Editor’s note: The following article runs as a tribute to Peter Kendal, who died Nov. 17 at the age of 77. Peter was a longtime contributor to The Morning Star, sharing his stories of growing up in England, serving in the RAF, working for Shell in Brunei, as well as stories about his beloved wife, Wendy, and their sons, Iain and John. He called his stories Life Writing, and we thank you, Peter, for sharing your life with us. You will be missed.
Special to The Morning Star
It started when I moved at age 16 to a new school on the bank of the River Wear in Durham City. I was asked, as were all in the senior class of the Lower Sixth, to choose what sport they preferred to participate in. Never having been particularly proficient at either cricket or football, all that were available at my previous school, I decided to have a go at rowing. Here is something I should have no bother with because it was done sitting down and this appealed to my lazy nature! How wrong I was in thinking that it would be easy.
I had neglected to ask some basic questions about rowing but I was very quickly to find out how little I knew. But by then I was committed and could not change my choice of sport. For a start there was the business of getting the boat into the river. My chosen sport was not well-provided with cash, unlike our competitors like the university colleges and Durham Public School. This cash limit meant that we had to build our own boat and it was a solid and heavy craft. It was a coxed four-seater, and with only four oarsmen to lift and the coxswain telling us what to do, carrying it was not easy. Even our oars (called “blades”) were awkward to handle at first. We had also to borrow a boathouse to keep it in, which was inconveniently on the far side of the river, far away from the race course.
Then we had to row another 3/4 of a mile to the end of the race course, continuing to row upstream for more than a 1/2 mile before we were in place to start our proper rowing workout. All this before we even got started what we were there for! Then we had it all to do again on the way back before we were finished. I soon realized that rowing used every muscle in the body and that being seated was no help. Indeed I found that I had muscles that I did not know about until they started to ache!
Our first test of our skill came at the summertime annual Durham Regatta (the third biggest in England after Henley) where, although we won nothing, we acquitted ourselves well. Another year of training followed before the Regatta came round. Our crew was drawn in a semi-final race against Royal Grammar School, Newcastle. We rowed well but the result was a dead heat and we had to row the race again almost straight after. We won by half a length but then, due to time limits and in spite of the protests of our coach, we had to row the final almost straight afterwards against a university college crew who had been rested for about four races. We lost by more than a length and almost collapsed in the bottom of the boat. We went on to win a race later at another regatta on the River Tyne that qualified our crew as proper oarsmen before we left school. I still have the engraved pewter tankard to remind me of my rowing days.
My next rowing was done in an environment diametrically opposed to the River Wear in the North of England. More than 17 years later, I found myself in Borneo working as an engineer for Royal Dutch Shell Ltd. We had a club there known as the Kuala Belait Boat Club. I eagerly joined it but found that I had to relearn almost all I knew about how to row. That was because the firm was half Dutch and half British, and although the company worked almost entirely in English, the members of the rowing section were almost all Dutch. We got on fine together and I was given a place in a crew as the sole British oarsman. The two main problems were nothing to do with rowing and were common to all nationalities. The majority of our rowing was done after work and before darkness fell, which was about 7 p.m., and this was the time when the worst biting flies were most active. The other problem was in the local tidal river, Sungei Belait: the presence of crocodiles and the presence of venomous sea snakes. Both were difficult to see and we were never sure that we were capable of rowing fast enough to avoid them!
Being a rower also gave me the chance to speak French as, when we hosted the Far East Rowing Regatta, for some reason I was given the task of being the local liaison with the Vietnamese crews. They spoke little English and I spoke no Vietnamese so we got along fine using French and a common interest in rowing. We were not letting language or the lack of it be a barrier to goodwill!
Rowing has benefitted me a lot and I believe that once one is an oarsman one is always an oarsman.