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this course to be adopted, and that was at Cork, in 1902,
for the International eight-oared races. I cannot say that
I think the experiment justified itself, and I strongly advise
every Umpire to act as starter.

The usual and convenient method for ranging the com-
petitors in their places is to have punts moored at the
different stations, with a waterman in each punt to hold fast to
the stern of his boat until the word " Go " is given. Before
the racing begins, the Umpire ought to satisfy himself that these
punts are firmly moored in line, and, after he has so satisfied
himself, no change whatever must be made in their position.

The crews or scullers being thus ranged at the start, the
umpire must tell them how he means to start them. Law I.,
though it undertakes to say how this should be done, hardly
fulfils its promise. These are its terms. "All boat-races
shall be started in the following manner : The starter, on
being satisfied that the competitors are ready, shall give
the signal to start." The starter (umpire) is thus left
pretty much to his own devices. Let him remember that
he is dealing with men in a state of high nervous tension,



264 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

and let him, therefore, speak to them deliberately, calmly,
and firmly, as if, in fact, the start of a race was the most
ordinary thing in the world. The best formula, I think, is
the following: "I shall say, 'Are you ready?' once. If I
receive no answer, I shall say, ' Go ' " (or, " I shall fire the
pistol," as the case may be). "If you are not ready, please
shout very loudly." Thereupon he can warn them to come
forward, and then, after a pause, say, " Are you ready ? "

Now comes the question as to the length of interval that
the umpire ought to allow between this question and his
actual starting signal. In the boat-racing agreements between
American Colleges it is generally laid down that the starter
shall fire the pistol " after an interval of not less than three,
or more than five, seconds." For my own part I cannot
conceive that any English crew could keep its patience under
the strain of a five seconds' pause, and I am certain that no
English umpire would think of waiting so long. An interval
varying from two to three seconds as a maximum is, I think,
normal with English umpires. To run the starting signal
into the " Are you ready ? " is, of course, highly dangerous, as
a rule, for the starter who does this allows himself no chance
for checking an obviously false start. Yet there may be
circumstances that almost compel an umpire to adopt this
method occasionally. If, for instance, there is a strong side
wind which has compelled the bow and stern oars to fret
themselves by constant paddling and backing it would be
absurd for a starter, out of a pedantic regard for a theoreti-
cally fixed limit, to wait and see the boats blown oflf the
straight line which they have laboriously attained. In such
a case he will be justified, after duly warning the crews, in
getting them off as promptly as possible. But in general a
starter ought to allow some such interval as I have suggested.
There is a psychological moment for the start, and experience
will soon teach him to choose this. The starter must always
keep before his eyes the possibility of a false start, and the
absolute necessity of checking it promptly and decisively. No
amount of inconvenience and delay ought to deter him from






THE LAWS OF BOAT-RACING 265

recalling to its station a crew which has started before the
signal, even when the advantage taken can be measured by
the merest fraction of a second. Nothing creates in a law-
abiding crew a deeper and a more justifiable sense of injustice
and resentment than the sight of their rivals slipping away
from them before the race has been started. Law IV. gives
the starter ample power : " If the starter," it declares, " con-
siders the start false, he shall at once recall the boats to their
stations, and, any boat refusing to start again, or persistently
starting before the signal, shall be liable to be disqualified by
the umpire." Where the umpire and the starter are, as is
usual, one and the same person, there can be no difficulty as
to dealing with a premature starter.

There is, however, another case. Let me suppose that
crew A duly starts at the signal and that crew B for some
reason or another remains at the post. What is the starter to
do then ? Strictly speaking, if no protesting shout has come
from crew B, or if the umpire has heard no such shout, he
would be justified in letting crew A continue on its course,
and in allowing the race to be awarded to it. That, as I say,
is a strict statement of the matter. For purposes of practical
justice it ought, I think, to be qualified. The starter, though
he has not heard a protest, may see at once that there are
circumstances which would have justified a protest, which,
indeed, render it likely that such a protest may have been
actually made, and which, finally, make the start a manifestly
false one. For example, there may have been at the last
moment a sudden gust of wind from which crew A was
protected, but which blew crew B off its course, and rendered
it necessary for the men in that crew to make frantic efforts,
by paddling and backing, to restore their boat to its true line
just as the starter was preparing to give, or as he actually did
give, the signal. Such being their position they would not
start, and, even if they shouted, the starter might not hear
them before he ordered them to go. In this case I am sure a
starter would do well to consider the start false, to recall
crew A, and to start the race again.



