R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

The complete oarsman online

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say the aft edge, I mean, of course, the edge that is nearer to
the stern of the boat. The knees must be parted by the
breadth of the shoulders, and bent to about one-third of
their scope.

(2) The feet must be placed heel and sole against the
stretcher with the heels together. In this position they
should form an angle of about 45.

(3) The straps which are to keep the feet against the
stretcher must now be adjusted. They should pass along
the roots of the toes, and though they must be tight, they
must not be so tight as to give the least pain.

(4) Up to this point the novice is "sitting easy." Now
tell him to sit up erect, with his back straight, his shoulders
back, his chest disclosed and his stomach firm, and explain to
him shortly that his body is to swing from the hips forward
and backward, that during its swing it is to keep its firmness
and straightness unimpaired, and that it is by means of the
body weight, acting through straight arms, and not by means
of the mere muscular strength of the arms, that power is to
be applied to the oar.

(5) Cause him, therefore, without taking the oar into his
hands, to swing several times until he realises generally what
is wanted of him. The swing will, of course, be very short at
first, for the hip joints and muscles will be unused to the

(6) Now change seats with him, take hold of the oar, and
show him accurately and deliberately the movements of the
stroke. The length of this particular sort of instruction must
naturally depend upon the amount of time you are able to
spare for the whole lesson. All I can say is that it is of the


very highest importance that the pupil should not be forced
to rely only on things demissa per aures^ but should be helped
by those qu<z sunt oculis subjecta fidelibus. I need not add
that you must be very sure of the correctness of your own
movements before you set out to teach by example as well as
by precept. It is the easiest thing in the world to acquire
faults by watching others, and for this reason badness of style
tends to perpetuate itself in a club. The novice studies bad
examples and acquires their faults himself. I well remember
being told by an oarsman, who afterwards became a brilliant
and celebrated performer, that he had devoted a great deal
of time during his freshman's year to riding along the bank
of the river on a bicycle and watching the " blues " at work
in their college boats and in the University crew. As the
blues happened at this time to be of no very good quality he
himself had acquired some very glaring faults, which it took
him a great deal of trouble to eradicate.

(7) Now let him take the oar in his hands. The outside
hand is to hold at the end of the oar, and the inside hand is
to be separated from it by a hand's breadth. The grip must
not be vice-like, but a firm finger-grip. When the oar is
square to the water the outside wrist must be flat, the inside
wrist slightly elevated (see 9 (i) in last Chap.).

(8) Place his body in the finishing position, and make him
go through the movements for extracting the blade by the
drop of hands and forearms, turning the blade on the feather
by a sharp turn of the wrists, mainly of the inside wrist, and
for the swift extension of the arms, impressing upon him the
necessity of not using his shoulders for these various move-
ments. Let him repeat these several times, at first separately
and afterwards in a connected series. In doing this let him
draw the oar gently through the water while the arms are
bending from their extension until the roots of the thumbs
touch the chest.

(9) Next get him into the forward position, with his blade
covered in the water, and let him practise getting his body-
weight applied through straight arms to the water. This is






to be repeated several times from a fixed position. Impress
upon him that the whole body is to be sprung back in a solid
column from the hips, and that the legs are to help by a
vigorous " kick-off" from the stretcher. He is now ready
to go through all the movements incidental to the whole

(10) Before he does this, however, you should explain to
him the meaning of certain words of command, such as " hold
her " or " stop the boat " ; "back water" ; "hold her up," etc.
To hold her or stop her he must learn to lift his hands so
as to immerse the flat blade, back down, in the water, and in
this position to keep pressing forward with his hands against
the handle. This is important, for by its use in due time
a collision may be avoided. At Cambridge the words " hold
her up " are used for the same purpose. At Oxford and on
the tideway they are equivalent to a command to paddle
gently. When a boat going against stream or tide comes to
an easy the current soon begins to drift it back, and " holding
her up " would originally mean the restoration of her to a
fixed position by bringing her up against the current.

