Pocock Classic Cedar Single Racing Shells
Bill Cameron et.al. on
The Demise of the Pocock Stroke

3/30/17

POCOCK STROKE LONG GONE!

Guy/Ted,

Ted, you have a wonderful rowing story. Perhaps you, revered author of “Where Did All The Woolly Mammoths Go,” should write a book about your and Bob’s exploits, actually a book about rowing. After “Boys In The Boat,” the world is eager for another rowing story.

I’m attracted to your account because of the pair w/o event in which you and Bob were so successful, the same event in masters rowing in which more recently than your and Bob's experience Rod Johnson and I were successful over a period of 12 years.

The pair, as you know, requires an harmonious concord between the rowers. Rod and I, similarly trained and with plenty of serendipity, were unusually blessed with that attribute. Our boat was always rock solid, never sustaining a roll or a shutter, unless we hit a buoy, a boathouse or riverside tree, occasional nemeses in practice runs.

Of course, we used the Waterman’s (Pocock”) stroke, feathering (gasp) in the water and (gasp) the flip catch. I recall, and can never get out of my mind, an incident in Hungary on Lake Valencia, when Rod and I were carrying our boat out of the water after winning the race, our German friend, Dietrich, derisively and for a prolonged period laughing at us for having flipped our way to victory, as if any fool knows you have to drop the oar into the water with an upward thrust of the hands.

I think the demise of the Waterman’s (Pocock”) stroke, if such a calamitous thing has happened, has more to do with Dick and Pete Dreissigacker than most rowers realize. First, their carbon fiber oars are so stiff that they reduce the affect of feathering in the water, which, of course, utilizes the stored energy in the bend of the oar to thrust the blade astern and out of the water, not to mention enabling enhancement of the release. Secondly, the Dreissigackers' introduction of the hatchet blade, not an iota better than the tulip, compromises the flip catch and has encouraged adoption of Chris Korzeniowski’s style of rowing loved by US Rowing, but with which Stan and his acolytes utterly disagreed.

So, Americans are now taught to pull the oar to the belly, drop the hands, thrust them forward, raise the hands and repeat the travesty. I notice the Germans, at least their master rowers, tend to use the waterman’s stroke, though not the flip. They are also frequent winners, often by inches, as was the case in my last year in the Occoquan Masters 8.

I can’t imagine rowing Korzeniowski style is anything but chaos when the rate is 35 or higher. At least with Waterman, all motion is horizontal, and I should think, therefore, more controllable with less drag created by vertical motions. And Waterman allows quick out-of-bow assisted by feathering which permits pulling on the oar to begin the bodily movement astern made from the hips. [Harvard under Parker taught pausing at the release (now called the “finish”) to avoid slowing of the boat “caused by moving astern,” when it can be easily demonstrated that moving astern, the faster the better, propels the boat forward. (Newton’s 3rd Principle). However, when the rate is high, there is no pause anywhere, which probably saved Harvard.].

The best thing for the Waterman stroke would be to develop a bendable oar, as might be manufactured by a ski company, and to return to the tulip blade.

Bill
Bill Cameron

Thank you, Bill - best stroke I ever saw. And I think Stan thought so too. Jim Buckley

******************

And the string of emails below which include:
Guy Harper , Matt Lacey , Jim Buckley , Ted Frost , Bill Cameron , Art Wright , Al Rossi , Dave Pratt , Duvall Hecht , Francine Rose , Bruce Beall , Bob Ernst , Jane Ritchey , Lenny O'Donnell , Steve Chapin

******************

Modernize the Pocock Stroke?

Folks,

After reading several of the following very well stated emails, it is apparent that the time might have arrived to discuss the Pocock (Waterman) stroke and how it might be altered in an effort to compete against what Stan calls the “German Windmill” approach.

I believe that Matt Lacey is very interested on how to put together an investigation of sort into translating the effectiveness of the Pocock stroke into a modern application. We certainly have an experienced group of oarsmen...so again, maybe now would be a great time for a discussion.

It would be wonderful to have everyone gather for a lunch at the SYC and suggest various approaches. If any of you are interested, let me know and I’ll suggest several afternoon dates that might work for a gathering of this type. Thanks.

On another note, I was intrigued by Bill Cameron’s comments regarding the “flip catch or release”... a term that I had forgotten until now...and also his comparison of the wood vs. carbon fiber oars. I have never seen a “bend” comparison so maybe it is impossible to do the Pocock stroke with an “unbendable” carbon oar that will not allow the “flip”. I really don’t know...but maybe someone else does.