266 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

Obviously, however, the circumstances I am suggesting
must be something much more than mere carelessness and
inattention on the part of the crew which remains at the post.
A celebrated example, the Leander-Cornell fiasco at Henley
in 1895, will serve to illustrate my meaning. At the time
appointed for the start of the race a fresh wind was blowing
across the river from the Bucks, shore. Cornell on the Bucks,
station were under the lee of the bank, and were not affected
by the wind. They had no difficulty about maintaining their
proper position. Leander, on the other hand, were constantly
being blown off the straight by the wind, and consequently
Nos. 2 and 4 had to keep paddling while Nos. 7 and 5 were
backing water to restore the boat to its true position. They
were thus occupied during the short interval between the
question and the signal. They shouted in protest, but the
starter said, " Go." Cornell went at once. One or two of
the men in the Leander crew gave a scrambling stroke.
. Stroke had raised his right hand to protest, and he and the
remaining men made no attempt to move. Under the
impulse of the scramble of the one or two the boat drifted
half a length from the starting point and there remained,
pointing towards the tail of the island. Now it is quite
certain that the Leander men or some of them shouted. They
themselves were emphatic on the point, and their " No " was
heard both by spectators gathered in boats near the start, and
by some representatives of the Press who were seated in the
stern of the starting launch. But it is equally certain that the
starter did not hear the shout. Nor was it heard by his
colleague, who was standing close to him in the bows of the
launch. The starter declared that he had allowed his usual
interval of about three seconds, and, hearing no protest, had
given the word to go. He remained for some little time at
the start, and then steamed after the Cornell crew, who, having
completed the course, were returned as winners of the heat.
The starter had concluded that the failure of Leander to start
was due to some bungle on their part of which they must
bear the consequences. I do not attempt to blame him for



:



THE LAWS OF BOAT-RACING 267

this decision, though I still think that the better course would
have been to consider the start a false one.*

I pass from this to consider the difficult questions of " a
boat's proper course " and " fouls."

According to the Laws of Boat-racing, as they existed
before the revision of 1905, a boat's own water was defined as
its due course parallel to that of the other competing boats
from start to finish. That being so, an umpire usually made
an effort to map out the river in his mind into courses, one
for each competing boat, and determined that no boat could
be liable to disqualification by means of a foul so long as it
kept in its own water thus mentally laid out. With two
boats in a heat this was an easy task. With three it became
much more difficult. With more than three, as e.g. in a race
for the Wingfield Sculls, it became almost impossible. How,
for instance, was such a point as the following to be decided
in such a race ? Let us assume that there were five starters,
and that the two who were nearest to the Surrey shore had
dropped far behind before Harrod's Stores. Was the third
(still counting from the Surrey shore) to be held entitled, on
a proper reading of the law, to adhere strictly to his " own
water," and so to force his Middlesex neighbours unduly
away from the Hammersmith corner and out of the set of the
tide. It was felt that this would be an improper proceeding,
but it was incontestable that the law, as it stood, not only
permitted but encouraged it. The Committee of the A.R.A.,
therefore, decided after much discussion to alter the law, and
it now stands in the following form as No. V. of the code :

" A boat's proper course is such a course as will enable it
to reach the winning post in the shortest possible time, pro-
vided that it allows ample water for every other competing

* For many years past the Committee of Henley Regatta have adopted a simple
but ingenious arrangement for keeping boats straight in a cross wind at the start.
Two punts, with a waterman in each, are moored above the start in such a position
that the waterman can throw a light line to the crew or sculler. One of the bow
oars holds his end of the line between his outside hand and the handle of his oar.
The waterman draws the line taut until the boat is straight, and at the starting
signal the oarsman promptly releases his end and the waterman as promptly
draws in the line.



