In 1972 the late Arthur Martin and Ernestine Bayer created a new chapter in the history of rowing following what was to have been the first race to the Isles of Shoals, an event that did not happen because of foul weather.
The oars people who had bought Arthur Martin’s upstart rowing shell, a craft called the Alden, were enthusiastic about the boat which could move easily through the chop of coastal New Hampshire and Maine waters, and loved the idea of testing their skills during a seven mile race from Kittery Point, ME to the offshore Isles. Arthur held the race anyway, but moved it close to shore because of the fog.
He held a party following the race, serving up a drink of his own making called “Cransaauvod,” a mixture of cranberry juice, sauterne wine and vodka. Among those present was go-getter Ernestine Bayer, a freshly minted Alden owner, who had spent her rowing career in Philadelphia where almost single-handedly she had opened up the sport to women.
Although she had not raced that day, she had made a career of being a change agent, and when talk turned enthusiastic about the Alden shell and the kinds of events it would inspire – such as the Isles of Shoals Race – she suggested the idea of an association. Initially, Arthur had reservations centering on insurance, hull speeds, safety, and the work of organizing an association, but they soon slid to the background.
Recalling the discussion in his autobiography, he wrote that the idea might have flared and then died because of the commitment it would have entailed.
“The problem appeared to be beyond the capability or willingness of the assembled company. Except for Ernestine Bayer,” he wrote.
Ernestine Bayer, who died on Sept. 10, 2006, had a history of overcoming obstacles that was forged in Philadelphia where she had beaten the male rowing culture into a growing acceptance that women could row and could compete.
Her offer to organize what came to be called the Alden Ocean Shell Association was accepted. The association officially began in 1974 when incorporation papers were approved. It celebrated its 30th anniversary with a party in 2004 at the Alden Festival at Geneva Point, Lake Winnipesaukee, NY.
But even before the AOSA became official, Ernestine prevailed upon the prestigious Head of the Charles Committee to allow an Alden race to precede the Head of the Charles competition in Boston. That first race, now known as EBRoC, or Ernestine Bayer Race on the Charles, has been held every year since Then, in 1973 clear weather prevailed for the Isles of Shoals and the race has been held every year since.
Competition breeds fellowship, and the two races provided early members with the opportunity to bond. As enthusiasm grew, Ernie personally met or wrote letters to hundreds of Alden rowers. By the late 1980s, when she gave up her position as secretary and treasurer, she had recruited about 700 who at one time or another belonged to the AOSA. In the process it became the largest rowing club under the umbrella of the national organization now known as US Rowing.
During the late 1980s and 1990s the AOSA began to broaden its scope, first by sponsoring a “national;” event every two years that consisted of a weekend in September devoted to racing, clinics and fellowship. In the min 1990s, the board decided that tours were appropriate for the in-between years. The first one was in 1997 at the Sagamore Lodge in the Adirondacks. In 1999, the venue was on Lake George; in 2001, on the Thames River in England; 2003 on Chebeague Island in Maine’s Casco Bay; 2005 in Mystic, CT. The AOSA also beefed up its newsletter, re-naming it The Catch, began to increase its participation in youth Learn to Row programs, and to support, G-Row, and initiative in Boston that works with young women from troubled neighborhoods through combining rowing with counseling. The objective is to inspire them to enter college.
As the new century began, times had begun to change. Arthur Martin died in 1990 and the company he started has had two ownerships since. By the early 2000s, several other open water rowing shell companies had become will established, among them Maas on the West Coast, Little River in Florida, Echo in Maine, and Virus in Florida. Some manufacturers of the racing shells had also began making open water shells, most notably Peinert and Hudson. The AOSA had started something but now the Alden Company was no longer the sole manufacturer of open water shells.
Not surprisingly, the ranks of open water rowers using the shells of other manufacturers took notice of the AOSA but were frustrated by its restrictions on membership. The upshot was that in March 2006, the AOSA Board of Directors voted to open its ranks to all rowers of open water shells and to change the name of the organization to reflect its broader membership. In September 2006, the membership ratified that decision and the AOSA closed the books on its name and embarked upon a new chapter under the name of IROW, the acronym for the International Recreation and Open Water Rowing Association.
What do the next few years promise? The foundation built by the AOSA is solid. IROW is expected to bring new ideas to the table and to become a respected voice for the growing open water rowing community.