Fall 1977: Building of the Boathouse
During the fall quarter, actual boathouse construction was done episodically. Jack Hibbert, owner of Hibbert Lumber in Davis, designed structural components of the boathouse on a scrap of paper. “It’s amazing how many people helped us out,” Rich said.
During the first year of the program the team used the sailing club docks since the outboard club dock was too high. But it was very difficult to launch off the sailing docks because the high pilings interfered with the ability to make a required 90-degree turn from the ramp onto the dock, which runs parallel to the shore.
That first year the boathouse had no electricity. At the end of workouts, in order to replace boats and oars on racks in the dark, the team relied on car headlights, shining them into the boathouse door to see where to place the boats. (Electricity finally arrived during the summer of 1978, between the first two seasons.) “I didn’t know anything at all about wiring, but I bought an electrical book from Hibbert Lumber and used that to wire the boathouse.” Free electricity was then provided by our neighbors next door at Fibersteel.
Money was needed not only to build the boathouse, but also for gas and oil for the coach’s launch, and for various supplies. Dues were collected, but also day to day whatever spare change any rower had in his or her pocket was often needed. It was not uncommon to show up at the boathouse and need to send someone to the gas station for launch fuel after first canvassing all rowers for “donations.”
The other source of funding that first year came from UC Davis.
“During Spring Quarter 1977, I met Athletic Director Joe Singleton in his office above Hickey Gym to inform him of my plans,” Rich said. “Joe was a very imposing man, a truly huge tough-looking old-school football player, and he told me there would be no funding until the second season. I let him know I had not come looking for money, that a handout had never occurred to me, and I was only meeting with him because Club Sports informed me that meeting the AD was a requirement to starting a new sports club.”
That quarter the team met daily on the grass outside Hickey Gym to do basic fitness and strength work: squat jumps, pushups, sprints, core work, wheelbarrows, and more squat jumps. Much of it was done in teams, relay-style.
“At the beginning of fall quarter 1977, I received an invitation to a club sports funding meeting on campus. I did not attend since Joe had told me there would be no funding until the team’s second season,” Rich said. “A day later Joe’s secretary phoned me. Joe wanted to know why I failed to attend the funding meeting. I repeated Joe’s directive that there would be no funding until the second season. She said Joe had seen our land workouts outside his office the previous spring and he considered Spring 1977 to be our first season. And that is how we obtained UCD funding for our first season on the water. It wasn’t a lot, either $300 or $600 (don’t remember), but that amount of money was very helpful and it also is a window into Joe Singleton, a man with a very tough exterior and a soft heart of pure gold.”
Crew Recruitment Ad from California Aggie 9/28/1977
The tiny crew organized a second recruiting meeting that fall. Over 120 people signed up to be part of a rowing team with no boats. There would be two teams, a men’s team and a women’s. Besides Rich, only two other team members had ever rowed before – Jeff DeNatale, who rowed at Berkeley High School, and Suanne Starner, who rowed previously at Oregon State University. Once they all got into boats, all three of them helped to teach the others how to row. Rich was amazed that so many athletes, most of whom had never even seen the sport, were willing to commit to a mere promise that they’d build a team. “Initially we held only land workouts since there were no boats,” he said. “We had to build the boathouse and the program while finding time for land workouts and occasionally studying.”
To get the money they needed to rent their first rowing shells, the students sold raffle tickets and hosted a movie night, showing the James Bond film Casino Royale in Chem 194. Meanwhile, Rich made contact with four-time Olympic medalist Conn Findlay, who after retiring operated a business in Redwood City that rented boats. Rich told Conn what he was trying to do at UC Davis. Conn thought the idea of building a crew up from scratch was “ridiculous,” according to Rich, but he was willing to trailer boats up to Davis that the students could rent. (Conn Findlay is the most accomplished U.S. Oarsman with two Gold and one Bronze Medal in the Men’s 2+ at the 1956, 1960 and 1964 Olympics, and he also won a bronze in sailing in the tempest class at the 1976 Olympics.)
The team started out in mixed-gender shells, changing seats daily so everyone could gain experience on both port and starboard. The attrition rate was steep. By spring we were left with 16 men and four women, plus coxswains, Rich said. “There were days when we had enough coxswains but were short rowers. We’d juggle people around to balance multiple shells with an empty seat or two, or later, send out larger and smaller shell combinations so everyone got time on the water. Then there were days when we were short a coxswain and a rower would cox. In the spring the team split into men’s and women’s shells.”
The crew got contributions from many:
Then UC Berkeley Head Coach Steve Gladstone, who went on to win multiple national championships at Cal, Yale and Brown, loaned UCD Crew a set of oars. He also offered the Davis team use of Cal’s ergometers. There was talk of racing UC Berkeley, however UCD Crew secured a race against Berkeley High School’s crew and lost. Gladstone did not think racing UC Davis would be good for either party after Davis lost to the high school team.
- Dennis Borsenberger, coach at UCSB, donated boxes of UCSB’s spare parts, from seats to oarlocks, and sold the Davis team a set of good oars with payment delayed until after the first season.
- Craig Leeds, currently Director of California Yacht Club, helped with workouts.
- South Bay Rowing Club loaned an old Pocock 4+ after being persuaded by Phil Kearney Sr.
- Don McNary, a former Cal coxswain who was living in Woodland read about the fledgling team in The Sacramento Bee and got in touch with Rich, offering to help. “He and I attended a Cal Alumni Day together, but honestly I didn’t know how to take advantage of help that was offered,” Rich said.
Next Up UCD Crew Origins Part 3 1978 Men’s Team Racing Season