The Pocock Legacy, Part III: A Symphony of Motion

Catch up on Part 1 and Part 2!

By 1952, George Pocock Racing Shells had established what was essentially a monopoly in the United States rowing shell industry, and had developed a considerable international presence, as well. Pocock Racing Shells built boats for nearly every collegiate team in the U.S., and the firm was able to employ a dozen craftsmen, one of which was George’s son Stan.

Stan Pocock in 1955

Born in 1923, Stan attended the University of Washington, where he graduated with a degree in engineering and rowed throughout his time there. Following graduation, he decided to focus on shell building, and by his late-twenties, he was handily demonstrating boat building expertise much like his father’s. Beyond an accomplished boat builder, Stan was a celebrated coach, becoming the first coach of the Lake Washington Rowing Club in 1958, along with having coached multiple boats to gold-medal victories at the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.

The 1956 Melbourne Olympics were George Pocock's last as the boatman, and by 1960, Stan had begun to take over many of the responsibilities at Pocock Racing Shells. While Stan took the helm, George focused his efforts on building small shells in his familiar medium of cedar.

George and Stan in the workshop.

Much like the decline in the use of wood materials in aircraft while he worked at Boeing, George once again witnessed the decline of his favored material in boat building. Synthetic, mass-producible materials began to replace cedar, and cheap, foreign-made boats were becoming the standard for international racing. Along with this shift, George was nearing 80, and “after half a century as the acknowledged world leader in his chosen art,” George retired from the company in 1970.

In his youth, rowing was a pastime for the wealthy English elite, but George’s contributions to the sport transformed rowing from recreation of the upper echelon to an art form. His value for proper technique went beyond aesthetics, and considered the mechanics of the stroke in order to optimize the effort exerted. Pocock’s stroke made crews go faster, and his expertly-built shells allowed them to siphon their power. The boats, when rowed with precision and perfection, skimmed the water as if they were flying.

George passed away at the age of 84 in 1976, and in his lifetime became more than an excellent craftsman and font of technical advice, but a poetic voice of wisdom in the rowing community.

Stan Pocock in the workshop.

At George Pocock Racing Shells, Stan experimented with new materials in boatbuilding, where he created new equipment and pioneered the use of many different materials. In 1956, he began testing the use of fiberglass, and five years later, developed the first-ever fiberglass shell. Another huge innovation of Stan’s occurred in 1981, when he developed the first carbon fiber shell, a material that is still used in boats today. Beyond shells, Stan also developed a lighter wood/glass composite oar, ergonomic seats, and adjustable oarlock height spacers. His largest achievement, with lasting effects on the design of shells today, is the creation of “shoulderless” boats, which eliminated the ribbed internal frame.

To honor their late father, Stan and his sister Patricia wanted to honor George's love of rowing, so in 1984, the pair started the George Pocock Rowing Foundation. With the help of donors and supporters, the doors of the George Pocock Memorial Rowing Center opened ten years later, allowing a new generation of young athletes to row in Seattle. Stan said of the creation of the Foundation:

“My earnest desire is that the quality of the eventual product of this center – the community-oriented rowing projects that we envision – will be known and celebrated for generations to come.”

George and Stan on the launch.

Stan fulfilled his goal of honoring his father and got to watch new athletes walk through the doors of the Pocock Rowing Center for twenty years. He found great joy in watching young people find the sport of rowing and fall in love with it, much like he and his father both had. In 2014, Stan passed away at the age of 91, but his legacy of the Pocock Foundation remains. His vision of bringing rowing to a greater community has truly come to fruition, with the George Pocock Rowing Foundation becoming the largest youth rowing outreach program in the country, bringing the sport of rowing to thousands of young athletes throughout the United States.

The Pocock family, from boatbuilder Aaron, who taught his children a love of rowing and care for the craft; George and Dick, the entrepreneurial pair who brought their workmanship to the Pacific Northwest; their sister Lucy, a champion rower and the first women’s rowing coach at the University of Washington; George’s wife Frances, whose unwavering support brought her to the edges of the earth to watch George’s boats race; and the many friends the family met along the way, all helped change the landscape of rowing in the United States. The Pococks ushered in an era of American excellence in rowing, from the craftsmanship involved in boat construction, to technical concepts that are still in place today, to a value for the beauty of rowing as a whole and the meaning it can bring to our lives.

Perhaps George said it best:

“It's a great art, is rowing. It’s the finest art there is. It’s a symphony of motion. And when you’re rowing well, why it’s nearing perfection. And when you reach perfection, you’re touching the divine. It touches the you of you's, which is your soul.”

Sources: Ready All! George Yeoman Pocock and Crew Racing, Gordon Newell, 1987; Memories, George Yeoman Pocock, 1972; The Seattle Times, Rowing legend Stan Pocock dies at 91, Adam Jude, 2014; The New York Times, George Pocock, shell-builder, 84, 1976; Pocock Racing Shells, History.

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