The Boys in the Boat

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown is the story of the University of Washington crew team and their journey to compete at the 1936 Olympic games. It’s a story about beating the odds and finding hope. It was a bestseller and has now been made into what is sure to be a blockbuster movie. Watch the trailer and then read the book (physical or digital or audio).

What does that have to do with St. Paul’s School? Well….

To lend authenticity to some of the scenes, the movie production crew searched for a 1930’s era shell, and where do you think they found it?  Right here in Millville! Sitting in the boathouse was a 1938 eight-oared shell, 60 feet long and made of western red cedar and sitka spruce. According to SPS boatman Matt Bailey, the boat was in really good shape. He made some minor repairs, replaced a few missing seats, and handwashed it (several times!) before it was loaned out. He said, “It could have been rowed just as it was, it was in that good shape even after all these years. We have boatmen from years past to thank for that.”

The boat made its way to King Boat Works, where it was scanned for its size and shape so that it could be replicated for the movie. Built in England, the movie versions of the boat are made of carbon fiber and made to look like the heavier wooden shells of old.

SPS boatman Matt Bailey readies the 1938 shell for transport.
SPS rowers assist in loading the shell onto the truck.

We became curious about the history of this 1938 boat, as according to Matt Bailey, it belonged to Halcyon Boat Club. Turns out that in December 1937, the trustees decided to buy two shells from George Pocock as replacements. “These would be given, one to each club, and eliminate the necessity for the boat clubs competing with each other for such gifts from alumni” (Alumni Horae, December 1937). So this boat at one point had a twin! The rowers of the day were very appreciative of both boats: “The Boat Clubs are fortunate this year in having two new Pocock shells from Washington. Fitted with the latest appliances, they are unusually light, and the fine cedar grain runs without a flaw from bow to stern” (Horae Scholasticae, April 1938). While the Halcyon boat lost its first anniversary race in 1938 to its Shattuck twin (by just two-fifths of a second!), we like to think about all the races rowed in it before it was retired. And how now it has been immortalized on the big screen!

 

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