By Göran R Buckhorn
Göran R Buckhorn has read a new book, an entertaining tale of American college rowing in the 1970s on ‘juvenile behaviour,’ ‘brotherly love’ and how to beat your high school nemesis.
Looking at rowing literature, or books about rowing, the field is filled with authors, writers and journalists who have written one book about our sport and then moved on to another subject. Is there any person in the modern time that has managed to write, let’s say, three books on rowing?
There are a few. The first name that comes to my mind is Chris Dodd, who the other week came out with his latest offering in the genre, Thor Nilsen: Rowing’s Global Coach (review to come on HTBS). Since 1981, Chris, who put pen to paper or hit keys on a keyboard for this website, has produced more than 10 books on the subject. Not even Lehmann and Woodgate managed to do so some 120 years ago.
On the west side of the big pond, no author has come up to Chris’s number of books. Though I honestly don’t know how to count rowing historian Peter Mallory’s four-volume, 2,500-word magnus opus The Sport of Rowing (2011), which is a gigantic work not only when it comes to pages but in depth and scope. Right now, Peter is working on a book about rowing at the Kent School, Connecticut, which can be added to his other written and edited books.
Another rowing writer is Daniel J. Boyne, who has made his life in rowing at Harvard. Dan has three books under his belt – all on rowing: Essential Sculling, The Red Rose Crew and Kelly. To these eminent books can now be added The Seven Seat: A True Story of Rowing, Revenge, and Redemption (publ. Lyons Press, 180 pages). The book title comes from Dan’s position in the freshman lightweight crew he rowed at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1979. It was after Dan had graduated from Trinity that the celebrated The Amateurs (1985) by renowned journalist David Halberstam came out. Dan writes in the introduction of The Seven Seat: ‘I took a silent vow that I would try to write a narrative, equal in measure.’
Yet in the back of my mind, a personal narrative of my college rowing days was still brewing – a lighthearted tale with a twist of revenge. The Seven Seat is that story. In a way, it is a whimsical little book, not too ambitious in scope, but rather a freshman-year frolic that is primarily meant to amuse. On the other hand, scattered throughout these pages, are some unique glimpses into the rowing world that may offer some deeper insights.
It must be mentioned that The Seven Seat is not a memoir per se. Dan has added a special ‘author’s note’ in which he states that ‘This is a work of “creative non-fiction,” which means that it is more or less true. Some of the character’s names have been altered, mostly to protect them from any factual errors on my part.’
For those of you who feel that you recognise the story or the book title, it ran on Row2k in instalments between October 2017 and June 2018 – and HTBS linked to every chapter at the time, as I felt that our readers shouldn’t miss out on this charming tale by Dan. He has re-worked some of the texts here and there for the book, so it’s not exactly as you read it on Row2k.
This is how, as Dan writes, the ‘quasi-heroic tale’ goes: He signs up for ‘crew’, an Americanism for rowing, at Trinity College, Hartford, as a freshman. He’s not big, but he manages to land a position in the freshman lightweight crew due to having tried out sculling at Blood Street Sculls in Old Lyme, Connecticut, the previous summer. We follow him and the crew of mixed characters – a bunch of castaways and rejects from other sports – on and off the (cold) river, and at regattas where they do remarkably well, much thanks to their coach, Charlie Poole. Non-American readers also learn things about what goes on at the college’s frat house parties; Skit Night; that there is no sex allowed before the Dad Vail Regatta (considered by the small colleges as the national championships at the time), at least not in the 1970s; that heavyweights don’t talk to lightweights, they bark; strong, and some cute, rowing girls; and much more.
The book also entails serious matters like bullying, something poor Dan had experienced throughout his school years, even in high school. When Dan realises that his high school bully rows in the same position as he, the seven seat, in Trinity’s archrival boat from the Coast Guard, the races between the two crews get personal for Dan (hint: ‘revenge’ in the subtitle of the book).
As Dan mentions in his introduction, this is a ‘whimsical little book,’ the primary goal is to amuse. And he has for sure succeeded in his endeavour. The Seven Seat might not reach the same literary heights as The Amateurs, which is about the 1984 rowing Olympians, but when it comes to college rowing from the period 1980s and onwards, many American rowers will be able to recognise their own days on a seat in a college boat, rowing in a wooden shell with a wooden oar, and when training off the water didn’t include an erg, but maybe a Gamut rowing machine, ‘a torturous contraption’, as Dan calls it.
The Seven Seat is a good book you must have in your rowing book collection, so purchase a copy of Dan’s book – you will not regret it, I promise.