Bill continues: “The best thing for the Waterman stroke would be to develop a bendable oar, as might be manufactured by a ski company, and to return to the tulip blade.” Maybe Steve Chapin would be interested in such a new oar development. It could represent a real winner and game changer!

With Spring coming on quickly now, it might just be fun to get together for a lunch anyway and talk about our wonderful sport of rowing!

Best to all and advise if interested,
Guy

Guy,

I think it’s odd that all Olympic rowing racing is 2k and Masters is only 1k. It’s as if all track races were a quarter mile - men women, hurdles, heavy weight, light weight - all a quarter mile.

Dave Pratt and Ted Frost made the point that reducing the length of the race from three or four miles to 2k is what doomed the Pocock/waterman stroke. "If it had been a three mile race, I’m sure Bob and I would have been unbeatable.” said Ted.

Maybe to save the Pocock/waterman stroke we should simply get USRowing and the Olympics to mix it up a bit with 1k, 2, and 5k races.

I’d hate to change and Pocock/waterman stroke. Didn’t we all do kind of a frantic windmill at 40 strokes per minute at the start of every race? I think the modern rowers are just in good enough shape to keep the start up for the whole race. But, to paraphrase Ted, we’d be unbeatable in a 5k race.

Jim

3/31/17

Guy,

Be careful what you say about a 1,000 K or 2,000 K (0.6 and 1.2 miles) being a “short race.” Believe me, at age 60 or above, 1,000 K is a long race. It’s an old dog sprint. The start alone is exhausting, being at a pace of about 37 for as long as about 250 meters, then, thank God, settling to a doable pace of 30, which is high for old folks. By the time one arrives at the 500, he’s totally out of his “second wind,” causing some wonderment whether he can press on without letting up. And then the pace is increased over the last 250 meters.

Neither short races, as you call them, nor current equipment compromise the Watermen’s (Pocock) stroke. It remains an unrecognized advantage over other styles. I think Rod and I proved it in our successful racing. After all, the Watermen spent 200 years perfecting that stroke. I don’t think they missed any other means of bodily propelling a row boat. Think of it; all bodily movement using the Watermen’s stroke is horizontal in line with the boat. No up and down hand movements transmitted to the hull, increasing drag. It’s simply quicker than other styles delayed by the hand fuss and which require a full blown sit-up after each release into the air, vis-a-vis a sit-up assisted by pull on the oar while feathering in the water. And no laying in the bow at the release, called “the finish” in non-Watermen speak.

The Watermen’s stroke can’t be “overlapped” onto other styles or vice versa. Watermen’s is diametrically opposed to other styles, which do not even accept that the stroke begins and ends at the “catch.” Now, we all start at the release, called the “finish” and, as appropriately named for the newer style, end at the “finish.” Except all that changes in a race. Then we start in the “catch” position. Go figure.

The text below the picture of Rod bending the oar (“1949 oar materials …”) states that a present day shaft (loom) is stiffer and supports a larger blade surface area.” Stiffness has nothing to do with capacity for blade area and I question whether today’s hatchet blade is of greater area than was the tulip blade we used. Tulips are longer than hatchets. If there is any advantage of one over the other, it is that the long tulip blade may make for a longer oar, which places the “catch" farther toward the bow. Blade area is of no significance so long as during the stroke the blade pushes only against the water, not through the water. As you know, the natural misimpression is that the blade moves through the water, which is false, or if it did, to that extent the boat wouldn’t move forward. Instead, the blade stays put, and the work is against the oarlock. Stan taught that the stroke from catch to release was a pry and suggested visualization of the blade pressing against an immovable object such as an underwater post.

The tulip blade is better for flip catching. The spline of a hatchet blade is offset, enlarging the distance between the lower edge of the blade and the spline, a distance said to account for a "missing of water” at the beginning of the flip. Maybe so. Whenever I flip with a hatchet blade, the coxswain blares, “Your missing water.” I never heard that using a tulip blade. The missing of water using square-up technique never seems to be mentioned.

Back to the picture, I think Rod might have been trying to impress Life Magazine's photographer. At least he and Al, Jr. in front of him, as well as the guy immediately forward (toward the bow) of Rod, are, with their bent arms, out of sync with the rest of the crew who are still at the straight arm phase of the drive. The picture below the text is less attractive; arms, legs and backs all in assorted positions.

