Pocock Racing Shells was founded in Seattle, Washington in 1911 and has been an integral part of nearly 100 years of American rowing. The roots of the company, however, began in England – the birthplace of shell building and racing – back in the 1800′s…
George Pocock, 1911-1976
George Pocock grew up in England, where his father was the head boat builder for prestigious Eton College at Windsor around the turn of the century. As a young man, George raced single shells on the famed Thames River. At one of these races he won £50, and with the money purchased passage for himself and his brother, Dick, on a cattle boat bound for Canada. In 1911, on George’s 20th birthday, they arrived in Vancouver, British Columbia, with $20 in their pockets and a dream of building fine racing boats. They rented the Vancouver Rowing Club’s boathouse, without moorage, and found that at low tide they rested precariously on the mud flats. During the ensuing year, they nearly starved.
Help arrived in the midst of a winter gale when Hiram Conibear, then coach of the University of Washington racing crew, rowed out to the boathouse and coaxed both the brothers into coming to Seattle to build boats for the university. Ecstatic, they cabled their father to join them and left for Seattle. Their dream faded quickly, however, when the university ordered only one eight-man shell and gave them a shop that was an old lakeside tea room, bereft of any heat or lights.
By 1916 they were again in despair when a distinguished-looking man walked into their shop and, after examining their work, left his business card. Within a few days they were building float plane pontoons for William E. Boeing’s new airplane company. George eventually became foreman of the assembly department, dick became boat-builder for Yale University, and their father returned to England.
In 1922 an new University of Washington coach planted a story in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on the sports page that George had agreed to return to the University. It was just the prodding that George needed to return to his real love, boat-building. In the following year, 1923, the unknown Washington rowing team when east and won the national championship in a Pocock boat. Thus began the legend of Pocock Racing Shells.
For the next 50 years George, with care and grace, built racing shells for nearly every racing college in the country and several abroad. His reputation spread as he strove to maintain the highest possible quality at a price that even small colleges or high schools could afford. His boats went on to win many national and Olympic championships.
Upon George’s death in 1976, the Lake Union-based company was taken over by his son, Stan.
Stan Pocock, 1976-1985
When Stan Pocock was a young man, he followed the tradition and apprenticed with his father, George. Stan grew up in Seattle, was an oarsman at the University of Washington and graduated with a degree in Engineering. In the late 1960′s, management of the company became Stan’s responsibility while George devoted himself to constructing cedar single shells.
Stan was to prove himself not only as a “natural” in boat building, but also in coaching. In addition to coaching at Washington from 1947-1955, he was the first coach for Lake Washington Rowing Club upon its formation in 1958, and coached several gold medal winning crews in the 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games.
“Rowing isn’t easy,” Stan says about the sport, “It’s so much a matter of heart. The oarsman must be sold on what he’s doing and so enthusiastic about it that the hurt doesn’t matter. Technique and conditioning are things that every oarsman has… so they become relatively unimportant. We know that men respond to rowing in a beautiful piece of equipment, and we try to give them shells that will raise their spirit a little above their competitors’.”
Times were changing and it was Stan who carried the company from its Dickensian past into the modern age. In fact, it was only when his father was away at the 1956 Olympics in Australia that he was really able to experiment with fiberglass. He replaced the wood ribs with a fiberglass sandwich skin, which was quite an extraordinary innovation for 1956! In 1961 Stan made the first fiberglass rowing boat ever – a wherry. A few years later he developed the fiberglass training single, many of which are still happily rowed today.
Ever the innovator, Stan took every opportunity to introduce new methods and materials to rowing. by 1979 he was running the shop and tinkering with ideas that were ahead of their time. He was first in many areas, including the development of a successful wood and glass laminated composite oar, molded seat tops and adjustable oarlock height spacers. Impressed with innovations in composite engineering from aerospace industries, and adding his own experience to that of the Boeing engineers, he developed the first line of all carbon fiber monocoque racing shells in 1981. One of those shells is still rowed at the University of Washington. The development of the shoulderless boat was his crowning achievement.
In 1985, Stan passed on the Pocock torch to long-time family friend Bill Tytus.
Bill Tytus, 1985-present
The relationship began when Bill, who was just a boy riding his bicycle past the Pocock’s Conibear shop on the shores of Lake Washington, had the temerity to stop and inquire as to the goings on inside. He became a frequent visitor to the shop, forged a lifelong friendship with the Pocock family, and unwittingly initiated a career that has carried Pocock Racing Shells forward to the next millennium.
In the late 1960′s, Bill was an avid sculler while pursuing his degrees from the University of Washington and Harvard University. In 1969, he placed second in the Diamond Sculls event at Henley and was a member of the U.S. National Team from 1969-1971. He is still active in the sport, teaming with Frank Cunningham for the past 15 years to coach scullers at Lake Washington Rowing Club.
Bill is singularly focused on making the best boats on the market. With a federal grant for the research and development of light composite structures, and a lot of in-house experimentation with resins, paints, laminating fabrics and materials, he is certain of the superiority of Pocock’s precedence setting shells. “What most people don’t understand,” he says, “is that it is a long process. The design and construction of racing shells is continually refined throughout many years of experience, and all of these threads are coming together in better products.”
As it nears its centennial, Pocock Racing Shells is today’s industry leader. After a series of studies with flex testing, and while experimenting with the newest fibers, everything from the rigger configuration to the laminate schedule was changed in 1986; thus perfecting Stan’s initial concept of the shoulderless boat. While these breakthroughs have often been imitated, they have yet to be matched.
Comparative testing of the redesigned shells shows that Pocock shells are the stiffest and lightest on the market. The Pocock design path of the 21st century is in reducing wave-making drag without sacrificing other qualities. The proven success of the Hypercarbon™ K4 and the Hypercarbon™ V8 has lead to larger leaps forward along this development path.