendicular.

Then start the slide forward. As the slide is coming
forward continue to swing the body forward from the hips.
Control both slide and body on the recovery (i) by keeping
the feet pressed against the stretcher, and (2) by pressing the
button of the oar against the poppet.

Raise the hands gradually while coming forward (to
counteract the swinging down of the body) and keep the
blade of the oar close to the water. Turn off the feather
gradually when nearing the end of the swing forward.

Throughout the recovery keep the shoulders braced
firmly down and back, particularly when about to catch.

The moment the slide touches the forward chocks, without
the slightest pause lift the shoulders sharply, cover the blade,
and thus begin the next stroke.


Keep the blades perfectly square and just covered from
the catch to the finish.

The drive should follow the catch so quickly that only one
movement is apparent, otherwise there will be a break in the

At the finish, the dropping of the hands, shooting them
out, and bringing the shoulders up past the perpendicular
should be blended so as to appear almost as the one

It is most important that the recovery should be steady,
and that the body should swing from the hips straight for-
wards and backwards along the line of the keel.

At the finish avoid swinging so far back that it is a
decided effort to bring the shoulders up again to the

The toe-straps may be used to slightly assist the early
part of the recovery.

Any one who compares these instructions with those I


have already given in Chapter VI. will notice that there is no
essential difference between the Australian theories and our
own. There is, perhaps, a danger in their method of catching
the beginning. Sufficient stress is not, I think, laid on the
light and delicate hand-play which enables the blade to
seize the water as the body lifts itself back. To enforce a
beginning merely by the lift of the shoulders entails a risk
that the blade will travel some distance through the air
before striking the water, and that the result will be a false
beginning. The hand-play of which I have spoken may
almost be considered as a continuation of the reach and it
ensures the proper immersion of the blade at the extreme
limit of that reach. One other point of difference I must
mention : I doubt the wisdom of telling a man, as No. 6 of the
synopsis tells him, " to rip the hands home to the body as
hard and as fast as he can." This tearing kind of action
almost inevitably results in the blades being only partially
covered at the last part of the stroke. It is enough, I think,
having insisted in the hard beginning, to tell a man not to
relax pressure towards the finish, otherwise I have no excep-
tion to take to the very valuable exposition of theories and
instructions contained in the New South Wales pamphlet.


In Germany, France, and Holland the sport is enthusi-
astically followed, and attracts an increasing number of
votaries. In Germany the great regattas at Berlin, Hamburg,
and Frankfurt are always able to command a large number
of entries. The Germans, having tested the matter, still
continue, as we do, to use fixed rowlocks, and their general
ideas on rowing are not to be distinguished from our own,
though, in common with other continental amateurs, they use
longer slides. The crew of the Berliner Ruder Club, which
rowed at Cork in 1902, was a formidable combination,
marred only by two faults. They were short forward and
went too far back. Thus their finish was rendered weak,


their recovery was unduly exhausting, and their beginning
was not taken far enough behind the rigger.

The French we have not recently seen, owing to an un-
fortunate difference of opinion (now, I believe, in process of
adjustment) between their governing body and the Stewards
of Henley as to the amateur qualification.

The oarsmanship of the Dutch, if I may judge from crews
they have sent to Henley, is similar in its fundamental ideas
to that of the Belgians.


After Cambridge had defeated Harvard in September,
1906, a controversy arose as to the relative value of the style
and the rig adopted by the two crews. A well-known oars-
man had committed himself to the statements that Harvard
were in reality faster than Cambridge, that Harvard gained
great advantage by using swivel rowlocks and long slides,
and that they failed to beat Cambridge because they did not
understand how to make the most of their strength or how
to race, and because their boat was a bad one. I took excep-
tion to these statements, and as the controversy raises
important points, I will venture to repeat here the substance
of what I said at the time.

" Both crews rowed in the race pretty much as they might
have been expected to row by those who had watched their
practice from day to day. Harvard, no doubt, moved best
at a slow stroke, but during the race, as during practice, it
seemed to me that, stroke for stroke, Cambridge had the
superiority in pace. At any rate, I have the race as evidence of

pace over the whole course ; Mr. X has nothing in the way

of evidence to support him. Not even a prophet is entitled to
ask us to believe that a defeated crew is faster than its con-
querors merely because it did not happen to win a race in
which both had equal opportunities of showing their best pace
under the same conditions. Now as to details. I will take
first the question of swivel rowlocks. Mr. X justly says


that there is nothing new under the sun, and that swivel
rowlocks are not unknown in England. I have myself rowed
with swivel rowlocks in an eight and a pair long before Mr.

