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Tales of Row: A review of Rowing Tales by Tim Koch

This post was originally published on Hear the Boat Sing. 30 October 2017 Tim Koch reveals what his … read more

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This post was originally published on Hear the Boat Sing.

30 October 2017

Tim Koch reveals what his rowing friends are getting for Christmas.

The Naked City, a 1948 film noir directed by Jules Dassin, famously concluded with the line ‘There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them’. Nearly 60 years later, Rebecca Caroe holds that there are at least an equal number of stories in the sport of rowing, and she has collected 40 of the best in an anthology titled Rowing Tales.

Anything that produces as much passion and commitment as rowing does will inevitably generate stories which range, in the words of the 1964 Olympic Gold Medalist, Emory Clark, ‘….from the profound to the frivolous, [from] poetry to prose, [from] history to humour….’ What Clark calls Rebecca’s ‘collection of short vignettes of rowing lore’ will perhaps even be of interest to those who have never pulled an oar in anger.

The multi-faceted and multi-talented Rebecca Caroe (with BBC journalist Tim Willcox) when she was commenting on the rowing at the London 2012 Olympics. Picture: @BBC Tim Willcox.

Many anthologies include authors who, when collected together, are strange bedfellows – and Rowing Tales is no exception. Those sharing this literary boudoir range from the ‘sublime’ (Charles Dickens and Herman Melville) to (in purely relative terms of course) the ‘ridiculous’ (Göran Buckhorn and Chris Dodd). Somewhere in-between are great rowers (such as Drew Ginn and Joe Burk), outstanding technicians (such as George Pocock and Volker Nolte) and inspiring coaches (such as Steve Fairbairn and Duncan Holland). Some contributors are little known outside their own club, town or country, and a few are, in the words of the old joke, not even household names in their own household. However, an individual’s fame – or the lack of it – does not reflect on the quality of their particular story. Nor does Rowing Tales lack variety.

Chris Dodd tells how he became a combined rowing and war correspondent. Andrew O’Brien’s story begins with the encouraging news that ‘We all have one perfect rowing stroke in us’. Three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Andrew Triggs Hodge, reveals his softer side. GB cox Adrian Ellison remembers avoiding a deer on a rowing course. Peter Mallory explains why June 8, 1973, was the best of times and the worst of times. Stuart Harrison does nothing to dispel Australian stereotypes when he tells the story of the men’s four that came second in women’s pairs. Boris Starling recalls the great coach Harry Mahon telling his crews to ‘Hear the boat sing’.

One contributor who was of particular interest to me was Volker Nolte. His piece, “Kolbe’s Last Chance”, added much to my recent HTBS post on the story of the sliding rigger, notably that his development of the device led directly to the now widely used wing rigger.

New Zealand-based Cambridge graduate Rebecca Caroe is ‘a direct response marketing and new business development specialist’. On the rowing front, she is perhaps best known for her company,Rowperfect the leading rowing sport educational resource and online community’. Rebecca writes of Rowing Tales

I’m grateful for the insights and wry smiles as the many, many contributors have given me their stories, and for the stories themselves. And also to Peter Mallory for editing and formatting the collection.

I hope you enjoy (the) book. Leave it by the bed, in the bathroom, in the boathouse. Let others dip in and read, or send a copy to an old rowing friend.

If it inspires you to tell me your rowing tale – by all means send it by email to When we get enough, we’ll do a second volume. It could become an annual publication.


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