Home Paddles, Oars and Boards Rat Island Rowing – Restoring Racing History One Shell at a Time.

Rat Island Rowing – Restoring Racing History One Shell at a Time.

by Kurt Hoehne

With the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival coming up this weekend, we’re lucky to have a story from the Rat Island Rowing Club, which combines current fun with a respectful eye at history. Thanks to Rat Island, and everyone have fun in Port Townsend this weekend! -KH

Click on any image to enlarge.

Stan Pocock on Dock - four members 2004 Olympic Gold Men's 8 in Hoh (1960 olympic gold winning shell)
Steve Chapin in the single, Larry Dewey, Roger McPherson, Ted Shoulberg and Jim Buckley in the Hoh. Photo by Dan Depew.
Images from the Rat Island Rowing Club.


Late Breaking News: Daniel Brown, author of bestseller Boys in the Boat (11 weeks on NYTimes bestsellter list) will be at the Rat Island Rowing boathouse in the Northwest Maritime Center on Saturday Sept. 6 from 12pm to 4pm for booksigning and to show his support for Rat Island Rowing and Sculling Club’s tradition of restoring and racing the classic Pocock shells that carried the 1936 Olympic gold medal crew into history.

Before there were 80 channels of sports, rowing was a major event in Washington State. When the Huskies beat Cal, 2nd Avenue erupted with paper confetti. And when the UW crew wrested the Olympic gold medal from Hitler’s iron fist, Seattle was hoisted atop the shoulders of the entire free world.

By Francine Rose

Once TV changed the landscape, the sepia photos of rowing crews – along with their dusty cedar shells – became memorabilia adorning the walls and ceilings of sports bars. Soon “Rowing” became SEO-speak for “Erging” – an indoor exercise that trumps a cold, wet predawn practice any day.

Still, there’s something about wading into Port Townsend Bay mid-October, climbing in-to a 62-foot stiletto and yoking yourself to 8 people with an unhealthy desire for perfection. Call it torture, call it OCD – but if you’ve ever watched a racing shell knife through the water, blades in perfect symmetry, it triggers something in you.

That something is the endless chase of the perfect stroke, a feat that – when done on an erg – won’t get you across the gymnasium floor any faster – let alone give you the. Frankensteinian thrill of breathing life into an inanimate object, just by adding water and a little voltage. For over a century, that object was a wafer-thin wooden racing shell…. And the Stradi-varius of them all was Seattle’s George Yeomans Pocock – another person with an un-healthy desire for perfection.

In the 1970s Western red cedar gave way to fiberglass, carbon fiber, and now Hyper-carbon™. The high-maintenance “woodies” were shuffled to the back of the boat-house, and out the door in search of a good home.

For many of them, that home is Port Townsend’s Rat Island Rowing and Sculling Club, where championship wooden shells are lovingly restored and actively raced by rowers from 18 to 80.

We’re located at the corner of Point Hudson and Water Street in the new Northwest Maritime Center, home of Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival Sept 5-7. On Saturday September 6th, the boys (and girls) in the boat will be in a regatta doing what they do best – breathing new life into old classics – just by adding water and a little voltage.

Come cheer us on, or read more about us at ratislandrowing.com. And while you’re on our website, a small donation to our restoration efforts trumps a ticker tape parade any day!

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