Simple, bold yet intriguing. To those in the know, it’s a declaration of faith, a statement of intent. To those not in the know – welcome, take a seat but, most importantly, where have you been?
The King is aptly named because it represents the finest craftsmanship in boatbuilding. Despite the insurgence of household brands that colour the starting blocks of international regattas, Graeme King’s boats remain the gold standard in design, creation and delivery.
Born in Adelaide, South Australia in 1947, Graeme King became fascinated with boats at the early age of five. After watching a newsreel of an eight oared shell race, Graeme went home immediately and built his first model of a rowing shell. His first effort would mark the beginning of a long and illustrious career as one of the most decorated and credible rowing shell designers in the world.
In 1965 Graeme built his first full scale 1x, a boat equipped with fully adjustable stretchers and riggers, with a much wider span than normal. In 1970, Norm Talbot commissioned Graeme King to build him a boat which he rowed to gold at the Australian National Championships in 1971, the first of many national championships to be won in King shells.
Howard Croker is another rowing dignitary that helped put King in the spotlight of international rowing. Croker and legendary coach Harry Parker crossed paths at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games and spoke about Graeme’s attention to detail and how his skills as a mechanical engineer were showing up in the form of singles in Australia. Soon thereafter Graeme King and Harry Parker were introduced. Coach Parker took Graeme over to the USA as the Harvard boatman, a position King held from 1972-1975.
In 2003, Howard Winklevoss, founder of WinTech Racing Shells bought the Quantum boat company where Graeme was the principal boat designer with a plan to launch a brand new King Racing 4+ and 8+. Due to limited capacity, Howard moved production to a new 500,000 square feet state of the art manufacturing facility which today is the largest rowing boat manufacturer in the world and the new King Racing Shells brand was born!
The long waterline of these easy to sit yet extremely fast hulls help fight boat check and porpoising and the high rocker with responsible rudder makes this boat extremely easy to manoeuvre. They quickly became a staple amongst US college crews and have been used to consistently win and set course records at regattas such as Head of the Charles and US Youth Nationals.
Today marks the emergence of the newest King Eight, at the Head of the Charles in Boston. As the largest rowing event in the world and the historic seat of US racing, there is perhaps no more appropriate venue to showcase the latest in a long line of market-defining rowing shells.
Speaking to Graeme about his innovations, it is easy to get lost in the vernacular. His command of boatbuilding vocabulary is second to none and the marginal gains he chases to maximise every performance indicator require an eye that is both creative but devilishly forensic. “The newest King Eight is designed as a racing machine, not a consumer product,” he explained to me from his home in Adelaide, Australia (he recently returned after spending nearly 40 years in Vermont). “I value simplicity, which I think most coaches also look for. They do not want to be fiddling about with lots of variability and adjustability – the more of that there is, the more can go wrong”.
For the King Eight, the key changes revolve around the deck and gunnel height, making it more suitable for heavier men’s crews. “Athletes are getting taller and taller,” said Graeme. “I needed to find a way to package more length into the boat. Throughout the 80s, I spent a lot of time thinking about a narrower deeper hull with stabilizers. After extensive research, leveraging friends and colleagues at AT&T to calculate wave drag and how this would influence speed, we applied a lot of our findings into developing the King racing eights”.
Graeme is a trained engineer, and this enables him to explore deeper pools of knowledge to out-innovate and out-design his contemporaries. His story, tracking back to a metal apprenticeship with the Australian Railways, meanders through continents and race courses but brings us back to the fundamental principle that keeps him invested in the sport – he simply loves building better boats.
And, today on the dappled waters of the Charles, his latest brainchild will have a legacy defining moment in the Boston sun.
Isn’t it time you tried this record breaking 4+ & 8+?
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