Pocock Classic Cedar Single Racing Shells
Dave Pratt on
The Demise of the Pocock Stroke



Well, folks...I guess it can be said the Pocock stroke is apparently a thing of the past. I am so glad that we had the opportunity to enjoy that beautiful Waterman stroke so many years ago. I look at the AMRC 1991 YouTube video and relive those wonderful times and turnouts.

Guy Harper

Hi Guy:

Here’s my take: The Pocock stroke is long gone because the long race is long gone! Its demise took about 5 years to happen, and it began in 1960 when the U.S. Olympic eight (Navy) failed to win the gold medal, for the first time in the history of the modern Olympics. The U.S. rowing community was shocked – SHOCKED !! – and within a few years had changed all national championship races from 3 miles to 2000 meters.

I was coaching at Navy from 1958 – 1964, during the time when the change in rowing styles took place. (In fact, that’s one of the reasons I quit coaching.)

It begab with the advent of Karl Adams’ crews from Ratzeburg, Germany, in the late 1950’s. I was privileged to watch one of his crews up close (from a following launch) when they were on a visiting tour of the U.S. in the spring of 1963. I was shocked to learn that, with the exception of #6, the crew were all lightweights, and rowed with a continuous windmill high-stroke rate, even while paddling. Since they couldn’t match the strength of heavyweight crews, they could only beat them (and they did!) by rowing a higher stroke rate. In flat conditions, or with following winds, they were unbeatable. In headwinds, though, they could be beaten (and were!) by heavyweight crews.

A story from that era was that, in the spring of 1964, they often raced against the Vesper crew from Philadelphia. The pattern was that the lighter crew would get a faster start, typically having almost a length lead in the first 20 strokes. Then, Vesper would steadily move up, and would close within a few seats by the end of the race. The Vesper bow pair was the scrappy Amlong brothers. At the end of the race, Joe Amlong would shake his fist and call over to the #6 man (and captain) of the Ratzeburg boat, “Dieter, you god-damned kraut bastard, if that race had been two strokes longer, we would have had your asses!” . . . to which Dieter would grin and reply calmly “Ah, but it vasn’t, vas it, Joe!” At the summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, there was a severe headwind on the Toda race course on the day of the finals, and Vesper did in fact beat the Ratzeburgers, for the ONLY time that year.

Also, Guy, you may remember Stan telling about how, in 1960, he had his straight four come rapidly out of bow and slide aft as quickly as possible, pausing at the ready-all position and balancing when rowing a lower than race pace stroke rate. No waterman’s stroke there!

Like you, I loved the rhythm and pace of rowing, as we learned it from Stan and Al, and except for rowing for exercise and pleasure, lost interest in competitive rowing: with longer slides (at full reach, you can’t lean forward from the hips because your chest hits your thighs), and there’s little-to-no spring in the oars because they are filament-wound round pipes. It’s just plain different, and not as satisfying as the old Pocock stroke!

Cheers, Dave

David T. Pratt
10901 176th Circle NE, #1712
Redmond, WA 98052


Jim and Dave,

Yep, you folks really explained the real reason for the rowing change from the Waterman to the Windmill style... Basically from a 15 minute race to a 6 minute race, eliminated the opportunity to “settle” the stroke...so now it is just an all-out flailing at a very high stroke with no chance for a second wind and little resemblance of the technique and finesse of years ago. Apparently, this change wins races...however, I really wonder if the sport is enjoyed as much as we enjoyed it many years ago...

Jim: Keep up the good work at Port Townsend with the Waterman (Pocock) stroke. It might be interesting to discuss detail with Dave some afternoon, his direct recollections as the rowing style change was most interesting and surprising.

I read this 1963 Ratzeburg article and found it quite interesting: (50 strokes per minute! Wow! Why did they even need sliding seats!)




Historical note: Before there was the “flip” catch, there was the “sculler’s” catch.

Professional watermen (i.e., water taxi operators) and today’s recreational scullers share the same goal of rowing with maximum efficiency, which requires a lot of muscle relaxation between strokes. Since sculls (i.e., sculling oars) and sweeps share the same design feature of being slightly weighted outboard, so that hands-off, the feathered oar blade lies flat on the water. A small downward force on the handle is required to raise the oarblade off the water.

For a variety of reasons, recreational scullers (especially beginners) allow the feathered blade to slide along the (smooth) water surface during the recovery. The “sculler’s” catch thus causes the blade to square up and enter the water simultaneously, without ever losing contact with the water! With any blade shape, this catch obviously misses the least water at entry.

Finally, it’s interesting to reflect on which blade shape allows the earliest application of maximum pressure: The squared-up hatchet, having the largest lateral dimension and therefore being the highest above the water surface, takes the longest time to descend vertically until fully buried. The laterally thinner Macon (“tulip”) blade, or old-fashioned “skinny” blade, has the least time required to enter the water, but it still requires time to be rotated to fully squared – applying pressure before that causes “knifing in.”

It’s fun gumming these ideas.

Dave Pratt

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