The other day HTBS-colleague Greg Denieffe pointed me in the direction of an old Swedish rowing medal on eBay. It was handed out as a winning medal (‘1 Pris’) for coxed fours on 19 July, 1908, at a regatta held in Vaxholm, a small town in the outer parts of the Stockholm archipelago. The organiser was the local rowing club, Vaxholms Roddförening, and on the medal you can see an out-rigged coxed four and the town’s coat of arms (as it looked then) with the Vaxholm fortress, which was first built in 1510. It was some time after the 1650s that the fortification got its round stone tower which is still in the town’s coat of arms today. The fortress was not only kept as a military protection (against the Russians), as the sea entrance to Stockholm, it was also a customs-house where duties were paid by outside merchants going in to the Swedish capital.
Rowing had been practiced for centuries in the archipelago – it is also known that there were rowing races in the 1860s and 1870s – before the first organised rowing club saw the light of day in Vaxholm in 1883. Soon, other rowing clubs were founded in the area, but they all only lasted for a couple of years. However, in 1889, Vaxholms Roddförening was founded and rapidly grew to be one of Sweden’s most successful rowing clubs before the Second World War. It was the first Swedish rowing club to compete in Finland, where in 1902, the club raced and won against the local rowing club in Helsinki and some Russian clubs. Its members became Swedish champions, Nordic champions and represented Sweden in the Olympic Games in 1912, 1920 and 1936.
I am sorry to say that I have not been able to locate any information about this 1908 regatta. The most famous regatta organised by Vaxholms Roddförening is Distanskapprodden (‘The Distance Race’) which is a 14,500-metre (9-mile) long race between Stockholm and Vaxholm in inrigger coxed fours. This race was first organised in 1894, but then by another rowing club, Hammarby IF. Between 1905 and 1907, and then from 1919, it has been organized by Vaxholms Roddförening. Take a look at some of the more recent racing photographs here.
There was already a famous rowing race in 1844 between the Vaxholm fortress and the centre of Stockholm. That year, a Russian expedition, which was doing scientific measuring of the Baltic Sea, had received the permission by the Swedish king Karl XIV Johan to visit Stockholm. When the vessel, a paddle steamer, approached Vaxholm fortress it did not only neglect to stop to be inspected, it broke the code of honor by not saluting the Swedish flag which was raised on the fortress. This annoyed Colonel Anders Israel Panchen, the old commander of the fortress, who ordered a canon-shot to be fired in front of the Russian vessel. The Russians still ignored the order to stop whereupon Colonel Panchen ordered a second and then a third salvo towards the paddle steamer. The third shot hit the wheel and made the vessel unmanageable.
A Russian Navy officer and his crew rowed over to the fortress to ask what was the matter? Colonel Panchen informed him that they had insulted the Swedish flag by not saluting it. The Russians rowed back to the paddle wheeler, but suddenly their boat changed its course to row into Stockholm to complain to the king. Panchen ordered a boat of his best oarsmen to make haste and row into the castle to be the first ones to inform the king about the incident. Despite the Russians’ long lead, the Swedish gig managed to catch up and pass the Russians and was first in to the castle to inform the king, who was said to be very pleased with his sailors’ rowing…. well, so the legend goes….