The Naked Oar

23 January 2019

By Tim Koch

There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.

Thus, went the famous line delivered at the conclusion of each episode of the late 1950s police drama, The Naked City. Like the aforementioned undressed metropolis, rowing has many tales, anecdotes and yarns. This is one of them. While, in many ways, it is a story that is only significant to those directly involved, it is reproduced here because it is a nice example of the incalculable number of little incidents, each of which shows what a special sport rowing is.

Of those who take up serious rowing in their youth, few make it a lifelong involvement – however much they enjoy it at the time. For many people attempting to build or maintain careers and relationships, the sport is either too physically inaccessible and/or too demanding of time and effort to continue much after formal education ends and proper ‘grown-up’ life begins. All that these legions of ex-rowers often have left are many fond memories and a few precious souvenirs – as in the case of the McCutchan brothers.

Stuart McCutchan from Virginia, USA, writes:

(My) brother Brian and I were members at Furnivall Sculling Club [in Hammersmith, West London] many, many years ago – in 1976, in fact. We both were youths, obviously… and American, unusually. Our father was a diplomat, and we lived nearby [on Rivercourt Road].

(We) only rowed at Furnivall for one year but while we were there we won three regattas – Henley Head of the River, Metropolitan Amateur Regatta, and a third regatta which name I can’t remember. It was a remarkable achievement considering that we were rowing against schools which had greater resources and numbers. The credit for this went to the club captain, Pat O’Brien, who made us his personal project, training us daily. This attention quickly turned us into expert rowers and outstanding athletes. (This hardly describes me today, unfortunately!)

The victorious Furnivall Junior Crew of 1976. Left to right: Ian Hopkins (stroke), Stuart McCutchan, Kevin O’Shay (cox), Brian McCutchan, Kevin Wright (bow).

When we left England in the summer of 1976, Furnivall did us the great honor of presenting us with the trophy oar which our crew had won in the Henley Head of the River Race, our first win. This again was Pat’s doing. My brother and I have traded “the oar” back and forth ever since, as we now live in different parts of America…

There were only the four of us in our age bracket at Furnivall when we started. But by the time Brian and I left the club (sad day!), Furnivall could put two eight-man boats in the water – our original four’s success inspired many other boys to become members…

A couple months ago I had the idea of getting a replica made of the oar. I made contact with Jonny Cantwell at TrophyOars.com, and he graciously agreed to take on the project…

Then, in late November, my brother Brian notified me that he and his wife and son were planning a trip to Europe which would include a visit to London, and of course to Furnivall…. I decided that I’d better be there as well, and made (secret) reservations to travel to London… Jonny Cantwell and I [planned] to be at Furnivall on Jan. 3rd, with the intention of giving my brother the surprise of his life when he and his family (showed) up…

Brian, Jonny, Stuart and the new oar.

Jonny Cantwell takes over the story:

As with many quickly made plans, it started to unravel almost immediately! Due to a small oversight, Brian’s family were flying from Europe into Stansted Airport and not Heathrow as originally thought… With the assistance of text messages from the family of the still blissfully unaware Brian, it was decided to ‘ambush’ him at dinner which was booked at the Old Ship, not far upstream [from Furnivall Sculling Club]….

Poor Brian was completely stunned! So much so that he didn’t really question Stuart’s decision to be in London to surprise him, nor did he notice the large box under my arm. Soon inside the pub, and still armed with the element of surprise, Stuart said that he had something to present and out of the box came the new oar. Needless to say, a wonderful dinner was had with many stories about the old days. After dinner I left the family still bubbling with excitement.

Tim concludes:

Thank you, Stuart and Jonny, for a nice story. I can add that, your stroke, Ian Hopkins (son of Tideway stalwart, Jimmy Hopkins) continued in rowing and had a distinguished career. However, perhaps Ian is best remembered for what he did not do. He reached seven (I think) Henley finals – but he never won (though it’s still a lot more than most of us have ever done).

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