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Our Legacy of Wooden Shells

Our Legacy of Wooden Shells


by Marsha Wiener
The first wooden boat races occurred in 17th century England, where the Thames River was used to transport goods and services. It wasn’t long before one waterman challenged another to a race. Speed became important, and over the next two centuries the boats were modified to become the wooden racing shells that were widely used until the advent of fiber-reinforced plastic shells in 1972. These were stiffer, stronger, more durable, more easily repaired and required less maintenance than wooden shells, which often fell into disuse. This proved to be a boon for rowers in Port Townsend, as we were able to acquire several wooden boats at little or no cost, many of which came with impressive histories. Here are the stories of some:

The Stan Pocock, (formerly the Riverside) one of 30 shells built for the 1968 Olympic trials in Long Beach California, is the only wooden shell that will bear his name. After the trials, the shells were never trucked down to Mexico City for the 68 Olympics, thus ending nearly half a century of Olympic dominance by the Pocock dynasty. Read more here

*The Hoh, a straight four, was built by Stan Pocock, and the Lake Washington crew he coached rowed it to win the gold medal in the 1960 Olympics. Years later it was donated to the Port Townsend club, where it was restored by a group of rowers that included Ted Shoulberg, Stephanie Ingram, Ole Kanestrom, Steve Chapin and Jim Buckley. After it was later damaged when a crew bashed it on rocks in a high wind, Steve Chapin did such a masterful job of patching a hole in the hull that Stan asked that the boat be given a place of honor at the George Pocock Rowing Center, where it has been on display since 2005. Read more here

*The Frank C.  The Frank C. was originally built as a straight for the Washington Athletic Club to compete in the trials for the 1960 Olympics. Stan Pocock added a rudder after his rudderless four had been blown off course 6 years earlier, denying the WAC crew a berth in the Trials. The Frank C (which we had called the OHO) was given to our club by Stan Pocock in partial exchange for the Hoh. Following extensive renovation, it was renamed the Frank C. in honor of the late Frank Cunningham   Read more here


The Quinault Stan Pocock thought the boat was built about 1949 as a “bat (interbattalion) boat” – the double hull to add strength and durability to boats built for Navy’s interbattalion rowing program. The Quinault was built for the University of Washington .Guy Harper (UW Crew ’54) rowed stroke in the Quinault when his freshman crew beat “The Great Eight”  Navy crew in 1951 IRA. It was donated to Western Washington University, then Everett Rowing HS program, then the fledgling Port Townsend Rowing Club (later the Rat Island Rowing Club) where it became the club’s flag ship – and literally the only rowing shell we had for our entire first year (1998.) Read more here. 

 The Husky Challenger, an eight, was built by Stan Pocock in 1956 and was transported to Syracuse, New York, where it was left for several years for the use of University of Washington crews who were by that time traveling to and from regattas via planes, not trains. It eventually came to Port Townsend and was used by our rowers, who repaired innumerable splits in the hull until they realized the value of removing all the varnish and varnishing a layer of cloth onto the hull. The Tuf as Nails crew, who have spent the last two years restoring the boat, rowed it in the 2004 San Diego Crew Classic. A sister ship to the famous Husky Clipper, it was used as a “stunt double” in the filming of the PBS documentary Boys of 36.

The Kathy Lazarra Whitman, originally an 8+ was converted into an Octuple. It was one of the last Pocock wooden shells ever built (1976) and one of the first built for Green Lake crew, where Kathy Whitman was coach and parks/rec director. It was converted to an Oct by Kathy’s husband DeWitt, boatman and member of the Ancient Mariners Rowing Club, whose members, along with the Pocock Rowing Center generously donated it to Rat Island Rowing. In 2015, we raised enough funds for a complete restoration of this gorgeous shell – the pride of our fleet! Read more here 

The Ristretto, a Pocock double, built in 1979 for lightweight men or women, was acquired by a consortium of local rowers a few years ago. A “ristretto” is barista lingo for a coffee brew that is strong but not bitter and means “to pull short,” which Jim Buckley and Roger McPherson agreed would be a fitting name for the boat, since it described their rowing technique.

The Menage a Trois  is the sistership to  our older Stämpfli triple (owned privately), donated by the Nicomekl Racing Club in Surry BC at the behest of our own Ted Shoulberg. We are all familiar with Pococks, but  Stämpfli is actually the oldest operating rowing boat manufacturer in the world, founded in Zurich 1896 by Johann Friedrich August Stämpfli. During the 1910s the company experimented with the design of a U-shaped hull rather than the more common semi-circle shape. This proved to be successful and many shells switched to the new design.

The “Triple” was a Stampfli bow coxed pair that has been converted into a three-person shell. It was purchased in Canada and is jointly owned by a few of our guys.

The Small Wonder, the first eight-oared shell made for ordinary sized women, consisted of two fours cobbled together by Stan Pocock and Frank Cunningham because of their concern that shells were built for 6’4” 200-pound men. Frank observed that women rowing these large boats looked like “chipmunks on a log.” The Small Wonder and its oars are 10% smaller in every dimension than a standard shell. “Frank’s Little Women” rowed the Small Wonder in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The passage of Title 9, which equalized opportunities for women participating in sports, resulted in many boats being built for women, and the Small Wonder was donated to the Wooden Boat Foundation. It has been rowed by the Tuf as Nails crew on occasion.

The Lucy Pocock Stillwell is not one of our boats, but the custom built Lake Washington Rowing Club’s flyweight coxed quad is nevertheless a special kind of shell that deserves a write up of her own. Like the Small Wonder, Stan built the Lucy  for women, only the “Shrimps” who row her are cox-sized and no taller than 5’2″. Using the lines from a men’s pair, the rowing stations were scaled down to accommodate her crew Read More here