(n) Now, bearing in mind all that has been said in the
last chapter, except in regard to sliding seats, let your novice
go through the combined movements of the whole stroke
several times, beginning in the first instance with the ex-
traction of the blade. I must assume, of course, that in
reality you have two novices, stroke and bow, in your tub.

(12) At first allow only about half a dozen strokes at a
time. Then call an easy, and carefully point out faults and
the best manner to correct them. Progress will necessarily
be very slow, but you must not be dismayed by the early
contortions of your pupils. Vary instruction repeatedly by
practical example.

(13) Remember that on a fixed seat the body must, in the
ideal stroke, be swung well back beyond the perpendicular,
slightly further back, in fact, than on a sliding seat, and that

(14) The body must not shift its position on the thwart
by attempting to slide on it. The knees, therefore, must not


by a conscious effort be flattened down, as on a sliding seat,
at the finish of the stroke. The main object of fixed-seat
rowing nowadays is to teach the essential movements, and
especially the movement of swinging the body forward and

(15) The hands must come home to the chest in a
perfectly even plane, never being raised or depressed from
the moment the blade has been fully immersed at the
beginning of the stroke. The roots of the thumbs should
touch the chest, about three inches below the point at which
the breast bones separate.

Beyond these very general instructions, I doubt if it is
profitable to proceed. I have already, in the preceding
chapters, detailed every separate movement that is involved
in the art of oarsmanship, and have set out the reasons which,
in my view, make each of them necessary. Except in so far
as it deals with sliding seats, all this body of doctrine is
applicable to the teaching of a novice. One important point
I must again lay stress on. A coach should direct his chief
attention to impressing on the minds and muscles of his
pupils those movements which are least in accordance with
the light of nature, and, therefore, most unfamiliar to the
young idea the body-swing, the straightness of the body
column at all points, the application of body-weight to the
beginning, the comparative inutility of the arms during the
water-work, the due balance, varying at different points, which
has to be kept on the handle of the oar, the prime necessity
for making the forward swing slow and the back swing swift
and vigorous, the quick turn of wrists on the feather, and the
prompt extension of the arms. This, in itself, is no short list
for coach and pupil to exercise their brains on. If you add
to it the correction of the innumerable faults which the
ignorance I had almost said the perverted ingenuity of
the pupil will produce at every different section of the stroke,
you will find that elementary instruction is a matter of no
little complication and labour, both to you and to your
charges. Constant practice and good will on both sides






are required if any improvement is to be made. And this
practice must, for some considerable period, take place in
tub-pairs. Later, the novice may be tried with others
preferably with some more experienced man at stroke in
a four, and so he may proceed to the work of an eight-oar,
still on fixed seats. Only after he has assimilated and can
put in practice your elementary lessons with some reasonable
approach to correctness and skill ought he to be hazarded on
a slide.


New Difficulties How to master them

r "T'HE beginner who has battled through his elementary
1 stages on a fixed seat may be supposed to have
acquired the main body of rowing doctrine. Though he
may not have learnt to apply his lessons in practice with
a full accuracy, he, at any rate, knows what is expected of
him.. The beginning, the finish, the recovery, the turn of
the wrists, the extension of the arms, the balanced forward-
swing of the body, the method, in short, of applying the
utmost power to the propulsion of the boat with the greatest
possible economy of strength all these are no longer
mysteries to him. He is now faced with a new problem.
Hitherto he has sat and pivoted and swung on an immovable
seat. Now he is suddenly placed upon a seat that slides
backwards or forwards as the movements of his body set
it going ? At the very moment when all his limbs and
muscles should be coiled up for the spring that is to immerse
his blade in the water and help to send the boat spinning on
her way, this terrible seat, in obedience to an uncontrollable
impulse, slips backward with him, and the noble movement
so carefully prepared ends in an ignominious dab. Then,
again, when he has somehow finished his painful stroke and
extracted his blade from the water, the slide shoots him
forward, and his belated body cannot swing as he desires.
His heels slip away, his ankles refuse to perform their flexible
office, and the muscles that flank his unhappy shins ache, as
if they had been pounded with mallets. What is to be done



to convert this new device from an instrument of torture into
a powerful ally ? There can be only one answer persistent
practice under a careful teacher.