268 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

boat to steer its proper course on the side on which such
competing boat started when such competing boat is in a
position to assert its right to such water. Any boat failing
to keep its proper course does so at its peril in the event of
a foul occurring."

The result of this change is that, in the supposed case
which I have suggested above, my third competitor is out of
his proper course. To reach the finish in the shortest possible
time he ought, ex hypothesi, to be nearer by two stations to
the dummy at Hammersmith, and if the nearer one of his
Middlesex neighbours runs into him he has unquestionably
rendered himself liable to disqualification. On the other
hand, if he has duly carried out the instructions of the Law
and then finds that one of the laggards is coming up from the
rear and threatens to take a position in which the said laggard
will be able to assert his right to ample water in such a case
he must, of course, give way, and his Middlesex neighbours,
who may have followed his example in closing in, must also
give way in their turn. Complexities may thus arise, but the
principles on which the Umpire must base his decision are
sufficiently plain. He must make up his mind clearly on two
points : (i) the course which will enable each competitor to
reach the winning-post in the shortest time ; (2) the due
meaning of the words " ample water." As to the first point
no strict rule can be laid down. Each regatta course has
its own peculiar features, which must help to determine the
"proper course" for the various competitors. As to the
second, I take it to mean broadly such a space of water as
will enable a crew to row with comfort and safety and without
obvious disadvantage or unfairness. Merely to allow an
amount of room through which a crew or sculler might scrape
by the skin of the teeth would not suffice.

A FOUL

By Law VI., as I have already stated, the Umpire is made
the sole judge of a boat's proper course during a race, and
he has to decide all questions as to a foul.



THE LAWS OF BOAT-RACING

Law VII., to which I have also referred, is in the following
terms :

" The Umpire may caution any competitor when he con-
siders that there is a probability of a foul occurring,
and may warn a competitor of any obstruction in his
course, but the Umpire shall not, under any other
circumstances, direct the course of a competitor."
The first part of this law is permissive, not mandatory.
Some Umpires, therefore, prefer to abstain altogether from a
warning when there is a danger of a foul. Personally I have
always preferred to exercise the power within due limits, for
I think that a foul is a very unsatisfactory method of deciding
the relative merits of competitors, and that, while competitors
themselves ought to make every possible effort to avoid it,
the Umpire ought also, under the Law, to bring his authority
to bear in the same direction. But he must use this power
with restraint. He must not take it upon himself to play the
part of a Providence to a weak competitor or to one lacking in
skill. One warning, or at the most two, ought to satisfy him.
Thereafter he may well leave the competitor to himself.

The "obstruction in his course," of which a competitor
may be warned by the Umpire, is " any outside^boat or person "
(see Law XIII., infra}, or a hencoop, a block of wood, a fleet
of swans, or some similar obstruction, which is actually on the
course in front of the competitor.

Law VIII. defines a foul in the following terms :
" It shall be considered a foul when, after a race has been
started, any competitor, by his oar, scull, boat, or
person, comes into contact with the oar, scull, boat,
or person of another competitor."

This is plain enough for all practical purposes, but to
understand the meaning of it thoroughly and to appreciate
the consequences entailed, it is necessary to read with it the
succeeding four rules. Any contact, strictly speaking, con-
stitutes a foul, but there may be cases (" when the foul is so
slight as not to influence the race ") in which the foul entails
no penalty ; and in general, though there must be two parties



270 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

to a foul, only one is penalised. Indeed, it may happen that
the party actually responsible for bringing about the contact
or foul may thus succeed in bringing disqualification upon
the other. For instance, if boat A is rowing ahead of boat
B without allowing ample water for boat B, and boat B there-
upon spurts and bumps or otherwise fouls boat A in attempting
to pass it, the Umpire will adjudge the guilt and the penalty
to boat A, although boat B, if I may use the language of an
older day, "committed the foul." In itself, therefore, and
without reference to the surrounding circumstances, a foul is
not necessarily a guilty act.

