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Gales Ferry Boathouse

Four Riverside Place, Gales Ferry, CT 06335

For more than 100 years, the Yale crew has traveled to Gales Ferry near New London, Conn., to prepare for the nation's oldest intercollegiate sporting event, the annual four-mile race against Harvard. This facility, owned and operated by the Yale heavyweight crew, has been virtually untouched by the 20th century. It stands as an important part of Yale rowing and the event that has come to be known as The Race.

"In 1979, Steven Kiesling, a Yale oarsman, was elected to be a Scholar of the House. For one year he took no classes, instead concentrating on two tasks: training for the U.S. National Rowing team and writing a thesis on the philosophy of sport. His thesis was published as The Shell Game in 1982 by William Morrow and Company, Inc. Kiesling's book illuminates, "A strange and wonderful sport immersed so deeply in the equally strange and wonderful traditions of Yale University." (p.16)

The Race

In 1852 the first Yale-Harvard race began American intercollegiate athletics...The first race, organized as a promotional event by a local lodge, was raced in six-man boats without coxswains over a three-mile course on Lake Winnepesaukee, New Hampshire... Not until 1896 did the race become the annual four-mile event in New London. In 1870 Yale broke the collegiate tradition by integrating the legs into rowing. Yale oarsmen wearing greased leather trousers slid up and back on smooth wooden plates mounted where the tracks of the slide are today."(p.45)

The Place

The oarsmen finish exams and travel east along the Connecticut shoreline to Gales Ferry. As one oarsman described it, "The jump to the Ferry is not only an hour long bus ride, but a leap of a hundred years of history." Kiesling writes of the journey, "with a mile to go we turn from the main road, trading the last shopping center for the eroded stone of the cemetery and the small white houses built by whaling captains." (p.22) At the Ferry there are no televisions. After dinner a movie is projected on the reel-to-reel projector. A newspaper over breakfast is one's connection to the outside world. It is not a place of distraction. The Ferry allows the rowers to focus on the people and the event that surrounds them. Between rows, oarsmen play cards, write in their journals, read, play ferry pong or practice for the prestige event of leisure, the annual croquet tournament. Meals are taken together in the large dining hall. A Yale staff volunteers to take care of the team. Along the walls of the dining hall are pictures of past varsities. These young men understand what the current oarsmen face. They knowingly look down at the team to offer understanding and connect the men to those who have trained and taken their meals in exactly the same way for the past 100 years.

The Ferry has become a place where champions are made. The Olympic gold medal winning crews of 1924 and 1956 formed and trained at the Ferry. More than 30 National and Olympic Team oarsmen have trained there. Most recently, Yale junior Peter Stroble stroked the U.S. lightweight straight four at the 1994 World Championships. Though the Ferry has become a well known facility in the rowing community, it will always be first and foremost, a component in the tradition of Yale Crew and The Race. It is the place where the Yale oarsmen such as the members of the 1922 "Gutless Crew" trained. "After a poor early season, the crew of '22 had been labeled "gutless" by their own coach in a letter that made its way into The New York Times. With the coxswain chanting gutless at each catch, the same crew passed Harvard in the final stokes of The Race. A photograph was taken as the coxswain stepped over the unconscious stroke to shake hands with the seven man." (p.124)