The History of Bowballs

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Marc Messing

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May 18, 2021, 10:23:53 AMMay 18
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Can anyone offer information about the history of bowballs?

When were they first introduced? When did FISA/USR first require them in regattas? What actually led to FISA/USR requiring them?

My understanding is that they came into use with jury-rigged balls in the 1960s/70s.

Three things have piqued my interest in this. The New England Journal of Medicine case study on the accident in which John Yasaitis was impaled by an eight on the Charles River (the eight actually went through his back and emerged through his abdomen) noted that the lowball was knocked off in the accident. Then a comment appeared from someone else who had experience as similar accident (and survived, as did Yasiatis).

Finally, I took the ball off my '65 Phelps to see how it was attached and it was weird. It looks as if the ball was hammered onto the copper sprit which then flared to lock it in place. Once the ball was off the sprit (is that the right term?) looked like the head of a hammerhead shark.

I'm curious about the development of this technology.

Marc

Marc Messing
RowSafeUSA.Org

Malcolm

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May 19, 2021, 5:48:25 AMMay 19
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I don't know about FISA, but Henley introduced the requirement for bow balls in 1956. The report in The Times said that the new rule "is in accordance with international practice". The ARA didn't introduce such a rule until 1963.

Malcolm

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May 19, 2021, 6:17:09 AMMay 19
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According to the FISA Centenary Book, one of the decisions at the FISA congress in 1935 was that "In order to avoid accidents, hard rubber balls were now to be attached to the bows of boats".

carl

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May 19, 2021, 10:11:38 AMMay 19
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I believe that a rower was seriously injured when impaled by the bow of
another boat during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I understand that during
that same decade a Cambridge UK student died when speared by a bow.
These events led to demands for some sort of bow protection.

What you have on your Phelps is typical of bow balls of that era. They
were actually rather better in many respects than today's all-rubber
jobs as they were rigidly held (unless the tip of the boat's stem broke
away), the metal strip was folded around to tip of the bow and firmly
embedded in the ball - they tended not to come off.

Modern bow balls are often held by a single screw, driven through the
rubber skirt, are either loose, or perished, & in any case easily
deflected, allowing the bow to stab through, straight into soft flesh.

One problem is that the balls are loose fitting & in no way integral
with the boat. Another is that they have sharp changes in section where
the skirt meets the ball & minimal penetration of the bow into the ball
itself. Hence they are so easily split or deflected.

My company makes its own bow balls, specifically to fit the shape of our
bows (so not suitable for other boats), they are quite hard (softness
gives no protection but does render the rubber more easily penetrated),
they are of a blended shape (no sudden, vulnerable notch where skirt
joins ball) & we always bond them directly onto the boat with a
polyurethane elastomeric adhesive, so that they become integral with the
boat.

Carl

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DandR Tracey

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May 20, 2021, 3:48:19 AMMay 20
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The dangers of not having some protection were apparent a long time ago; there was a fatality in the late 19th century caused by a rower being impaled in the Cambridge bumps:

https://cweb1.clare.cam.ac.uk/news/2018115342-Oar+Donated+from+the+1888+Bumps+Tragedy.html

The 'subsequently' in the text doesn't say how rapidly the addition of bow balls followed on the incident. but I seem to remember reading a copy of a letter written by the boy's father shortly after the event saying that at least some good had come of the incident. In addition, in his history of 1st Trinity BC (https://www.firstandthird.org/club/1sttrinhistory.shtml#S113) published in 1908, W. Ball associates the introduction of bow balls with the fatality, so they must have been common in the early 20th century although maybe it wasn't compulsory. (Historically, the sport has famously spent more effort on deciding who can and cannot take part rather than on decreeing how to do it; see amateur rules vs. outriggers, sliding seats, sliding riggers, toothpicks/macons/big blades, front-loaders, buoyancy...)

carl

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May 20, 2021, 2:30:49 PMMay 20
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Thank you for clarifying the date of the Cambridge bumps fatality -
seems I was 40-50 years late. Even so, many shells, from eights to
singles, continued without bow balls into the 1950s.

Andy McKenzie

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May 21, 2021, 7:16:17 AMMay 21
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It seems that after the Cambridge incident bow balls were written in to the local rules of racing for Cambridge University, and subsequently Oxford, at least for 8s and 4s, and included a provision of a 1 guinea fine for non compliance (£100 in todays money), documented in the CUBC rules re-printed in the 1897 'Classic Guide to Rowing' (from a 2016 reprint) .

Though I do recall seeing a photo of a sculler from a Victorian era Thames club that was captioned "a 5 Guinea fine was levied for a gentleman improperly attired on the water ..jacket, tie and cap being compulsory", so maybe they didn't rate safety more seriously than we do....

carl

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May 21, 2021, 9:46:28 AMMay 21
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On 21/05/2021 12:16, Andy McKenzie wrote:
> It seems that after the Cambridge incident bow balls were written in to the local rules of racing for Cambridge University, and subsequently Oxford, at least for 8s and 4s, and included a provision of a 1 guinea fine for non compliance (£100 in todays money), documented in the CUBC rules re-printed in the 1897 'Classic Guide to Rowing' (from a 2016 reprint) .
>
> Though I do recall seeing a photo of a sculler from a Victorian era Thames club that was captioned "a 5 Guinea fine was levied for a gentleman improperly attired on the water ..jacket, tie and cap being compulsory", so maybe they didn't rate safety more seriously than we do....

Don't that just perfectly sum up the pomposities of rowing officialdom
and quantify their priorities! Proper kit considered to be 5x more
important than rational safety measures. "Plus ça change, plus c'est la
même chose", as our friends across the Channel have been know to say in
moments of frustration.

Doh!
Carl
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