Old school rowing: Ex-college athlete goes back to basics

The racing shells his team used were the same as every university rowing team on the West Coast, and most on the East Coast, had used for decades: long, thin slips of cedar designed and built by George Pocock in Seattle.

Costello was in Port Townsend on Friday to take delivery of a new Pocock rowing shell just like Pocock used to build.

“It’s a work of art,” Costello said. “And it’s a great rowing boat.”

‘Pocock Eight’

A tribal council judge in Coos Bay, Ore., Costello is one of the “Pocock Eight,” people who made a $20,000 donation to underwrite the Northwest Maritime Center’s program to keep the Pocock racing shell tradition alive.

In return, Costello received one of the first boats Steve Chapin built through the center’s program, Pocock Classic Cedar Singles, in his Point Hudson boat shop.

“He’s the genesis of my rowing experience,” Costello said of Pocock.

“He was the patron saint of American rowing.”

Costello is the sixth person to accept delivery of a Pocock shell, which Chapin built using jigs, forms and patterns donated to the Northwest Maritime Center.

ºWhen the judge took it for a test row in the Point Hudson boat basin Friday morning, he discovered one main difference between rowing it and the composite racing shell he has at home: the wooden racing oars are heavier, which will take some getting used to, he said.

“It fits me just right,” Costello said, as he rowed back to the dock.

It was Stan Pocock, George’s son and an annual visitor to the Wooden Boat Festival, who came up with the idea of perpetuating the family boat-building tradition in Port Townsend, where several of George Pocock’s original wooden shells have ended up.

One is Hoh, which the University of Washington fours crew rowed to victory in the 1960 Olympics, largely because of George Pocock’s advice.

George Pocock

Costello remembered meeting George Pocock at the University of California-University of Washington regatta, which was the big race.

“Every year before the race, George would come visit the Washington team and the California team,” Costello said.

Stan Pocock and Bill Tytus, owner of Pocock Racing Shells, donated the designs and equipment to the maritime center.

Chapin is the only boat builder who steams solid wood and builds shells in the old way, Costello said.

“Those of us who row appreciate all George has done for us as athletes and as people,” Costello said.

“We have a great reverence for what Steve Chapin does and for this program. If he weren’t doing it, the art would probably die out.”

Stan Pocock also donated parts and materials, including the Western red cedar for Costello’s shell, Chapin said.

The oars are the last pair of “longs” — 9-foot, 11-inch wooden racing oars — in the inventory of the Pocock Racing Shell company, which continues to make boats with composite materials.

“In a way, this is kind of the handing of the baton,” Costello said.

“These oars represent the last of what the Pocock company made in wood. This boat represents the future of the Pocock tradition.”

Costello is planning to put the shell, which weighs less than 35 pounds, on top of his car and drive it back to the World Masters Rowing Competition next year in St. Catherine’s, Ontario.

Along the way, he plans to stop anywhere there is a body of water and work out.

It was a trip he planned to make with a rowing buddy of 35 years, Mike Johnson, a champion rower and coach who died five years ago.

“At least I can carry out the plan,” Costello said. “It’s a promise to keep.”

According to Dianne Roberts of the Northwest Maritime Center, Chapin has completed six standard-weight shells, one heavyweight shell and is in process of finishing three more.

While eight are spoken for, two are available to anyone who wants to help underwrite the program. Part of the $20,000 donation is tax-deductible, she said.

For more information, contact Roberts at dianne@pocockclassic.org or go to www.pocockclassic.org or the Northwest Maritime Center Web site, www.nwmartime.org.


Port Townsend/Jefferson County reporter-columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at jjackson@olypen.com.

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