The Long and the Short Of It

The ‘ram dam’ is a coxed treble with bow and stroke rowing sweep while ‘2’ sculls. Here, one is in use during ‘swan upping’ in 2011.

26  May 2020

By Tim Koch

Tim Koch goes from one to 44.

In Britain at least, most adults learning to row at a typical club would probably start in a sweep eight. From this, they may then go into a coxed four. As they improve, they could progress to a coxless four or to sculling, perhaps beginning in a single. I consider the pair the last craft to be mastered; you can put two ostensibly good rowers together in a sweep two-person boat and it still may not work. Whatever a rower’s path through different boat types, it is natural to think of rowing or sculling boats as only having crews of one, two, four or eight. However, as the following examples show, other options are available. I have only included rowing and sculling craft and not boats that are paddled – even though some traditional canoes, such as the ‘Snake Boats’ of India, can carry a huge crew.

One: Édouard Candeveau, the Swiss single sculler who was European Sculling Champion in 1922, 1923, 1929 and 1931.
Two: The Onfroy brothers from France, coxless pair, Henley 2017.
Two: SE Swann and CM Stuart of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, double scull, c.1911.
Two: Nathaniel Reilly-O’Donnell, Matthew Tarrant and Henry Fieldman (cox), coxed pair, 2015 World Rowing Championships.

No reflection on Henry Fieldman’s abilities but there is a story that when Steve Redgrave and Andy Holmes were training for the coxed pair in the 1988 Seoul Olympics, cox Pat Sweeney was sometimes not available, so they replaced him with a heavy toolbox.

Three: Three Men in a Boat. The famous treble of Ernie Barry (World Professional Sculling Champion 1912 – 1920), Wally Kinnear (Olympic Sculls, 1912) and Harry Blackstaffe (Olympic Sculls, 1908).
Four: Sydney RC, coxless four, Henley 2019.
Four: A coxed four at Grünau, Berlin, Germany, depicted on a postcard printed in 1904.
Four: A Leander quad, Henley Women’s Regatta, 2016.
Five: In 2010, Carl Douglas made two rare boats, quintuples, for the five members of the popular musical combo, Take That, to use in the video for their song, “The Flood”.
Six: A coxless (’straight’) six of the Massachusetts Agricultural College, 1871. Sixes were particularly popular in the U.S. in the mid- to late 19th century and were used in early Harvard – Yale races. The coxless version was more common, which was strange as they were very difficult to steer, perhaps they reason that they fell out of favour. Picture: University of Massachusetts.
Six: A coxed six at the Grand Regatta of the Hudson River Rowing Association, 1868.
Eight: The Canadian eight at the 1924 Paris Olympics. Naturally, it is coxed but I am sure that, at least once in rowing history, some people have tried to row a coxless eight (but perhaps they did not live to tell the tale).
Eight: Dr Furnivall coxing an octuple, 1907. In Britain, these boats have become much more common since sweep rowing for under-14s was disallowed. I think that it is a shame that they are not often available for adults at club level.
Ten: Eton School traditionally possess a ten-oar, always called “The Monarch”. This is the current and fifth Monarch, built in 1990, at the 2019 ‘Procession of Boats’.
Twelve: London Rowing Club rows past in a 23-metre 12-oar at Henley in 1989. A four seat section had been added to the middle of a sectional eight. London had run two 12-oars from 1860 to 1895.
Fourteen: A Swedish church boat. While 14 oars seems the most common number today, church boats can have almost any number of oars – with 60 as the most recorded. In the past, Swedish and Finnish clergy demanded that such boats were built to carry people from remote communities to church. Inevitably perhaps, on the way back they would race each other.
Sixteen: Oxford’s “Leviathan” was built in 1951 to train new oarsmen. Picture: Tom Weil collection.
Eighteen: Another Swedish church boat, this one with 18 oars. Dalarna Province, Sweden, c.1909.
Eighteen: Although the crew are standing up and facing the bow of this gondola, this is actually rowing, the oars are working around a fulcrum, the ‘fórcola’. Such craft are called ‘diesona’ (ten oarsmen), ‘dodesona’ (twelve), ‘quatordesona’ (fourteen) and, as here, ‘disdotona’ (eighteen). Pictured at the Thames Diamond Jubilee Flotilla, 2012.
Twenty: Iroquoi First Nation/Native American people in a 20-seat craft near Montreal, Canada, c.1910.

