When the Port Townsend Rat Island Rowing & Sculling Club (RIRSC) Board donated the historic, cedar-built Pocock shell Quinault to Bainbridge Island Rowing in October, the BIR Board knew it was historically significant: The University of Washington freshman crew won the National Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) Freshman race in 1951 in the Quinault, and it was used again the following year in the Olympic Time Trials. But BIR didn’t realize just how much Quinault rowing history there was.
RIRSC reports that legendary boat builder and UW rowing coach Stan Pocock had believed the boat was built around 1949 as a “bat boat,” a boat intended for the Navy’s interbattalion rowing program. Such boats featured double hulls for the strength and durability needed for rowing on the sea.
Not all the “bat” boats went to Navy, however. The Quinault went to the University of Washington. Coached by Pocock, RIRSC’s Guy Harper rowed stroke for UW in the shell in the 1951 IRA regatta in Marietta, Ohio, to defeat “The Great Eight” Navy crew. The following year, The Great Eight won Olympic Gold at Helsinki and remained unbeaten for their next 23 starts. They also won the next three lRA Varsity Eight Championships.
Although the double hull makes the Quinault heavy, Pocock said, “Once you get it going it’s like a truck going down hill.”
The Quinault later traveled to Western Washington University and then to Everett where it was used in the Juniors program. When it was deemed too old and heavy for the Juniors, the shell got passed along to the Rat Island Rowing & Sculling Club where it became the club’s flagship. Steve Chapin, a Port Townsend shipwright who started RIRSC in 1998 with a group of rowers, said the Quinault was “literally the only rowing shell we had for our entire first year.”
On display at the RIRSC boathouse, the Quinault attracted the attention of its former rowers. In 2005 Guy Harper and his wife encountered the boat at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat festival. Harper recognized it and then was instrumental in securing oars for it, and he later joined RIRSC. In 2015, Gordon Hardy, who had rowed in seat 5 at the 1951 IRA, also saw the Quinault at the Wooden Boat Festival, which led him to reconnect with Harper whom he hadn’t seen in 50 years.
Guy Harper thought that the 1951 Quinault crew was unbeatable. But the crew was changed up the following year by program coach Al Ulbrickson. Harper said, “It is really too bad that Al did not allow us to continue with this lineup as I contribute all his personnel changes, right up to the day before the race as the reason we lost to Navy. Otherwise, we might have been receiving the Olympic Gold medal later that year.”
Harper told the story of the 1951 race in an article on the Husky Crew website:
It was 1951 and our Freshman year at the UW. The team that competed in the IRA at Marietta, Ohio, that year included cox Bob Witter, Stroke Guy Harper, 7 Keith Reilly, 6 Gordon Hardy, 5 Ted Frost, 4 Ivar Birkeland, 3 Skip John, 2 Roland Camfield, Bow Jim Howay.
The morning of June 16, 1951, was windy with the Ohio River clogged with all sorts of wood and logs that came down stream from the recent rain storms up river. The Frosh race was first, however the Navy boat sank and our race was rerun later that day. The Navy Plebes were so good that they beat their Varsity boat–so it was thought that [Coach] Rusty Callow had the boat of his dreams. When our race started, we were behind several boats, and Stan Pocock, following in a coaching launch, says his heart just sank–to the point that he didn’t want to watch the race and turned away. Halfway through, however, George Pocock turned to him and advised that we were picking off the other shells one by one and that he may want to watch!
One by one, Bob Witter, the cox, passed the other boats. We crossed the finish line first, followed by MIT and then Navy. The Frosh boat was the only Washington winner that year at the IRA Regatta. Stan was really delighted and he was the only crew coach that had never lost a race–with a 10 to 0 record! It was a most enjoyable return to Seattle with lots of newspaper articles.
Marietta was only a temporary host for the IRA regatta. The races there were often hampered by difficult conditions on the Ohio River. Right before the start of the 1951 race, the freshman team had rowed over the roof of a house that was being carried downriver.
Photos courtesy of the Guy Harper Collection.