R. C. (Rudolf Chambers) Lehmann.

The complete oarsman online

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composure, and so da capo. There is nothing like this sort of
practice for shaking a crew together. Finally, in order to
teach them to watch their stroke-oar and to rely absolutely
on him, the coach should tell stroke to use his own judgment,
not to wait for any command from the coach, but to break
into a row and to drop from rowing to paddling at his own
sweet will.

In order to judge of the " togetherness " of a crew, the
coach must observe not merely the time of the blades in
striking and leaving the water, but also the proper unison and
welded precision of the bodies. The effect of uniform swing-
power forward and backward on the pace and steadiness of
the boat cannot be exaggerated. The bodies ought to have
the appearance of being pulled to and fro by one cord. Too
often a neglect of insistence on this point produces what is
known as a break in the crew. The four stern oars, for
example, may be seen swinging fairly and freely back
together to the same extent, while Nos. 4 and 3 manifestly
check their swings too soon, and consequently execute a
defective finish with great exertion and clumsiness. It is
very difficult to eradicate the pernicious fault, which is
equally detrimental to pace and to symmetry, during the
final stages of practice. It results generally from careless and
inefficient drill at the outset.


A crew, if it is to be worth anything in a race, ought to be
able to command a rate of at least 40 to the minute. In
short courses, like that of Henley, or the other Thames
Regattas, 42 should be aimed at and attained. I do not say
that a crew on the tideway is to row 40 all the way from
Putney to Mortlake, or that at Henley it is to keep up 42
from start to finish, but it ought to be able to command the
rate I have mentioned for a start or a spurt and to command
it with ease, during practice. In races over a very short course,

* See also pp. 112-114.


like that at Maidenhead, I have often started at 46 and kept
that rate going with comfort until victory was assured. A
crew must be gradually brought up to its fast stroke, first by
short starts at an increased rate and then by longer pieces of
work. Indeed, a crew ought to be practised at a rate slightly
faster than that which it may expect to use during a race.
After you have once rowed 42 reasonably well you will find
it almost indolence to drive your boat along at 38. The
great point to remember is that while the stroke increases the
body swing must be slow. The increase in pace must be
chiefly gained by rattling the hands away very fast, by
striking the beginning with extreme swiftness, and by driving
hard through the water. Great care, too, must be taken to
use the outside hand well, and row every stroke right home,
and to disengage the blade clean from the water. The
tendency, as the stroke increases, is always to clip the finish,
and, in order to correct this, special emphasis must be laid
upon the force of the leg-work, particularly during the last
three or four inches of the slide.


Ordinary splashing comes from a rolling, unsteady boat,
and unsteadiness is invariably produced by irregular work
performed either in a slovenly or in a clumsy fashion. Yet
a coach must not be too much dismayed by splashing and
unsteadiness in the early stages, provided he can satisfy
himself that his men are honestly endeavouring to work.
Such a crew is more promising than many a smooth crew,
the members of which exert no sufficient effort to produce
even a roll in the boat. In good time, as the men get
together, splashing will disappear.

One special form of splashing is more difficult to deal
with I mean the back-splash which comes from the blades
as they seize the beginning. An undoubted fault it is, and
its effect must be to check pace, but in the earlier part of
practice it comes from the effort of the men to get a sharp


grip of the water. At that time it is useless to worry about
it, but during the period of polishing the coach must not
neglect it. He must, as I have said before, devote himself
to perfecting the balance and steadiness of bodies and the
lightness of hands " over the stretcher." As he secures these
essentials the back-splash will diminish, until finally, when
the bodies are perfectly poised and the hands are as a
feather's weight, it will disappear altogether, and the be-
ginning will be not only hard and swift, but absolutely clean.


