row2k Features
Life is a Metaphor for Rowing, Ch. 16: Serves You Right
June 24, 2022
Peter Mallory

On the third day of the 1966 Royal Canadian Henley Regatta our coxed-four goes out again. Same exact boat, up a class, but none of us can conjure up the magic again, not even the very next day. We row a fine race but lose narrowly to a good crew from Detroit Boat Club. If we could have rowed another perfect race we would have won by a mile, but our Godhead has vanished as mysteriously as it had arrived, and once more we are merely competent humans.

We finish the Canadian Henley with another win and another second place that very afternoon. Four Golds and two Silvers out of six events over three days. Not too shabby. It will turn out to be the high point of my life-long competitive rowing career. But just one absolutely perfect race . . . and a sense of loss, for now we know what is possible!

1966 4-Time Royal Canadian Henley 145lb Champion    Coach Fed Leonard, Stroke Pete Mallory, 3 Tom Cassel, 2 Jeff Gaylord, Bow John Hanson, Manager Joe Burk”e”
1966 4-Time Royal Canadian Henley 145lb Champion Coach Fed Leonard, Stroke Pete Mallory, 3 Tom Cassel, 2 Jeff Gaylord, Bow John Hanson, Manager Joe Burk”e”

* * * * *

Martin Dominguez
Martin Dominguez

When we return from St. Catharines to Philadelphia that summer, Saul, Tom and I become the heart of Undine's best shot at a 1966 U.S. National Championship on the Schuylkill River just two weeks later. Back in America, we can now average five pounds heavier, so he adds to our 145-pound coxed-four the man who rowed behind me in the 7-seat of the Penn Lightweight Varsity last spring, Martin Dominguez, whose father teaches architecture at Cornell University. Very congenial, the father, very aristocratic fellow. Escaped Spain under Franco, and then had to escape Cuba after the Batista regime fell. Greeted us all that very spring when we raced in Ithaca.

Before Penn, Martin had gone to Ithaca High School, played tennis there, was their #2 guy, but he never figured out how to beat his doubles partner, the "Little Red" #1 tennis player, the sectional champion, a fellow named Eric Loberg, son of the chairman of the Engineering Department at Cornell University. Bugged the Hell out of Martin Dominguez that he couldn't beat Eric Loberg. Bugged the livin' Hell out of him. (File away this tidbit of a memory.)

Now think of this. If I had chosen to go to Cornell University I might have taken an architecture course from Dr. Dominguez and rowed with Eric Loberg, who took up our sport when he got to Cornell, and I never would have met Martin. I might even be an architect today! Hmm! In another life, perhaps, that might have been okay with me. Never got along with Martin in college. Nobody else could quite understand why. Me neither. Didn't care. Rubbed me the wrong way for some stupid reason. I remember that one day more than a year before in practice Martin caught a crab and was launched right out of the boat and into the water. Just like that! I laughed my a** off.

"Caught a crab . . . " An oar blade caught under the water at the end of a stroke. As if held by the claws of a gigantic crab. I suppose that's how the expression got started. Old as the hills, that expression.

"He would have proved the victor in this race,
had not a righteous judgment descended upon him in a crab
which caught the blade of his midship oarsman."

- Moby Dick, Herman Melville

"A righteous judgment," fire and brimstone, Biblical retribution . . . or maybe like one of those 1950s black-and-white "B" horror movies with enormous spiders and lizards. "It's no use, General. The giant mutant crab rose from the depths and grabbed that poor soul's oar, and then it disappeared as quickly as it had come. Bullets bounced right off it!"

But Martin Dominguez is a truly fine oarsman, and I am proud, excited and confident to be stroking our 150-pound coxed-four at the U.S. Nationals with him behind me in the 3-seat. Oh my, yes! The 2-man is Al Campbell, another Haverford School kid, but no John Hanson he, bigger and stronger this time. Al towers over me and has trouble making weight. Tom Cassel moves to bow, saying he will beat us all to the finish line.

We line up at the start. Same deal. Last off the line. Row through the field - tougher field this time. No magic either, just a very strong boat. As mere mortals, but very good ones, we enter the last 500 meters having risen to second place and moving like a freight train on the leading entry from St. Catharines Rowing Club. We still have plenty of time as I up the rating and begin our final surge for the lead. Half a length and closing.

Fred is watching us from the other side of the river, following the race in his car. With a quarter mile to go we disappear from his view for thirty strokes or so behind Peter's Island. He says to the others with him, "It will all be decided by the time we see them again."

Also sprach Zarathustra . . .

Back in the boat, the margin is down to a deck and closing ever faster. Sweet victory . . .

And then it's over. Before we can reach the end of the island, Al Campbell catches a crab, and we must scramble to salvage second. A Silver Medal. Again, no photo of the boat. Again, only two places in the race . . . Two Silvers in two years at the U.S. Nationals, and we were the fastest boat both times. We should have won both times! Dammit, dammit, DAMMIT!

A few years ago I heard that Al Campbell had been killed in a plane crash. I caught myself mouthing the words, "Serves you right, you son of a . . . " before the syllables strangled in my throat. Rest in peace, Al. If not for that crab I might never have stuck with my journey, might have abandoned my odyssey right then and there, might never have written down this story.

And so, seven months later, I, even after having touched immortality for a few precious minutes in Canada, I, four-time Royal Canadian Henley Champion, double U.S. Silver Medalist, Head of the Charles Regatta Gold Medalist, return to my painful underlying destiny, surrender to the Curse of the Jayvee Scar and finish my collegiate career in the Penn Jayvee. No third Varsity Letter. No Penn Varsity Blanket.

To be continued . . .

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


Log in to comment
There are no Comments yet

Rowing Features
Rowing Headlines
Get our Newsletter!

Support row2k!

Tremendous thanks to our
row2k supporters!

Get Social with row2k!
Like row2k on Facebook Follow row2k on Twitter Follow row2k on Instagram Follow row2k on Youtube Connect with row2k on LinkedIn

row2k camps directory

Get the row2k app!

row2k rowing store!

Get our Newsletter!
Enter your email address to receive our weekly newsletter.

Support row2k!

Advertiser Index
Advertise on row2k