These Old Boats

“These boats are in extremely poor condition.”

4 August 2020

By Ralf-Peter Stumme

Ralf-Peter Stumme and his restoration team in Germany are working on two old boats from England, he writes.

It was with great interest I read Daniel Walker’s article about Erith Rowing Club on 29 July. In our boat collection at Der Classic Boat Club e.V. in Germany, we have two boats with connection to Erith rowing history. These boats were built for racing purposes according to the National Maritime Museum (NMM), Greenwich, from where we acquired them. The vessels were built between 1918 and 1929 by Pelican-Boat-Works in Stroud, Gloucestershire, for the Erith Town Regatta Committee.

Both boats are inrigged, fixed seat coxed fours. This type has a special kind of oarlocks (rowlocks), which are placed at the inner side of the saxboard and are supported by pieces of wood (chocks). The boat type is also called a ‘chock four’. This type was already old-fashioned at the time they were built. The vessels represent an old boat type closely connected with racing boats before the invention of out-riggers and smooth hulls in the 1840s. We haven’t found out yet why this particular type was chosen by the Erith Town Regatta Committee, but maybe the boats were additions to an already existing fleet.

The boats were paid for by public subscription. Later, after the town regatta had faded away, they were given to Erith RC. In the 1980s, the club presented them to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

When the NMM developed a new strategy to concentrate on maritime (naval) history, the NMM of Cornwall wanted to return boats to the NMM, Greenwich, due to lack of space. The NMM decided to part from several vessels, including the two boats from Erith RC. The NMM determined to auction off the boats on eBay.

The article writer is unloading the £1 eBay win.

That´s where I first saw them.

On eBay, the boats were described as “a pair of Chock Four racing skiffs […] These boats are in extremely poor condition. These boats would be a major restoration project for an enthusiast. One option could be to restore one boat by cannibalizing parts from the other…”

We were the only bidders for the two fours – and paid one pound (£1) for the lot!

We plan to restore both boats. As a matter of fact, one is nearly finished and has been in the water for the first try-out to decide about the dimensions of the oars needed. The restoration of the other boat is planned for 2022.

The boat that is almost restored, that came with “RC4” in the bow, is going to keep its name or being called Arcifor, which is a crude mixture of Latin and Greek and means something like “Bowman” or “One, who carries a bow”. We had not decided a name for the other yet.

The try-out for the first nearly restored “Erith boat”.

Once both fours are ready to be rowed again, the idea is to do some racing, maybe at a river festival in England, when such a thing is possible again.

3 comments

  1. These boats were commonly used on the lower Thames certainly up until the late 50s and early 60s. There are several photographs on the Globe Rowing club website of these boats being raced at Greenwich in the late 50s and information contained on the website of when and where they were purchased.
    Committee boats as used at Erith regatta were also a common occurrence due to the difficulties moving these boats for local clubs

  2. That’s so great that you’re restoring these! The special kinds of oarlocks are called thole pins (sometimes spelled “thowl”), and all the Skiff Raicng Association boats still use them.

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