blaise's book feast

Un amuse bouche de la litterature

Tag: rowing

The Boys in the Boat

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The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, by Daniel James Brown

This is a phenomenally well written tome about the tribulations and triumphs that took the University of Washington Men’s team to Olympic Gold in Berlin. The narrative largely focuses on Joe Rantz, a boy abandoned by his family, who had the temerity to attend UW, where he promptly fell in love with rowing.  His teammates, most of whom had never rowed before, were strong kids from logging camps and fishing boats; skills that would translate well into the grace and power that a shell exacts from its’ rowers.

I think that this book was particularly poignant to me because I am a Pacific Northwest rower who has lived in Seattle for many years, and this book does an exceptional job of weaving in early Seattle history and University history, within the context of the greater societal pressures taking place around the country and the world.  The book also details Mr. Pocock, a quiet boat builder from England who came to Seattle and made the fastest, most advanced boats conceivable, giving the UW teams an extra edge.  To this day, having rowed Vespolis, Empachers, Aldens, Resolutes and WinTechs myself, my experience in a Pocock shell is unparalleled.

The boys train beyond what they think are the limits of their physical capacity in rain and sleet and snow, and after some harrowing wins to other more well recognized (and well funded) universities, the boys have a chance to take their boats across the Atlantic to compete and win on German turf in 1936.

If you are from Seattle, if you are a rower anywhere, if you have a interest in German-American relations leading up to the 1936 Olympiad, then this book is for you.

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A Long Voyage in a Small Boat

 Three Years in a 12-Foot Boat by Stephen G. Ladd

SGL_BookCoverBigThis is the true tale of Stephen Ladd’s quest to build a small sailing craft with which he could explore the rivers and waterways of North and South America.  Ladd hales from the Seattle area and begins his journey in the West, on the Milk River in Montana.  From there he proceeds down larger and larger rivers to the Mississippi and enters the Gulf of Mexico by way of New Orleans.  His lonely voyage is punctuated by bright characters, most of whom can’t understand why Ladd would travel all alone in his tiny boat, but are happy to enliven his voyage for a time.

Ladd crosses the Gulf with his craft safely aboard a cargo ship, and spends the next two years on the rivers of Central and South America, and braving the Pacific Ocean off the pirate infested coast of Columbia.  Throughout his peregrinations in South America, Ladd get robbed, spends a brief time in jail, makes some unlikely friends of all social strata, and falls in love.  Despite his Harvard education, Ladd’s heart is firmly attached to his sleeve and he falls victim to a few opportunistic ladies.

Although he is not a writer by trade, Ladd makes an earnest and profound effort in his book, which is well worth reading.  Also notable are the many free-verse interludes sprinkled throughout his journey, which aptly capture the at-turns austere, solitary, and rich environments through which he slowly sails.