What is the origin of Committee Boats at Regattas?

We got a question from a reader and this sparked some great contributions from Rowing History, Skiff rowing racing and so I thought I’d share it with you.

Gold and Silver
Gold and Silver (Photo credit: rebeccacaroe2000)

Committee boats are when the regatta organisers (the committee) provide the boats to the competitors
It originated in traditional regattas when the skiffs used were built as matched pairs and so always raced in the same races. Therefore it didn’t matter if you had an older or newer boat, you were always racing in a boat of comparable age and wear/tear to your opponents.

In traditional regattas, the clubs bring only their oars to the event and the boats are already there waiting for you!

 Göran Buckhorn, Hear the Boat Sing Blog

I have to confess that I know very little about the historical background of “committee boats” when it comes to “traditional regattas”. I think you have covered it well in your writing, Rebecca. However, I can imagining that a rower or a crew who had to travel from a long distance to reach a regatta would be offered a boat to borrow by the regatta organisers. It is also known that some crews put their own boat on a train or a ferry and shipped them far in advance as they did not want to row in borrowed boat. This, for example, happened at the very early Olympic rowing regattas. Of course, this could also be dangerous, as boats and oars could get damaged during transportation. Two examples: A very good Swedish coxed four got their shell smashed up in a storm aboard the large boat that transported the shell from Stockholm to Antwerp for the 1920 Olympic Games – the crew had to row in a crappy old boat and came dead last in their first heat; another Olympic Games example is the famous British double, Jack Beresford and Dick Southwood, who was waiting and waiting for their shell to arrive for the 1936 Olympic rowing. For days and days, they had to practice in a less that perfect double on lake Langer See until their own double was found on some sidetracks at the railway station where the Germans had “parked” their boat.

The first time I have read the term “committee boats” where in a text after the Second World War, I think from 1949. Otherwise, the term frequently comes up from the middle, or late 1960s. Many, many crews have blamed their poor preformence during a regatta on the “committee boat” they had to compete in.

In the beginning of 1990s I picked up a South American sculler, Jesus Posse, and drove him to the first World Cup regatta held in Sweden. He came with his little bag and his sculls under his arms. The committee boats that the Swedish organisers had managed to find where from local rowing clubs in the region. At larger. “elite”, regattas nowadays, World Cup regattas, World Championships, etc. I think that famous boat builders have shells to lend out to those rowers who came from far away.

Sorry that I cannot give you more facts.

 David Hudson of the Skiff Racing Association

The Skiff Racing Association has a set of Specifications For the dimensions of  Doubles, Singles and the Sculls used in them.

All Clubs have to have their boats made to these specs. Despite this there are minor differences in the boats owned by different clubs depending on how the tolerances allowed are used.

All regattas supply the boats which are normally loaned by the nearest Club to the Event.

Clubs use their own sculls.

 

Anyone else know more about the origin of Committee Boats?

7 thoughts on “What is the origin of Committee Boats at Regattas?

  1. David Biddulph says:

    I can never hear of committee boats at regattas without chuckling at one of my favourite recollections of racing with the late Colin Ellis. We had finished (and lost) a race in committee boat coxed pairs at Stourport Regatta, and Colin raised his hand to protest to the co-ordinating umpire. His protest was as follows: “This is committee boat pairs, isn’t it? Our crew is qualified because I’m the Chairman of our club committee, RR is the Treasurer, & Sooty is the Secretary. Are we sure that the opposition is qualified to race in a committee event?”

  2. Greg Denieffe says:

    A ‘Jobsworth’ (IMO) disqualified me in my only Committee Boats race. I was asked to cox the Carlow crew in the coxed-pairs at Northwich Regatta (Cheshire) in the mid-80s. Not having sat in the cox’s seat since I was 14, I reluctantly agreed, after all Carlow had travelled over the Irish Sea to race and who doesn’t want a shiny pot to take home. The Carlow pair was strong with a Junior International and a ‘giant’ so were relying on me not to crash. A quick start and a strong middle allowed us to cruise to three lengths of clear water before paddling home, only for the race to be awarded to the NORTHWICH pair as I had come off station (i.e. the middle of the river). They give warnings in the ‘Goblets’ at HRR but not on the Weaver! Memo to self: Get over it.

  3. Stan Collingwood says:

    Committee Boats were ‘the norm’ for lower status events, particularly ‘Maidens’ [Novices] and were only phased out by the arrival of sectional boats and the ability of clubs to use trailers.
    When boats had either to be rowed from one’s home boathouse to the regatta or loaded onto a wooden frame mounted on a Haulage firms lorry – the notorious and single minded ‘Boat Lorry’ – often driven by folk who seemed to have had a humour bypass and not over endowed with ‘Customer Service’ skills, Regattas provided ‘Committee’ boats.
    These supposed ‘matched’ boats were in variably clinker built and almost universally used for Novice Fours and, as ‘Sooty’ says above Coxed Pairs. They frequently had single action 18″ slides and stretcher boards for the foot with just an old piece of string to hold in the feet. The angle of the boards often was not sympathetic to good rowing. One turned up with one’s, usually ‘toothpick’ blades and just got in and got on with it. Rigging and sitting correctly ‘in front’ or ‘behind’ one;’s work was not on the agenda. A quick paddle up to the start and race.
    One year, from an entry of 22, at Bedford Regatta when racing for my school we narrowly lost the final of novice fours using blades we borrowed from the UL Senior coxed four [and therefore to us huge and very long]; we shared a coach [Alan Watson]. I don’t think we rated above 28 all day and my back has never been so sore! We never did discover who had failed to bring us our own blades.
    Committee Boats also faded away when the restricted boats came along.
    It’s good to see them re-emerging as the ‘fun’ side of the sport revives. Rigging is important when racing is serious but for most people in most circumstances “a little learning is a dangerous thing!”

  4. Al Moir says:

    As has been noted, the committee boats were needed because/few clubs had trailers, or for that matter towing vehicles. They were, theoretically, matched boats and had usually been purchased together. Fours, pairs and even eights were used in the 1950s.

  5. Rebecca Caroe says:

    Greg – I am with you. It’s the utter UNFAIRNESS of the outcome that stays with you for such a l-o-n-g time!

    Al – thanks for that. I clearly didn’t start rowing early enough!

    Does anyone else think that the re-introduction of committee boat events would encourage more social rowers to go to regattas? If they could just rock up and row then there’s a much easier passage to involvement and it’s easier for a small club without lots of volunteer trailer drivers to participate.

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