X had even thought of beginning his distinguished

career as an oarsman. Since then I have watched their use
by others very carefully, and I am persuaded that, for eight-
oared rowing at any rate, the old fixed rowlock is superior.
It makes precision and uniformity easier both to attain and
to maintain. The rigid support of the thole at the beginning
is invaluable. The combined click which, as it were, locks
the oars together as they leave the water and are turned for
the feather has advantages equally great and equally obvious.
I am convinced, too, that with a fixed rowlock it is easier to
shoot the hands away quickly. No man's reach has ever been
curtailed by a fixed rowlock, for in rowing there is a point
beyond which, with the outside arm crossing the body, it is
impossible and would be disadvantageous to reach. Fixed
rowlocks do not make this point more difficult of attainment
than do swivels. Indeed, I have [noticed that most crews
rowing with swivels (I am not now referring to the Harvard
crew) swung forward less and reached less than the best of
our English crews using fixed rowlocks. I am, of course,
aware that the London R.C. have for some time used a
Lowe swivel, which gives the oarsman a fixed rowing pin,
but this obviates only one half of the disadvantages which,
in my judgment, are inherent in swivels. Oxford used the
same sort of device in 1902, and have never used it since.

" I pass now to Mr. X 's other point, the length of

slides. The Cambridge crew slid 16 inches, the Harvard crew
slid 21 inches. In both cases the starting-point of the slide
was on a level with the work, i.e. a line drawn straight across
the boat from the rowing pin would have passed along the
front edge of the slide in the forward position. It is obvious,
therefore, that the Americans finished 5 inches further away
from their work than Cambridge, and in order to enable a
man to use this length of slide his stretcher (or clogs) would
have to be fixed 5 inches closer to his thwart than would be


the case with a man using a slide of only 16 inches. Any
practical oarsman will realise that, owing to the diminution
by 5 inches of the space between his heels and his seat,
the American oarsman must necessarily at the full reach
have been in a more cramped and tucked-up position than
his English antagonist. In order to counteract this dis-
advantage, the Americans greatly decreased the rake of
their stretchers. Their clogs looked as if they were almost
parallel with the keelson. They had realised that in no other
way could even the supplest oarsman attain a proper extent
of forward swing and reach on a 2i-inch slide. It follows
manifestly that, with these depressed supports for their feet,
the Americans were at a very great disadvantage in driving
backwards at the beginning of the stroke, in continuing their
drive throughout the stroke, and particularly towards the
finish of the stroke, when, owing to the peculiar position of
their stretcher, they had no genuine foot support at all. As
a matter of fact, the points of their rowing which struck all
qualified observers were these: A defective beginning, in
which body work was conspicuously absent, and a wavering,
sloppy finish, followed by a very dirty and uncertain extrac-
tion of the oars from the water. These faults were, I am
convinced, very largely due to the stretcher position necessi-
tated by their extreme length of slide. I notice with some

amusement that, although Mr. X grows almost lyrical in

his enthusiasm for the length of the American slides as com-
pared with the 1 6-inch of the Englishmen, he only advises us
to shorten our stretchers by 2 inches. According to his
previous statements, we should thus wantonly sacrifice three
magnificent pace-producing inches ! One of the Harvard
oarsmen, who in the week following the race had had an
outing in an English-rigged boat, himself told me that what
had chiefly struck him was the freedom and strength of the
position attained by the body and the legs at the full reach
by our method, which he held, for the reason I have given,
to be greatly preferable to the rig with which he had been
rowing in the Harvard eight. With this rig, if the oarsmen


are not to be impeded by catching their calves against the
thwarts long before they have finished sliding back, they are
forced to adopt certain calf-saving devices. One of these is
to raise their seats above the thwarts on 2-inch wheels ; the
other is to slope the slide track. Yet Mr. X , while advo-
cating these long slides, denounces one of the two devices
which are intended to make long slides practicable. For my
own part, though I prefer the Sims ship, I do not think so

