Nick Hartland |

‘The most important life lesson he instilled in me was that anything is possible’

Coaching legend Jo Carter recently had a boat named in his honour at Staines BC – Nick Hartland talks to Jo and his former charges about his passion for the sport

Jo Carter’s coaching legacy is still making waves – nearly 30 years after hanging up his megaphone at Strode’s College, Egham. The Old Etonian, who spent his whole teaching career in the state sector, produced national, world and Henley medallists, while giving all abilities, boys and girls, the chance to row.

And the 88-year-old was ‘overwhelmed’ when his former charges recently bought and named a new £18,000 boat in tribute to him, for Staines BC’s junior section.

“He was really a one-man band,” recalls former GB junior and U23 rower Graham Wells.


“Jo did everything – coaching, organising, towing the boats in his Land Rover, fundraising, sourcing second-hand equipment.

“He’d take us everywhere, up to Tyne, Northwich, the West Country, Nottingham, even Paris, but he’d give everyone a chance at the local events like Egham.

“He wanted to give people the opportunity to be the best they could, but it was also sport for all. He hated elitism and loved taking down the bigger schools.”  

“He was a hero to me in my youth and I still stand by his values and example”


The former deputy head’s old rowers remember how he fostered “huge spirit and character” to challenge the best over 20 years at the small club.

And Jo smiles at tales of him telling rowdier pupils – “You, lad, have too much energy, you need to go rowing” – before bundling them into his mossy-green Land Rover and heading for their Staines-based boathouse.

Kent-born Jo, who was evacuated to Cumbria in the Blitz, began rowing at Eton before developing his love of the sport while studying maths at King’s College, Cambridge.

In between, his older half-brother sent him to France for nine months to learn the language with a French family.

“I think he had contacts with the French Resistance. I couldn’t speak a word, but by the end I was fluent and still read French books today,” says Jo.

The skill later saw him organise trips to the Runnymede and Joinville-le-Pont twinning regatta in Paris – a ‘brilliant’ experience for the Strode’s youngsters, where he hit it off with French Rowing official Jacques Bloch and co-founded the annual Anglo-French junior match.  

National Service saw him also learn Russian, when – on Churchill’s orders! – he joined the intelligence operation in West Germany, reading Soviet military messages – another useful asset when three Strode’s rowers headed to Moscow in 1979 to land world junior bronze.

Beginning his teaching career at a secondary in Hackney, he got a few pupils rowing while also leading the fundraising for the East End’s new Springhill boathouse in the late 1960s – an asset which later saw several clubs merge to form Lea RC and gave numerous youngsters the chance to row, including future three-time Olympian Salih Hassan.

“Without Jo’s encouragement I’d have stopped rowing and never realised my dream of competing at the top level”

“I then taught at Slatyford in Newcastle and got a four rowing at Tyne RC which won National Schools bronze, which was pleasing. And in 1972 I applied for the Strode’s job never thinking I’d get it,” adds Jo.

“But the new head, ex-Radley housemaster John Evans, was keen to relaunch Strode’s rowing after some lean years and asked me to run it.

“I got some people to help, and we borrowed boats where needed and got things going. I felt my role was helping youngsters to grow up through learning skills and developing teamwork.


“And it was nice to see off the bigger schools occasionally – in 1978 Paul Wensley and Jeff Hunt won coxed pairs at the Nationals, but another school thought it was their event for the world juniors in Belgrade and made us race off.

“His outstanding ability was to keep it simple, pressing home key elements of the stroke, often with unique images, such as ‘Think of the spacemen’”

“So, we beat them again… then it was a rush as it was behind the Iron Curtain and Paul didn’t have a passport.”

“He had a determination for us to do well…  and the feeling of coming home with pots and medals in the back of his Land Rover, with music blaring, will live long in the memory.

“We were rebellious and believed in ourselves, and he loved us beating the big schools – particularly his old school.

Olympian Adrian Genziani, who won the Visitors at Henley with Wensley in a GB junior squad boat before the duo landed world bronze in the Moscow eight, adds: “The most important life lesson he instilled in me was that anything is possible.

“He had great confidence in us and pushed us into the national and international arena – although Strode’s was a very small club, he didn’t see any boundaries to what we could achieve.

“Coaching-wise, his outstanding ability was to keep it simple, pressing home key elements of the stroke, often with unique images, such as ‘Think of the spacemen’ – lift off at the catch.”

“Then later with his intensive coaching, me and Jeff became the first Strode’s boat to win the nationals and be selected for GB.

“Without Jo’s encouragement I’d have stopped rowing and never realised my dream of competing at the top level, and for that I’ll forever be grateful.”

Fellow rower Mark Watson recalls Jo getting them tickets to the Henley Stewards’ Enclosure, and even buying him ‘in vogue’ white trousers to wear, while Ian Cox remembers how much it meant when Jo and his crewmates stood outside after his dad’s funeral, giving him a quiet nod and smile.

“That was Jo down to a T, thoughtful, wise and caring. He was a hero to me in my youth and I still stand by his values and example,” said Ian.


Jo also proved a mentor to future coaches and administrators, such as British Rowing Head of Education & Training Sarah Harris, British Rowing Medal of Honour winner and Henley Steward Andy Crawford, and Nigel Weare, cox of that Moscow GB junior eight, who worked for many years at British Rowing’s predecessor, the Amateur Rowing Association, and coached GB boats and the Army’s 2005 and 2006 Henley-winning boats.

Nigel, who spent a year coaching in France after leaving school, said: “I’ve tried to give my rowers the time and dedication Jo gave me. We weren’t saints, but he tolerated our behaviour as part of us growing up…

“I started coaching because of Jo, he helped me get my first job as head of rowing.”


Sarah added: “Jo was incredibly generous with his time as a teacher and rowing coach…

“As a teenager, he stretched and challenged me. As a junior woman from a small state sixth form, he enabled me and several other women to compete at the highest level, while allowing us to enjoy our teens. 

“As a result, I’ve continued in the sport and have watched many rowers from Strode’s and Staines flourish as athletes and coaches. 

“Jo created many of those bonds and it was a joy to see a boat named in his honour.” 

Photos: Jo Carter, Nick Hartland and Mike Owen