The man who built racing shells and the sport of crew racing

Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, by Gordon Newell. Foreword by Dick Erickson. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. 186 pp. $19.95. The annals of intercollegiate sport in the United States are particularly graced by crew racing, probably the last truly amateur sport extant.

From the Charles River to the Oakland Estuary, rowing's squeaky-clean image still prevails as young rowers sweep through the waterways toward objectives that quite transcend the satisfaction of winning.

Theirs is a unique legacy. It springs from the craftsmanship and dedication of two young English immigrants who brought their family's Thames-side boatbuilding skills to the Pacific Northwest early in this century, eventually to forever impress the name Pocock on competitive rowing across the country.

The brothers, George and Dick Pocock, went to British Columbia in 1911 to find the gainful employment England had failed to provide. When, quite by chance, they began to build rowing shells in Vancouver, they were lured to Seattle by the University of Washington's legendary crew coach, Hiram Conibear. Almost immediately, their influence came to bear on the sport. Dick Pocock moved to the East Coast and spent the rest of his days building boats for Yale University. George remained in Seattle and brought the art of handcrafting racing shells to an often imitated but never equaled perfection. Pocock shells became the most sought- after racing vessels in the world.

That artistry alone would have been enough, but George, like his brother a champion oarsman, was also a philosopher totally dedicated to rowing. He was not a coach, but for more than half a century, his quiet teaching infused successive generations of athletes with the same dedication, not to self but to the perfect team effort - ``the swing'' - that he claimed ``approaches the divine'' when achieved. It had to come from discipline and devotion, for crew is a sport that demands total selflessness. There are no athletic scholarships, no potential for big professional contracts, no glorification of the individual.

Such was Pocock's influence on the young athletes who frequented his shop at the University of Washington shell house. An amazing number of them went on to coach crew at other colleges: Yale, Penn, Navy, California, Princeton, Cornell, Wisconsin, Syracuse, Harvard, Columbia, MIT, Brown, UCLA - and the list goes on. It also accounts for the fact that the University of Washington dominated intercollegiate rowing for so long. The school took Olympic gold with its eight-oared shell in 1936 and again with the four-oared in 1946. Typically, George Pocock always attributed victory not to the good boats he had built but to good crews.

``Ready All!'' is like its subject, a gentle and unavoidably inspirational book. The well-written account is based partly on the memoirs Pocock prepared at the behest of Horace W. McCurdy, a prominent Seattleite and former University of Washington and MIT oarsman, who funded the book's publication.

The author drew also from the vast supply of locally and nationally published material about the man and his boats, and interviews with members of the rowing fraternity, all of whom have hailed the book as invaluable to the recorded history of rowing in the US.

It also offers a delightful picture of the Thames boating milieu of the Pococks' youth in late 19th-century England, accompanying photographs illustrating Pocock's own articulate recollections. University of Washington Press designer Audrey Meyer has done her usual outstanding job of presenting a volume as attractive as it is readable.

To George Pocock, ``Ready All!'' were two of the most exciting words in the English language. He said it would be his choice for a title should anybody consider his life important enough to write about. His daughter thinks her father would not have permitted its publication during his lifetime, but if this book had not been written, the world of rowing would be the poorer.

Jo Ann Morse Ridley writes about boats and boating out of Seattle.

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