To be able to start at top-pressure without a splash, and
to obtain the utmost pace with the least possible delay, must
be the ambition of every crew. The moral effect of getting a
lead is considerable. It is an inspiration to feel that your
crew has started clean, that the men are rowing together,
that the boat is speeding swift and clean through the water,
and, above all, that the other crew is trailing in the rear. I
say this with a full recollection of many races in which a crew,
though it was left behind at the start, has afterwards rowed
down and passed its rival. Still I am certain that all rowing
men will agree with me that the acme of pleasure and comfort
in a race is to obtain the lead at the start and never to lose
it afterwards. The marvellous start of Oxford in 1883, for
instance, so demoralised Cambridge on whom, by the way,
odds of 3 and 4 to i had been betted that the race was
decided before half a mile of the course had been completed ;
and there are many examples of the same kind. In any case
the capacity to start well is an essential part of every crew's
equipment, and great attention should be devoted to this
point during the last week or ten days of practice.

Let me say, in the first place, that a coach must always
stop a crew that starts badly. An unsteady, splashing, irregular
start is always the result of carelessness, and must be corrected
instantly and with severity.

For races with or against a slow stream, like that of the


Thames in summer on its non-tidal portions, the following
method will be found the best

(1) Slides three parts forward.

(2) Bodies half forward, i.e. slightly beyond perpendicular,

(3) Arms outstretched, blades flat on the water, i.e.

(4) At the word " Go " turn the wrists up rapidly, immerse
blade deep in the water, spring the body back at once, drive
very hard with the legs, and help the stroke home by
wrenching it in with the arms.

(5) Be particularly careful to finish well home to the

(6) A lightning recovery, bodies swung half forward, and
the beginning of the second stroke taken when the hands
are over the stretcher. The rest as in the first stroke.

(7) Again a lightning recovery followed by a full swing.
For races rowed on the swift-flowing Putney tide certain

modifications are necessary. I have seen three methods
successfully tried

(1) Position of slides, bodies, and arms as above, the
blades, however, being turned over more, so that the stern-
ward edge is clear of the water, which thus runs under it.

(2) Blades turned backs upward and all but clear of the

(3) Bodies erect and slides full back. At the "Are you
ready ? " the oars are squared in the water and the force of
the tide acting on them is permitted to draw the slides slowly
forward till the word " Go " is given or the pistol fired, when
the beginning is at once taken with bodies, legs, and arms.

The first method on the whole is the easiest to acquire.
The second I do not recommend, as it is difficult to avoid
unsteadiness and uncertainty. The third, when it comes off
on the nick, is the best and most effective ; but there is, no
doubt, a risk that the interval between the " Are you ready ? "
and the " Go " may be misjudged. If it should happen to be
unduly prolonged the slides might reach their front stops, the
bodies might be drawn forward to their full extent, and the





painful strain put on the arms in this position would spoil
the first stroke. I must admit, however, that, though I have
often seen this method used, I have never known it to fail.
I must add, at the same time, that, in 1903, when the umpire
had a difficulty in firing his pistol, the Cambridge crew were
thus brought forward to their front stops with their oars
square, and the weight of the boat in this position proved too
much for the waterman in the moored skiff who held the
stern. He had to let go, and Cambridge floated free and
were nearly half a length ahead and moving when the report
at last rang out. Four points I must specially impress on
those who desire to start fast and well

(A) The blades must be deeply covered on the first stroke.
To tear them along the top of the water is absolutely futile.

(B) The legs must drive with particular firmness.

(C) The arms must be used for the first two strokes.

(D) Particular care must be taken to finish the first two
strokes fully home to the chest, and to shoot away the hands
with exaggerated swiftness.

Finally let the men be told to watch stroke's oar sharply
for the first two strokes. Whatever happens they must start
with him. On this occasion, but on no other, is it legitimate
for the crew to have their " eyes out of the boat."


If a man covers his whole blade at the full extent of his
reach, keeps it covered to the finish, and drives a swirl of
bubbles in front of it during the stroke, it is fair to assume
that he is working. If he immerses the blade too deeply he
may yet be working, but the signs of his work in the water will
be less obvious and his effort to perform it will be greater.
On the other hand, a partially covered blade will make more
disturbance, but the work will be ineffective. A blade that
wavers or wobbles in the water indicates clearly enough that
pressure is uneven. It will usually be found in such a case
that leg-power is insufficiently and improperly applied, that,


in fact, swing and slide are not adequately combined. Blade-
work must always be the chief test, but in the case of a blade
too deeply covered the body-work must be fairly taken into
account. No coach of any experience can fail to distinguish
the " sugarer," i.e. the man who makes a show, but does no
genuine work at all.