A few hints, however, may be given :

(1) The essential principles of oarsmanship are not altered
by the sliding seat. Everything the beginner has hitherto
learnt on a fixed seat remains equally important.

(2) The new power that is brought into play is the driving
power of the legs. By their proper use, the durable force of
the blade in the water is very largely increased.

(3) In order that this force may have its due effect, the
slide must be controlled instead of being allowed to carry the
body about aimlessly.

(4) At the beginning the pivot-point of the body, which
on a fixed seat was at least 12 inches distant from the
work (i.e. from a line drawn across the boat at right angles
from the rowing thole), is by the slide brought up much
closer to the work. Eventually it is to be brought up to a
point level with the work. The knees and ankles, there-
fore, are to be much more bent, and the whole position is
at first felt to be so strained that, as I have said, the
natural impulse is to let the slide move back in order to
ease it. But

(5) This natural impulse must be mastered. The beginner,
therefore, must learn to take his beginning, as before, with a
body-spring, while his slide, during that fraction of a second,
remains firm and immovable. The body-movement must
precede that of the slide.

(6) Immediately afterwards so quickly in fact that the
movements cannot be separated by the eye the slide must
be set to work by the feet pressing against the stretcher.

(7) The leg-power thus brought into play is not to be
spent in one sharp piston-shove, but must be distributed
through the whole stroke. Indeed, as the impulse of the
body-spring slackens, the legs must take up a greater burden
of work in order that the force of the blade in the water may
be unwavering up to the finish of the stroke.



(8) While the hands are coming in to the chest there
should still remain some two or three inches of slide for
the final leg-pressure which is to help out the stroke.

(9) At the moment when the hands reach the chest, and
the stroke is finished, the knees are to be flattened down.

(10) The hands must leave the chest and the body must
begin to swing forward before the slide moves. Here, too,
the body-movement must precede that of the slide and carry
the slide slowly forward with it.

(u) Body-swing and slide forward must end together,
and therefore the slide, which travels through the shorter
space, must move even more slowly than the body. If the
slide is allowed to end first the inevitable result will be that
it will knock violently against the front stop and cause the
swift precipation of the body at a moment when it is specially
necessary that it should be well balanced. Do not "peck
over" your front stop.

One more hint I must add. Nothing could be more detri-
mental to a beginner's chances than to transfer him at once
from a fixed seat to a full slide of sixteen inches brought up
to the level of the work. It is impossible for his inex-
perienced muscles to perform the task demanded of them. A
slide of seven inches so stopped as to come within six inches
of the work will be quite difficult enough. Gradually, as the
limbs accustom themselves to the work and become more
flexible, this length of slide can be increased, fore and aft,
until the full length of sixteen inches is attained. For such
a seven-inch slide an oar used on a fixed seat with a leverage
of, say, 3 feet 6J inches should suffice ; but for the longer slide
of 1 6 inches a leverage of 3 feet 8 inches will be necessary.

For the rest I must refer the reader to the precise and
detailed instructions given in Chapter VI. I am aware that
I have repeated some of them in this short chapter, but my
object has been to bring prominently before the mind of the
novice the chief difficulties that will confront him in his early
adventures upon a sliding seat




Boats and Oars and the Arrangement of the Crew

BEFORE I proceed to discuss the main points of eight-
oared rowing, it may be as well to consider for a few
moments the measurements of the boats and oars used for the
purpose. The subject is one to which few oarsmen in my
early days gave any attention at all. They ordered their ship
and their oars with possibly a few very general instructions
in regard to the weight of the crew and the breadth of the
blades, and then they contentedly took what the builders
provided, altering riggers or stretchers now and again to suit
the comfort of individuals, but without any reference to
general principles.