badly of the Harvard ship as Mr. X does. She was

built by Davey, an Englishman living in Cambridge, Mass.,
and was built, as to her bluffness, strictly according to orders,
the rowing authorities at Harvard being convinced that a
boat with a bluff entry is better adapted for speed than a
boat with a fine entry. Her bow wave was certainly startling,
but I think she held her way remarkably well and evenly.
Out of the water she did not look so pretty as Sims's new

boat, but appearances are deceptive, as Mr. A found

when he backed the English boat for lightness against the
American, only to find that the English boat was 15 Ibs.
heavier. Had this test not been made, I am inclined to

think we should have had Mr. X denouncing the

American boat, not as a mere cockle-shell, but as a
ponderous tub.

" I agree with Mr. X when he insists on quickness of

wrist and arm action on the recovery as essential to good
rowing. Cambridge were in this respect by no means perfect.
Harvard were conspicuously quicker, but some part of their
quickness they had attained by sacrificing the finish of their
stroke, which they tore in in a very ugly and ineffective fashion.
Cambridge coaches are just as much concerned as any others
to impart this quickness to their pupils, and their efforts in
the last few years have met with a great measure of success,
but there is still room for improvement, as every Cambridge
coach would acknowledge.

" Finally, I may sum up by saying that, in my opinion,
the result of this race does not justify English oarsmen in
abandoning either their traditional style or the rig which makes


that style possible. The Harvard men were heavier than our
men, and of a stronger physique ; yet they suffered defeat.
Style and rig are closely associated, and if you change the
latter you will inevitably have to modify the former. No
amount of special pleading can make this race anything
but a triumph for the English style, and therefore for the
English rig."




Q CULLING, in its essentials, does not differ from rowing,
O and it is a fact which has often been too little recognised
that the ideal style for an eight if considerations of con-
venience be excepted, such as the desirability in eight-oared
rowing of emphasising particular parts of the stroke, so as
to give the members of the crew a better opportunity of
performing all their motions simultaneously that this ideal
style for an eight would probably also be found to be that
which is most conducive to the greatest pace of a sculling
boat. Within recent years, this fact has become more
generally recognised, and scullers have admittedly achieved
better results in adopting the long swing and the method of
using the slide, which, in English rowing, at all events, have
been universally recognised as producing the fastest pace of
the boat, together with the necessary husbanding of the
strength, so as to ensure its holding out over a given lapse
of time.

A single sculling boat does not differ in kind from a
racing eight so much as to make it likely that such a thing
as the habit of kicking away the slide at the beginning of
the stroke, which was in vogue among some professional
scullers a few years back, should be good in a single sculler
while it is admittedly bad in an eight ; and, while it must be
admitted that slight differences will be noticeable between
the styles of an ideal sculler and an ideal oarsman in the
motions they both perform in common, i.e. swing, use of slide,
etc., it cannot be too strongly insisted that what differences


appear are differences of degree, and are caused by the
complication of the problem in rowing, in the fact that the
perfect style must have certain marked points, which will
enable all eight oarsmen to go through their motions

The Functions of Style in Sculling

The functions of a perfect style in sculling are twofold.
(A) The most effective use of the weight and strength of the
sculler for a continuous application of both in those parts of
the stroke which propel the boat, i.e. when the blades are in
the water. (B) The accomplishment of those motions, whose
function it is to prepare the body for the next propelling
part of the stroke, with the least possible expenditure of
strength, and yet with as great a celerity as is compatible,
not only with the necessity for some recuperation of the wind
and muscles, but with the almost greater desirability that,
when these motions are completed, the body shall be under
sufficient control to start once more upon the propelling
portion of the stroke without loss of time.