The effect of a head wind, of course, is to decrease the
pace of the boat, and, at the same time, to make the actual
work of the men more laborious. It is impossible against
this additional resistance to row at a rate which would be
easy enough without the wind. The attempt to keep up
the stroke would lead to a wretched display of shortness
and clipped finishes. A coach, therefore, must be content
to see the rate of stroke decreased, but he need not be
troubled about this, if at the same time he can make his
crew swing and reach out well, heave the weight of their
bodies vigorously back into the heart of the wind, and row
the stroke out firmly to the end. In a stormy sea, a coxswain
will call on the men to "feather high," so as to clear the
waves. No doubt, there must be a drop of the hands
sufficient to cause the blades to clear the top of the waves,
but a good waterman, in swinging forward against a wind,
ought to keep his actual feather low, to avoid the wind's
main force. It is almost needless to add that, under such
circumstances, the blades must be kept as long as possible
on the feather, in order to diminish resistance and the
consequent strain on the muscles of the arms. Mr. J. A.
Ford, the famous Leander oarsman, never raised his feathered
blade more than an inch or so above the surface of the
water, whether it happened to be smooth or rough. I never
knew him to catch a crab.


A strong wind behind the crew is far more disconcerting
than a head wind. It increases the pace of the boat, but,


unless the men are ready to adapt themselves to it by an
increased swiftness of recovery (hands and bodies) and a
sharper beginning, it will necessarily produce unevenness
in the rowing and unsteadiness in the boat. The men
will miss their beginning, and get tied up in extracting
their blades and shooting their hands. They must be
told to keep their forward swing very slow, to grip the
beginnings very quickly, and to be very careful to extract
their blades sharply, and to rattle away their hands. The
rate of stroke, too, should be increased. The feet must be
well planted on the stretchers.


This is a high test of watermanship and temper. It
blows the boat over on one side or the other, and can
only be counteracted by give and take on both sides of
the boat. Generally it is for the windward men to help
their brethren, whose blades are in trouble with the water.
A little elevation of hands on the troubled side, a little
depression on the other, will restore balance. As in all
moments of unsteadiness, feet must be kept firm on the


Judgment of pace is, perhaps, one of the last gifts that a
coach acquires, the judgment, I mean, which is independent
of the test of the clock. Only experience and a good eye
can ensure it. Misplaced rapidity of movement in the bodies
of the crew is often taken by the novice for rapidity of move-
ment on the part of the boat, when, as a matter of fact, the
boat is checking and "kicking" and shivering under the
convulsive efforts of her crew. No man actually rowing in
a crew, when once he has felt and heard a boat move swiftly,
can ever mistake the sham for the real. The crash of the
oars into the water, the sense of elation as the stroke is heaved
through with every ounce of weight on the blades, the prompt,


elastic, locked-up recovery, the slow, inexorable roll of the
slides forward while the water bubbles away from the boat's
sides, the feeling of unbreakable control as the bodies swing
all these accompaniments and proofs of speed, once
experienced, are never forgotten. Of these, too, though
not to the same degree, a coach is sensible ; and, to help his
judgment, he can observe and mark the distance at which
stroke or No. 7 strikes the beginning beyond the puddles
made by No. 2 or bow on the previous stroke. When a
crew is rowing hard at a slow rate, it should " cover " a
long space of clear water between strokes, and, even at
its fastest rate, it must cover by a foot or two. If you
see stroke's or No. 7's blade popping into the previous
puddles, you may be sure that somewhere in the crew
strength has begun to fail, or that the whole rowing is
radically wrong.

A coach ought often to drop behind his crew. In that
position he can note the time of the blades, and, what is
equally important, the behaviour of the ship as the blades
are extracted and the hands are shot out. If at this point
she wavers or trembles, or falters ever so slightly from side
to side, he must realise that the recovery of the crew is badly
at fault. A ship should " take " the recovery with a rock-like
steadiness and imperturbability.