The Iroquoi Tribes (who prefer the name ‘Haudenosaunee Confederacy’) live in the Northeastern part of North America in both the U.S. and Canada. To most of us, the best-known tribe in the Confederacy is the Mohawk. According to a University of Houston website: ‘The Iroquois built big thirty-foot-long freight-carrying canoes that held 18 passengers or a ton of merchandise. Emptied, even those canoes could be portaged by just three people’. However, the boat pictured in this old postcard does not appear to be a traditional craft. It seems to be rowed, not paddled, and it does not look like a light elm bark canoe construction.

Twenty-four: ‘The Stämpfli Express’, the 24-seat, 44-metre, six-sectioned boat built by Stämpfli for publicity purposes. Picture: DJK Photography.
Forty-four: A ‘fautasi’ (meaning ‘to build as one’), a 30-metre, 44-oared Samoan longboat. One would expect such a boat to be paddled but this is clearly a rowing boat. According to an academic study, fautasi races ‘represent the single largest cultural event in American Samoa’.

Any advance on forty-four?


  1. The Greek trireme was a large boat with three banks of oars. These ships were about 120 feet long and required 170 men to operate the oars!

  2. The rowers seats were as follows:

    62 thranitai in the top row (thranos means “deck”). They rowed through the parexeiresia, an outrigger which enabled the inclusion of the third row of oars without significant increase to the height and loss of stability of the ship. Greater demands were placed upon their strength and synchronization than on those of the other two rows.

    54 zygitai in the middle row, named after the beams (zygoi) on which they sat.

    54 thalamitai or thalamioi in the lowest row, (thalamos means “hold”). Their position was certainly the most uncomfortable, being underneath their colleagues and also exposed to the water entering through the oarholes, despite the use of the askōma, a leather sleeve through which the oar emerged.

    Steering was done by a single helmsman known as kybernetes, so that maybe takes it to 171, excluding others on the boat not “rowing”

  3. Small correction: the Leviathan (not Leviathon) built for the Oxford University Boat Club was launched on 13 November 1951, eight years earlier than written above. Wondering about the Swedish church boats. Ladies need to go to church too. Did they row, or were they stuffed into the boats as passengers, or not go to church at all?

  4. Thank you, Teresa, for the corrections. They have now been made in the article.

    Regarding if women rowed the church boats – yes, they did. At certain occasions the women just had to. The Sunday church service also became a social gathering, and as such food and drink were plentiful after the service. As a result, the men were often too drunk to row back home to the village, so the women took to the oars. It was not uncommon that the different villagers raced the boats home, and if needed, the women raced, too. During the summer months, there are still church boat races in Sweden with men’s crews, women’s crews or mixed crews.


  5. As of 2015 Stampfli U.K. was offering a triple. Aimed at crews who either were a club member short for a quad or as a way of always boating squad members in a crew boat when you had odd numbers. No need to put out one person in a single alongside doubles and quads. Also some triples around based on converted bow coxed pairs. More about re-using a hull that became redundant when this category was dropped from international competition?

  6. The ‘ram dam’ is also known as a ran dan, ran’dan or Ran-dan; I’ve seen the “n”s used more frequently than the “m”s. See, e.g. The desk Standard dictionary of the English language, James Champlin Fernald, ‎Frank H. Vizetelly – 1922 Page 644 ran’dan, n. 1. [Eng.] A boat rowed by three persons, the one amidships having two oars and the others one each. 19th century references to them are not terribly uncommon, and they can be found in coxed and uncoxed forms.

  7. I rowed in an eight without a coxswain – not a coxless eight boat as such as there was a seat for a cox but it was unoccupied. This was in 1997 in Germany at Rheinfelden on the German/Swiss border on the river Rhein which is a very wide river. It was also not particularly busy with the exception of a few very large barges. The boat ( a carbon Staempfli )was stroked, and steered, by a very experienced club member who had rowed in a GER LM4-, using the same footplate mechanism as one would have in a coxless pair or four/quad. I think I was sat at 4 and remember it being a distinctly strange experience !

  8. Caryn, if the rest of the crew was up to your double Olympic Gold winning standard, I am not surprised that it went well! However, for most of us, coxless eights are probably not a good idea.

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