Law IX. " In the event of a foul occurring, any com-
petitor involved therein may claim that any other
competitor involved therein be disqualified. Such
claim must be made by the competitor himself, before
getting out of his boat, to the Umpire or to the
Judge. The Judge, upon such claim being made to
him, shall take immediate steps to communicate the
same to the Umpire."

The usual method of asserting a claim is for the aggrieved
competitor to hold up his hand, and then, in cases where this
is possible, to continue rowing. After the race is finished he
can then lay his claim before the Umpire in a more formal
and detailed manner unless, of course, he has succeeded in
reaching the winning-post first.

The only case in which a claim ought to be made to
the Judge is when, for some reason or another (e.g. a press of
boats about the finish immediately after a race), it is impos-
sible for the competitor to get to the Umpire. The Judge, it
will be noticed, has no power to adjudicate. That rests with
the Umpire.

Law X. " If the competitor making the claim was in his
proper course and the competitor against whom the
claim is made was out of his proper course " (see
Law V. and remarks supra) "the latter shall be
disqualified unless the foul was so slight as not to
influence the race, in which case the competitor



THE LAWS OF BOAT-RACING 271

against whom the claim is made shall be disqualified
only if he has seriously encroached upon the proper
course of the competitor making the claim. In cases
under this law the Umpire may reserve his decision,
but he must give it within a reasonable time after the
finish of the race."

Under this rule, therefore, even a foul so slight as not to
influence the race may entail disqualification if there has
been a serious encroachment upon the proper course of
another competitor. Let me suppose that crew A, having
gained a lead of a few feet of clear water, crosses over in
front of crew B to gain the advantage of a corner to which
crew B would be entitled if it were in a position to assert its
right. Let me suppose, further, that crew B spurts and
comes up, and crew A begins to give way. Crew B con-
tinues to gain, and as crew A has not yielded sufficiently,
there is a very slight contact of oars as crew B draws up. In
the event of A passing the post first, the Umpire would, on a
claim being made, have to award the race to crew B.

With regard to the last sentence of the law, I very
strongly advise an Umpire never to reserve his decision, but
to give it promptly as soon as the claim has been duly made
to him. To allow any time to elapse after this can only
serve to dull his recollection of the circumstances. He has
no right whatever to ask or to take the advice of any other
person. He has been appointed arbiter, and to his eyes and
his judgment the case is referred. He must begin to consider
the matter and to prepare his mind for a decision as soon as
he sees that there exists the possibility of a foul, and when
the foul actually occurs his mind must be made up on the
instant. Under no circumstances must he allow his attention
to be diverted from the race.

The Umpire, however, has still further powers.

Law XI. " The Umpire in either of the two following

cases may of his own initiative, and without a claim

having been made, disqualify a competitor who is

involved in a foul when out of his proper course,



272 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

provided he does so immediately upon the foul
occurring :

" (a) If such competitor has, in the opinion of the umpire,
wilfully encroached upon the proper course of any
other competitor involved in a foul.
" (b) If the foul is of such a nature as clearly to influence

the race."

This is a very salutary power, and I advise an Umpire to
exercise it without hesitation. He is thus in effect made
responsible for seeing that due order shall be preserved in a
race even when competitors are for some reason unwilling to
assert a claim. Under the old code, for which the existing
one was substituted in 1905, there was no law which gave
the Umpire this power in express terms. Many Umpires,
however, had constantly exercised it. A dispute occurred and
eventually the A.R.A. Committee asked the opinion of the
affiliated clubs. These answered by an overwhelming majority
in favour of the exercise of this power by Umpires. The law
was thereupon passed in its present form. In case A, even a
slight foul would be sufficient. The wilfulness of the en-
croachment is left to the opinion of the Umpire. Even the
" serious " encroachment contemplated in Law X. might not
be sufficient to justify the Umpire in proceeding on his own
initiative, for it might be a momentary and involuntary
encroachment which the competitor is taking prompt
measures to remedy. In this case the other competitor is
left to make his claim. It is impossible to lay down a rule
for inferring "wilfulness," but the inference might well be
justified by persistent attempts at encroachment obviously in
pursuance of a fixed plan, or, again, by a disregard of the
caution which the Umpire is authorised by Law VII. to give.
Case B contemplates a serious foul where there has not
necessarily been any wilful encroachment.