Position when Full Fonvard

(A) At the beginning of the stroke the body and slide
are as far forward as they can go without undue strain ; the
stomach well down between the legs, the arms straight, and
the chest as far forward as such a position will allow. This
latter particular as to the chest is important, since, if the chest
is maintained in its ordinary extended posture, it will prevent
a fault, known as the overreaching of the shoulders, in the
effort to get as far forward as possible. Such extra length as
is obtained by this forward movement of the shoulders is
valueless, for not only are the arms thus thrown into a less
natural position for the delicate task of slipping the blades
into the water without loss of time, but, since in some portion



of the backward swing of the body the shoulders must regain
their normal position in order to obtain a firm and powerful
finish, and as the muscles which control their forward and
upward movement are not in themselves powerful, this
righting of them during the backward swing can only result
in a weakening of the grip of the blades on the water, and
extra length is obtained at the more serious loss of the steady
and uniform pressure which should be exerted on both blades
equally throughout the entire backward swing.

When the body is full forward in the position just described
the blades of the sculls should be at right angles to the water
and not more than half an inch from the surface at the same
angle in which they will presently be when in the water
itself.* Since it is obviously important that no force exerted for
the propulsion of the boat should be without its effect on the
water, this close proximity of the blades to the surface just
before the beginning of the stroke is occasioned by the
desirability that they shall have the minimum of distance to
travel in dropping to their proper level, and that they shall
not still be in the act of descending when the legs and body
have already begun their pressure. This latter is a common
enough fault, and, with regard to it, it is no exaggeration to
say that, if two scullers were equal in all points of form and
strength, with the exception that one of them obtained a grip
of the water instantaneously with his leg and body pressure,
whereas the other " skyed " his blades some 9 inches above

* It should be observed, with reference to the position of the blades as just
described, that some professional scullers do not turn their blades off the feather
until they are in the act of taking the water in fact it can best be described by
saying that their blades are not off the feather until they are in the water. That
such professionals command considerable pace cannot be denied, and no doubt
some advantage is gained in sculling against a head wind by their not offering the
flats of the blades as a resistance to it ; but each stroke they scull is shorter by
half the breadth of the blade (say 3 inches) than it would be if their blades were
upright, since the blade so manipulated cuts into the water at the point the
rearmost part of it reaches when full forward, whereas if upright it would take
the water half its own breadth further forward. These three extra inches may
not seem much gain in a single stroke, but their value will be appreciable when
the number of strokes mounts into hundreds.


the water just before dropping them into it, the difference in
pace between their respective boats over the Henley course
(i mile 550 yards) would be from 3 to 4 lengths.

The Beginning

We now come to the much-disputed question of the
sculling "beginning." Within recent years, when a crew of
eight-oarsmen has displayed the fault of " oiling-in " to the
water and has not obtained the instantaneous grip of the
water to which all the strength of the body and legs should
be applied, it has been the habit of rowing critics to term
their " beginning " a sculler's " beginning," and a belief has
consequently arisen that such a " beginning " is the one to be
aimed at in a sculling-boat. The truth is that any hesitation
at the beginning of the stroke, or failure to obtain an in-
stantaneous grip of the water is no less fatal in a sculling-boat
than in an eight-oar, and that the "beginning" in either case
is essentially the same, though it may not appear to be so.
So much doubt still exists on this point that it is worth while
to discuss some of the considerations which lead to a belief in
the identity of the two "beginnings."

The desirability in an eight-oar of applying all the strength
the moment the blade enters the water, and of never relaxing
the grip so firmly obtained throughout the entire stroke, is
admittedly one of the ideals of English oarsmen, and the
object aimed at in so doing is to take the utmost advantage
of every moment during which the blade is in the water, as
well as that no strength intended to propel the boat shall be
without its effect on the water. If this makes for speed in an
eight, what reason is there to suppose that it will not be so
effective in a sculling-boat ? The reason given by some, that
the violence of an eight-oared " beginning " would have the
effect of causing such a small boat as a single-sculler to
bounce up and down in the water, and so take off from the
uniform pace with which it has been found that all boats
travel their fastest, cannot be considered really a cogent




reason when it is borne in mind that a single-sculler in
proportion to the weight of its single occupant, is only a very
few pounds lighter than an eight-oar is in proportion to its
eight oarsmen, so that whatever violent motions all eight
oarsmen perform together should have just as disturbing
an effect on a racing eight as the similar violent motions of
the sculler on his boat. To " bounce " the boat at any part
of the stroke is undoubtedly a fault of style in any boat, and
it must not be forgotten that the best eight-oared crews

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 13 of 39)