Then he should come alongside again, and watch the stern
of the ship against the further bank. If the rowing is bad
and the bodies are on the rush, he will see the stern pause
and kick back as the men get on to their beginning. If the
rowing is altogether good, he will see the stern moving
onward without a trace of check, gathering way while the
stroke comes through, until the culminating speed is reached
as the hands leave the chest. When such is the progress of
a boat's stern, the coach may know that there is not much the
matter with the oarsmanship, and that the boat is " travelling
between the strokes " as she ought to do.


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In the present chapter I have addressed myself mainly to
the coach, whose duty it is to instruct the crew. A word or
two to the men themselves must be added. A coach can do
much with a willing crew, even if their oarsmanship is not of
the highest order, and the best way in which they can show
this willingness is to obey his instructions with the utmost
promptitude and to preserve discipline while they are in the
boat. Each of them sinks his individuality and becomes
a number, a mere component part, of a machine, set in motion
and guided by the coach's will.

(1) While the crew is rowing, no voice should be heard
except that of the coach, who instructs, and that of the cox-
swain, who corrects the time. The captain of the crew some-
times takes it upon himself to shout instructions. He is
within his constitutional right, but he will do better to keep
silence. His own oarsmanship is generally as much at fault
as any one else's, and in any case his shouting is sure to
interfere with the coach.

(2) It follows from this that you are not permitted to
" answer back " a coach. To murmur curses under your
breath while the coach is instructing you is equally unper-
missible and anarchic.

(3) When the crew has easied after a row, silence must be
kept while the coach is delivering his opinions. It is, how-
ever, permissible and proper to tell the coach of any special
difficulty or discomfort that you may have experienced. A
coach, indeed, will probably ask his men now and then to
tell him how they feel about their rowing, and he will make
a point of asking the captain how the boat seemed to travel,
etc. Long and diffuse explanations in answer to any such
question from a coach must be avoided. To say nothing of
the coach, the tempers of the rest of the crew will not endure
this prolixity on the part of one of their number.

(4) During paddling and during rowing every man in the
crew must keep his eyes in the boat, so as to watch the time
and keep it true with the men in front of him.


(5) The commands of the coxswain as to paddling,
backing, starting, etc., must be immediately obeyed.

I have now come to the end of this long and tedious
exposition of virtue and style in eight-oared rowing. Many
details, I fear, I have omitted, for, try as one may, it is not
possible to set out on paper an absolutely exhaustive list of
all the incidents which an oarsman or a coach may have to
face during the varying circumstances of the daily practice.
The chief points I believe I have brought to his attention.
For the rest he must rely on his own experience and judg-
ment, the result both of his work and of his observation. All
I can promise is that, if an oarsman masters my list and
learns to apply at all points the lessons I have tried to
expound, and if he has, in addition, that combination of
health, strength, and activity which is the foundation of
success in rowing, as in most other things, he will be in a
fair way to become a complete and perfect oar. And, since
he may wish to have a more concise description of this
pattern, I will give it in verse.


" Once on a dim and dream-like shore

Half seen, half recollected,
I thought I met a human oar

Ideally perfected.
To me at least he seemed a man

Like any of our neighbours,
Formed on the self-same sort of plan

For high aquatic labours.

His simple raiment took my eyes :

No fancy duds he sported,
He had his rather lengthy thighs

Exiguously "shorted."
A scarf about his neck he threw ;

A zephyr hid his torso ;
He looked as much a man as you

Perhaps a trifle more so,

And yet I fancy you'll agree,

When his description's ended,
No merely mortal thing could be

So faultlessly commended.


I noted down with eager hand

The points that mark his glory ;
So grant me your attention, and

I'll set them out before ye.

His hands are ever light to catch ;

Their swiftness is astounding :
No billiard ball could pass or match

The pace of their rebounding.
Then, joyfully released and gay,

And graceful as Apollo's,
With what a fine columnar sway

His balanced body follows !