Law XII. " In case of a foul the Umpire shall have
9 power

A. to place the boats not disqualified in the
order in which they come in.



THE LAWS OF BOAT-RACING 273

B. To order the boats not disqualified to row
again on the same or another day.

C. To restart the boats not disqualified according
to his discretion.

By C he has power either to take the boats not disqualified
back to the starting post, or to restart them from the point
where the foul occurred. In re-starting them from this point, he
is entitled, I think, to give one competitor a lead, provided that
lead is no greater than what the competitor had secured when
the foul took place. I have in my recollection a race for
three in which, after 400 yards had been rowed, a serious foul
took place between B and C, A being by that time a length
and a half ahead. The Umpire, a claim having been made,
stopped the race, disqualified C, and restarted B and A at
this point, giving A a lead of a length and a half. B, however,
eventually won the race.

Law XIII. " Every boat shall abide by its accidents, but
if during a race a boat shall be interfered with by any
outside boat or person, the Umpire shall have power
to restart the boats according to his discretion, or to
order them to row again on the same or another day."
If a competitor breaks an oar or a stretcher or a slide, or
upsets, or incurs any other accident during the race, he is not
entitled to ask that the race should be stopped and that he
should be allowed to repair his damage. Subject to what has
been said above, the race, once started, must proceed. There
is nothing, however, to prevent a competitor, who sees his
opponent run into the bank, from waiting for him though I
have no wish to counsel such a course. Every competitor is
fully entitled to disregard accidents occurring to his opponent.
The Oxford and Cambridge Boat-race is rowed under a
special agreement which provides for the restarting of the
race in the event of an accident occurring before the Creek is
reached. But the accident must be something not attribut-
able to the fault of any member of the crew.

Law XIV. " No boat shall be allowed to accompany or
follow any race for the purpose of directing the course

T



274 THE COMPLETE OARSMAN

of any of the competitors. Any competitor receiving
any extraneous assistance may be disqualified at the
discretion of the Umpire."

The Wingfield Sculls are rowed under a special set of
rules which permit every competitor to be " shown up " by a
cutter in the bows of which sits a steerer to direct the com-
petitor's course. This steerer, however, must be an amateur.
I have never known the latter part of the law to be put
in force, though I have never seen a coxswainless race rowed
anywhere in which some or all of the competitors did not
receive " extraneous assistance " from runners on the bank
who purported to direct their course. In the Diamond
Sculls, for instance, at Henley Regatta, the professional
trainers of the men are invariably at hand on the bank with
megaphones. Of course, volunteered advice shouted by
enthusiasts cannot be prevented, but this kind of official
professional assistance ought either to be stopped, or the
Law should be altered.

Law XV. "The whole course must be completed by a
competitor before he can be held to have won a trial
or a final heat unless he is prevented from doing so
by damage occasioned by a foul. Boats shall be
held to have completed the course when their bows
reach the winning-post."
This requires no special comment.

Law XVI. " The judge shall decide as to the order in
which the boats reach the winning-post, and such
decision shall be final and without appeal."
This, too, speaks for itself.

Law. XVII. I have already quoted at the beginning of
this Chapter.

Law XVIII. "Any competitor refusing to abide by the
decision of the Umpire or to follow his directions shall
be liable to be disqualified."

This sets the final seal on the authority and powers of the
Umpire.



TABLE OF WINNERS, ETC.



[The following tables have, by the kind permission of the Editor and
Proprietor, been extracted from the Rowing Almanack, an invaluable
compilation without which no oarsman's library can be said to be



Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 22 of 39)