What are these red arrows we keep seeing on your blades? I’m often asked this, and now is a good moment to explain. Because the answer lies in Boston, Mass., and that is where I am now heading.
After a fairly frenetic summer of coaching in France, I’m starting an American interlude, and have just arrived in Sarasota, Florida for the World Masters 2018. I’m not expecting to achieve much here in competitive terms, as I’ve done no speedwork at all this year: too busy with other stuff. But at least I’ll be competing, unlike last year at Bled 2017.
So far so good. I have a beautiful new red Nelo, all set up the way I like it, and it’s moving along well. The weather is hot but not unpleasantly so – rather like Bergerac in August. No hurricanes on the horizon. And I haven’t met a single alligator.
After Sarasota I’ll be heading up to Boston, where I’ve been invited once again to join the Harvard University lightweight veterans Eight for the Head of the Charles regatta which begins on 20th October. This is a great honour, and I’m looking forward to some sweep rowing after a year or so of non-stop sculling.
Here again, expectations of a win are modest (this particular crew is usually as interested in the eating aspects of the regatta as the rowing ones – last time I was there they had a fork on their team T-shirt rather than an oar…) But you never know: they have won it before. The main thing is to get all nine bodies to the finishing line as quickly as possible without injury – which is, I would say, the essence of Masters rowing.
Going to and from Boston is something which members of my family have been doing a lot over the past two centuries. Which brings me to the red arrow which I’ve had on my own blades for many years, and am now putting on the ones in Bergerac.
These are the flags used to signal the ownership of the clipper ships which operated out of Boston in the latter part of the 19th Century. The print shows all 112 of the Boston Merchants’ private signals, including that of my great-great grandfather Alpheus Hardy, who was active in the China trade.
Hardy was a keen rower, and competed in coxed fours in both Boston and at the New York Athletic Club: I have at home two of the tankards he won, passed on to me by my grandmother. Today, though, Alpheus Hardy is mainly remembered as owner of Wild Rover, the magnificent great clipper ship in which, contrary to Japanese law and at great risk to his own life, a young Samurai called Niijima Jō (新島 襄) was smuggled from Shanghai to Boston in 1864.
After arriving in Boston, he was adopted by Alpheus Hardy, and took the name Joseph Hardy Neesima. Over the next 10 years the Hardy family provided him with an education at Andover and Amhurst (where naturally he learned to row). He also became a devout Christian; and was duly ordained as a priest.
Returning to Japan in 1874, he founded a school which later became Doshisha University in Kyoto. Doshisha is today one of Japan’s leading universities, with 30,000 students enrolled on four different campuses.
The Doshisha Rowing Club, which flourishes also, was founded in 1891, and actually made it to Henley Regatta for their 100th anniversary.
If any Doshisha graduates are here in Sarasota, do please find me and say Hello (I speak Japanese – 日本語 話せます). Look for the red Nelo – it’s the only one here.
It’s always good to revive old family connections!