He keeps his sturdy legs applied

Just where he has been taught to,
And always moves his happy slide

Precisely as he ought to.
He owns a wealth of symmetry

Which nothing can diminish,
And strong men shout for joy to see

His wonder working finish.

He never rows his stroke in dabs

A fatal form of sinning
And never either catches crabs

Or misses the beginning.
Against his ship the storm winds blow,

And every lipper frets her :
He hears the cox cry, " Let her go ! "

And swings and drives and lets her.

Besides, he has about his knees,

His feet, his wrists, his shoulders,
Some points which make him work with ease

And fascinate beholders.
He is, in short, impeccable,

And this perhaps is oddest
In one who rows and looks so well

He is supremely modest.

He always keeps his language cool,

Nor stimulates its vigour
In face of some restrictive rule

Of dietary rigour.
And when the other men annoy

With trivial reproaches,
He is the Captain's constant joy,

The comfort of his coaches.


When grumblers call the rowing vile,

Or growl about the weather,
Our Phoenix smiles a cheerful smile

And keeps the crew together.
No " hump " is his when everything

Looks black his zeal grows stronger,
And makes his temper, like his swing,

Proportionately longer.

One aim is his through weeks of stress :

By each stroke rowed to aid work.
No facile sugared prettiness

Impairs his swirling blade-work.
And, oh, it makes the pulses go

A thousand to the minute
To see the man sit down and row

A ding-dong race and win it !

Such was, and is, the perfect oar,

A sort of river Prince, Sirs j
I never met the man before,

And never saw him since, Sirs.
Yet still, I think, he moves his blade,

As grand in style, or grander,
As Captain of some Happy-Shade
Elysian Leander."


Their Importance, Characteristics, and Methods

IT is generally supposed (by coxswains themselves) that
their title implies a kind of chieftainship, as who should
say cock of the boat, cf. cock of the walk. This, however, is
an error, and I am bound, much as I respect coxswains, to
correct it. I gather from my dictionary that coxswain is
derived from cock, a boat, and swain, a young man or boy in
service, and the word, therefore, means a boat-boy, with an
implication not of chieftainship but of servitude.

Coxswains, to be sure, will refer you to the early history
of rowing, and will point to the honoured names of Tom
Egan and Arthur Shadwell, who for many years not only
steered the crews of their respective Universities, but also
took command of them and coached them. Those certainly
were the palmy days of coxswains. In and out of the boat
their word was law. They did not confine themselves to
trite admonitions in regard to time or feather, but they acted
as style-masters and trainers of their galley-slaves, and lorded
it over the world of oarsmen. It was my privilege some
twenty years ago to meet and converse with the Rev. Arthur
Shadwell. The ancient hero had been sculling himself and
his little bag of belongings down the river when he had been
observed from the grounds of Abney House by Mr. Charles
Hammersley. More than fifty years before these two had
been at Eton together, and Mr. Hammersley recognised his
former companion. He also remembered his nickname, and
hailed him by it. " Skum ! " he called out ; and the whilom
king of the O.U.B.C. meekly answered to the call, made fast
H 97


his skiff, and stayed a fortnight in his old friend's hospitable
house. It was there that I met him and hung upon his lips.

Mr. Shadwell certainly had strong views. He was
willing to admit that modern oarsmen were usually heavy
and sometimes powerful, but there his eulogy, such as it was,
stopped. They were, he said, universally of an appalling
ignorance modified by an almost insane rashness. Style had
perished from the land. Where, for instance, were the
straight backs, the polished feathers, the long and massive
body-swings, and the crashing strokes of the brothers
Menzies and other demigods of the past ? They were gone,
and movements fit only for an asylum of the halt and the
maimed had taken their place. Talk to him about the
sliding seat ? In that invention of the devil you had the root
of all our ills. Men had forgotten all about the true science
of boat-building, and relied on a seat that moved backwards
and forwards. They ought to be screwed to their thwarts,
sir, yes, screwed to them ; but, instead of that, they shuffled to
and fro like a row of louts at a fair. I tried to reason with

Online LibraryR. C. (Rudolf Chambers) LehmannThe complete oarsman → online text (page 8 of 39)