Europe is always an interesting contrast of cutting edge new and classic traditions. I was delighted during my recent trip there to see these illustrated through wooden rowing shells – the contrast between a rowing shell that was about 100 years old and a new wooden shell under construction. Both were beautiful. While we can enjoy the speed and liveliness of modern racing and recreational shells, a wooden boat is a thing of beauty, both to the eye and to the oar.
The new wooden single was under construction at the Stämpfli boatyard in Zürich, Switzerland http://www.staempfli-boats.ch/ or http://www.stampfli.co.uk/ . I got a peek inside the workshop during the emergency boat baptism https://rowingtheworld.com/emergency-boat-baptism/ . Daniel, one of the new owners and a long standing craftsman of the Swiss operation gave us a quick tour. The smell alone was fantastic. They make only a few wooden singles each year and each is a work of art.
The traditional side was in evidence in the Netherlands, at Nautilus club in Rotterdam. Everywhere I went in the Netherlands, I was impressed with the quantity and quality of wooden boats, especially the very typically Dutch wherry (a coxed double- actually it holds two coxes, one to steer and one to navigatie). I know that being January, it was the season to maintain boats, but every boathouse I went into had boats being cared for, lovingly. It was very impressive. The results are clear. The Zeemeew was about 100 years old, but its age was deceptive. Maybe I should start trying varnish instead of face cream if I could look like that!
When I returned home to Winnipeg, I pulled out my copy of “Rowable Classics: Wooden Single Sculling Boats & Oars” by Darryl J. Stickler http://www.rowableclassics.com/ . Having just seen the range of old and new wooden rowing shells, I appreciate even more this book, which illustrates lavishly the multitude of these beautiful boats and what they have and still contribute to our sport. In “The Boys in the Boat” Daniel James Brown attributes the following to George Pocock, legendary wooden boat builder:
The wood, Pocock murmured, taught us about survival, about overcoming difficulty, about prevailing over adversity, but it also taught us something about the underlying reasons for surviving in the first place. Something about infinite beauty, about undying grace, about things larger and greater than ourselves. About the reasons we were all here.