Best,
Bill

************** 4/5/17

Lenville O'Donnell

All:

This is an amazing, entertaining and informative thread. I am admittedly a know-nothing whippersnapper and genuflect deeply to the vastly superior trove of experience and knowledge of all of you. I am but a trifocal-wearing rowing historian struggling to make sense of it all. And a rower and a coach (or, at least, making an attempt at those, with varying degrees of success). The only thing I will flat out disagree with is Roger Seeman and his assertion that I was not born when he was plying the wood at Wisco. Not true! I was at least in second grade.

I did start rowing at the UW at the tail end of the wooden shell and oar era, so I have some feeling for the differences between the shells and how they evolved. Equipment does play a significant role in the evolution of the stroke, I don't think any of us would doubt that. My opinion is that the oars play more of a role than the shell. They are such heavier, the hands must thus be gripped much closer together than the lighter modern oars, an this has a significant effect on the body dynamics. With a wider grip, the shoulders can rotate farther outward, giving a longer stroke (if one is flexible enough to take advantage of it). I also believe that the heaviness of the wood oars contributed to fatigue in the arms. It just makes sense--manipulating a heavier weight takes more energy. The old oars were also harder to feather because of the weight and materials (leather on brass as opposed to plastic on plastic), and using the water to assist with the feather was a very useful technique in the "heavy oar" era.

The new composite oars do indeed bend when sufficient pressure is exerted. Rod Johnson would have bent a C2 blade every bit as much as a wooden one in his prime. It took a lot of power to bend a wood oar, and carbon fiber oars are no different. They have varying degrees of stiffness depending on the preference, age, technique and strength of the rower. My super blunt opinion is that if you have the arm strength to squeeze the handle to the chest with sufficient power at the end of the stroke additional help from the "spring" of an unwinding oar isn't really needed to get the blade out of the water. I don't think flexible shafts are a major factor. It's weight and the size and shape of the blade, as has been previously commented on in this string.

I've seen a lot of film of competitive rowing from the 1920's to the modern day, and the stroke has evolved in fits and spurts, most certainly not along a straight line. The Germans at Ratzeberg did not not invent the "windmill" stroke, and the flip catch was not used by any means universally prior to World War II or afterwards. Ulbrickson, who coached from 1927 to 1959 and was very heavily influenced by George Pocock, did not coach a "pure" Waterman's or Ferryman's stroke or a catch that used the water to feather the blade. I have extensive films of the 1936 UW crew and that is plainly visible.

I think everyone is completely correct in asserting that the (modified) Pocock Waterman's stroke was extremely effective at long distances at modest stroke rates. The Huskies in the Ulbrickson era commonly rowed a base pace of 30-32 strokes per minute and it was very efficient and effective over the 3-4 mile distances.

Yes, the game has changed, but it didn't change after 1950. Sprinting a 2 kilometer distance (or so) in the Olympics or at Henley has been the standard championship international measure of the sport since, what, 1900 or 1839 for the latter? American collegiate rowing throttled back from long to sprint distances for Spring racing in the 1968 (the IRA) with some exceptions, but...

Distance racing remains alive and well in the U.S. and all over the world. There is now a Fall Racing Season for long distance racing that is popular with every age, level, and boat class. The Head of the Charles is, by far, the largest single regatta in the world. And you do see, particularly in the scullers, many adherents to a stroke that does still closely resemble the Pocock Waterman's stroke in many ways. It is a beautiful style that is very efficient and enjoyable to row, and it can still be quite fast when performed by a highly conditioned athlete with a true mastery of the technique. It still has a place in the recreational and competitive rowing world, even though it is not longer considered standard or orthodox.

But let's face it, rowing - or any racing sport - is, at the top competitive levels, only about getting from point A to point B faster than everyone else. Equipment continually develops for the sole purpose of going faster, and conditioning, technique and style evolve to make the most of those changes and to take advantage of an ever-growing body of research, both scientific and athletic. Every coach, from Courtney to Conibear to Callow to Callahan (just to name the C's!) has tinkered with equipment, technique, training and conditioning in order to accomplish that one thing: win. The evolution continues, but it is crucial to know where we have been in order to find the best path forward. It would not surprise me one bit if some modern coach discovered something in an "older" technique that could add speed.