All this has now and for some time past been changed.
Oarsmen nowadays would scorn to be without views on this
important matter. Discussion rages over the length of oars,
the breadth of blades, rigger-spread, the height of work, and
many other minor points, and friendships have been broken
because men could not see eye to eye with one another over a
matter so simple as the height of the seats in an eight-oared
boat. Undoubtedly it is all to the good that men should take
an intelligent interest in their boats and oars, but I own that
sometimes, when I see an oarsman poring over paper calcu-
lations or constantly chopping and changing the riggers and
slides of his crew in order to experimentalise in measure-
ments, I am inclined to sigh for the happy ignorance that
distinguished the mass of us some thirty years ago. I do
not pretend for a moment that the subject is unimportant.
Indeed, it is essential that a boat should be properly rigged.



I only wish to warn oarsmen against an excessive and brain-
destroying devotion to the science of minute measurements.

Another warning I must give. I cannot assume that the
measurements I propose to give will suit without variance
every possible kind of eight-oared crew. They are such as I
have found, in the course of a long experience, to be generally
right, but they must be taken as subject to exceptions, which
the trained eye of a skilful coach will discover when the crew
is actually in motion before him on the water.



The ordinary details of measurement usually recorded in
the newspapers in regard to boats, though they are, of course,
correct so far as they go, one of little practical value. What
interests oarsmen is not so much the length and depth and
beam of a boat as those other details of rig on which the
comfort and effectiveness of the crew so largely depend.
Here, then, is an average set of measurements for an eight-
oared racing boat

ft. ins.

1. Length over all 61 6

2. Beam amidships under gunwale . . . I n

3. Depth .... i I

4. Height of seats above heels o 8 to 8$ ins.

5. Height of rowlock -sills above seat . . .06

6. Length of movement of slide 14

7. Position of front edge of slide in relation to rowingl , ,

pin when full forward /

8. Distance from rowing pin measured horizontally and

at right angles to boat, to centre of seat . . 2 7 to 7^ ins.

9. Distance between tholes of rowlock . . . o 4! to 5 ins.

NOTE A. The heels should be as close as safety permits to the skin
of the boat. The less you elevate the weight of the crew the greater will
be the stability of the boat.

NOTE B. The tholes of the rowlocks must on no account incline
outwards, but must be set up erect. The wood of the rowing-thole should
present to the oar a surface slightly inclined towards the stern, i.e. the top
should project more than the bottom of the wood. You thus prevent the


blade from " slicing " into the water. The other thole should have its
inner edge carefully bevelled away to obviate the locking of the oar in
the forward position.

NOTE C. The stretchers should be so set that when the oarsman is
sitting easily with the slide full back the knees are just slightly bent, and
so that pressure of the feet against the stretcher will straighten them.

NOTE D. In measurement No. $ the height of the work is given as
6 inches above the seat. Formerly we did not find 6^ inches to 7 inches
too high. Boats, however, nowadays seem to be built with a greater
floating capacity, and in most modern boats I have found that 6 inches
are ample. It is plain, however, that this measurement depends to a great
extent on the floating capacity of the boat. It is in any case a fatal
error to set it too high, and thus to cause unsteadiness, due to the vain
efforts of the oarsmen to grip the beginning and to hold out the finish.
The coach and captain must judge of the proper height. Let them, in
any case, begin by setting all riggers at one height, and by refusing to
make any radical changes until they have secured a certain amount of
uniformity in the rowing of the crew.

NOTE E. I had at one time a favourable opinion of centre-seated
eights, but I have come to the conclusion that the side-seating principle
gives greater stability to the boat. Moreover, with seats placed along the
centre you must have longer riggers, and the longer you make your
riggers the more you decrease their probability of strength. In a side-
seated boat the seats, instead of being over the keelson are set away from
it, and from the outrigger at a distance varying from about 3^ inches in
the case of No. 5 to 2 inches in case of bow and stroke.


Personally I have always favoured a short oar, both on
general principles and as a result of experience in rowing and
in poaching. My view, generally, is that an oar gains an
immense advantage by being light, and an even greater
advantage by being well-balanced. With a constant rigger-
spread of 31 inches (i.e. distance from rowing pin to centre
of seat) you cannot increase your leverage on the oar. If you
add length to your oar you must add it outboard, and thus
you are liable to overweight that portion of the oar, besides
rendering the whole implement heavier. On the whole, the
tendency now is in favour of short oars. At Henley, or on
the I sis or the Cam, an oar measuring 12 feet over all will be
found sufficient for all purposes, and even at Putney, over the


long course, I should be well satisfied with 12 feet 2 inches.
Anything beyond this is mere surplusage : it adds to the
toil of the oarsman, and to the general difficulty of getting
a crew to row together, and in a lively style. In their
victories at Henley from 1891 to 1896 the Leander crews
used 12-foot oars.

.Here are detailed measurements

ft. ins. ft. ins.

1. Length over all 12 o to 12 2

2. Length inboard (i.e. from rowing face of but-

ton to end of handle) 38

3. Length of .button from top to bottom, measured

in a straight line 3\

4. Length of blade, measured over the arc of the

concave 27

5. Breadth of blade . . . . . .06

NOTE A. It may be found necessary in the case of clumsy, stiff-
jointed men to add half an inch to the inboard length. For average men
3 feet 8 inches should, however, be amply sufficient. The more you add
to your leverage the more likely you are to turn your blade through the
water instead of driving the boat past your blade.

NOTE B. I give 6 inches as a good average breadth for the blade.
Even a very powerful man will find that he can exert himself fully with
such a blade. As to the shape of blades, opinions are still divided
between the "square" blade, which is broadest at the end, and the
" barrel " blade, which has its broadest part some 6 inches to 8 inches from
the end. Personally I prefer the square blade, though I admit there is
not much in it. The "coffin" blade, invented and designed by Dr.
Warre, is rarely if ever seen now, though the Eton boys used it with great
effect some twenty-five years ago and onward. The blade is so shaped
that the whole of the lower edge of it is parallel to the surface of the water
at the beginning, and the gripping force is therefore said to be greater than
in the ordinary square oar. I have rowed a great deal with this kind of
oar, and always found it eminently serviceable.

NOTE C. No oar, if made of good spruce properly seasoned, ought
to weigh more than 8| Ibs. at the outside. It is quite a mistake to
suppose that additional weight necessarily gives the oar greater strength.
Usually it spoils the oar's balance, and makes it more difficult for the
oarsman to handle with quickness and precision. When oars are ordered
the carmaker should be told that any specimen weighing more than 8 Ibs.
will be returned to him. A weak or whippy oar is, of course, an abomina-
tion and must be discarded at once.

It is the duty of the coach, before he allows his crew to
enter their light ship, to assure himself that the measurements






are correct and uniform. Afterwards, when he has seen the
crew at work, he may find himself compelled to make a
concession here and there to the individual peculiarities of
one or two of the men. For instance, it may be necessary to
" build up " the seat of a man who is long-legged and short-
bodied, and this elevation of the seat will necessitate a slight
corresponding elevation of the work. Such changes, how-
ever, should be very sparingly made, and in any case, as I
have said, the first state of the measurements ought to be

Let the coach, therefore, be careful to measure up the rig
and to note down the results, with a view to the correction of
all inequalities before the men take their seats. For this
purpose he requires a measurer and a measure-card. The
measurer ordinarily in use is of the sort designed by Mr. W.
A. L. Fletcher. It consists of an L-shaped rule with two
attachments as thus




" n





AB is a rule 44 inches long, marked off in inches.

AC is a rule 8 or 10 inches long, marked off in inches.

GH is a semi-circular brass attachment sliding freely on the rule AB.

EF is a rule 24 inches long, marked off in inches, and sliding freely up and down

in the attachment GH.

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 6 of 39)