I'm just waiting for some single sculler to discover Joe Burk and set out to do what he did in the 1930's and 1940's, racing 2K at 44 strokes per minute with a completely unique technique that, I believe, is to this day the fastest way to row. It's just too hard to accomplish. But he was unbeatable in his prime.

I've discussed this with Guy and others. I would very much like to have a little "film festival" and share some old reels that I've uncovered and am in the process of restoring and digitizing. Including film of the 1936 Olympic crew, the 1940 UW crew, the 1950 UW crew, the 1958 UW crew, the Melbourne Olympics (from George Pocock) and Pocock himself rowing on the Thames. Shall we set something up for May or June?

Best,
Lenny

The Glue

Matt,

See Lenny’s last paragraph in yellow and his offer for a mini film festival. Additionally, Lenny has some good thoughts that ought to mix well with active responses involving personal experiences and opinions from others.

Obviously, a gathering as suggested would be most interesting and no doubt highly productive.

Opening Day is May 6th, so how is your schedule for later in May or early June prior to school vacations?

Please advise and we will proceed accordingly after your response.

Thanks,
Guy

4/5/17

Duvall Hecht

Thanks, Lenny -

Great recap.

You left out one thing in the quest for greater speed - recruiting, aka hired hands.

Being conservative and old fashioned, I naturally deplore that innovation. It deprives many young men of a chance to compete for their school because some Croatian with quads like albacore tuna can whip the erg into 5:50 submission.

It smacks of "win-at-any-cost," inappropriate for rowing, also for any sport that claims amateur status. AAU needs a new moniker, NCAA beyond redemption.

I much prefer the American Collegiate Rowing Association (ACRA) model ... administered by Student Affairs/Recreation Departments, they are run as Club or Varsity Club sports. Minimum support from the college or institution. Alumni foot many of the bills, but oarsmen actually pay for the privilege of representing their school ... typically $300-$500 a quarter. Greg Hartsuff was on to something when he established ACRA, as you can see from the participation. Guys who row under this model learn a lot about paying their own way ... teaches them more than just the flip catch.

Here's a sample: Here's a sampleAmerican Collegiate Rowing Association

Thanks for listening.
Duvall

*************

Duvall, that made me laugh out loud and is so far the quote of the year: "It deprives many young men of a chance to compete for their school because some Croatian with quads like albacore tuna can whip the erg into 5:50 submission. "

Amen!

I think we've all been dismayed at the shift in Men's Division I Rowing to an international recruiting contest rather than an actual competition between regions, cities, and towns. And, yes you are exactly right that true amateur rowing still exists and is thriving in the ACRA and in other pockets in DII and DIII.

I believe one of the problems with USA Men's rowing is that the top 8 or so schools recruit accomplished rowers at Junior Worlds rather than great athletes in their own backyards. Look at Yale and Cal the last few years. Each had no more than two Americans in their Varsity eights. Freshman crew has now officially been abolished and does not now exist in DI. Why? When you recruit 22 year-old European "freshmen" who have been rowing for 10 years you do not need to teach them how to row. They go from their National Teams to the Varsity Boat. And local prospects are left in their wake, getting third rate coaching from young assistants rather than the head coach, whose job security is completely predicated on winning.

Women's rowing is perhaps a beacon. Women's collegiate rowing is thriving, attracting and producing world class athletes and rowers. I was really heartened by this last weekend's results of the "Pac-12 Challenge," a rolling dual meet format pitting #2 Ohio State, #3 Michigan and #7 Virginia against #1 Cal, #4 Washington and #5 Stanford against each other in two days of racing, east versus west. Guess who came out on top? Washington drubbed Ohio State, Michigan and Virginia and vaulted from #4 to #1 in the polls, but to me the best part about that is that 5 of the eight in the UW varsity boat are not just American but from the state of Washington. There are only two foreigners in the boat.

Consequently, the Women's USA national team, despite the organizational and funding challenges that have plagued USRowing for years, has dominated the eights for 15 years and produced Olympic and World champions and medalists outside of that boat class for years. They are doing some soul searching over there, but our model is more broken than our rowing technique. Yet there is this vein of success in on one side and a losing streak on the other.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next quadrennial.

Lenville P. O'Donnell

Thanks, Lenny -

Hope to see you guys this summer.

And you are correct about the pernicious effects of recruiting when on our Olympic performances in men's rowing when the hired hands depart for their home lands. Leaves us with a depleted pool of talent.

Drain the swamp!

D

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