I apologise to all those who have kindly sent in photos and oar construction references – another anonymous contributor has insisted on equal exposure, and for undisclosed personal reasons I have chosen to publish his letter in an unedited format. (ed.)
“Although coming from the anonymous lineage and bearing the same ”anonymous” title, I must point out that I am not related (as far as I know) in any way to your previous anonymous contributor. I do however have some experience in oar use and construction and would appreciate the opportunity to share my journey with oars – which the keen reader will note draws some conclusions which vary from my unrelated pre-contributor “Anon 1”.
I was late entrant to the rowing for liesure scene, and having a lot to learn I consulted with my friend Angus Marsland, who over the past ten years or so has contributed to my designs - and disagreed with lots of them. That’s what friends are for!
I started off my oarsome life by – as many do – purchasing a set of good old “Okky” oars made, I think from hoop pine(?). Functional, traditional, heavy, not unnatractive, and available. They worked ok, but I had a lot of trouble keeping the blades vertical as I stroked through the water.
Then came the event that put me on the path to achieving perfection. Using a design received as part of the plans supplied by John Welsford for the construction of one of his dinghies, I made one oar based on his plans …. It never touched the water – BUT…. some of he advice he gave in what to look for in oars has stuck with me to this day - something like (my summary), ‘most oars you buy are as useful as lumps of wood – heavy, unwieldy, innefficient. If you must, buy a pair, shave the shafts down to a taper ending about 25mm x 30mm where they meet the blades, and plane/sand the blades down considerably – no more than 6mm thick at the edges’.
I did this with my beloved Okkys and noted some improvement in balance and appearance.
The blade shape was still an issue for me, and the weight of the outboard length of oar was quite noticeable when rowing for a couple of hours.
My friend Angus, who had been giving me lot’s of unsolicited advice to ignore up to this point, commenced building his own pair of 6’ oars for his small dinghy. He constructed his shafts from thin laths glued into a hollow box structure, and made his own blades from 2 pieces of ply laminated together in a simple home-made mould.
I wasn’t overly impessed with the appearance of his shafts, but loved the blades! I promptly used his idea, fitted my new laminated ply blades to the okkys, stuck 500gms of lead in the Okkys’ handles and “Voila” oars that worked!!
I should also mention that Angus introduced me to the Gaco rowlock all that time ago – I just can’t imagine using anything else now.
Is that end of my story? Sorry, I’m afraid there’s more.
Still looking for a better oar, I made a hollow pair made from salvaged old growth oregon, planed them to an octaganol shape, and use them on one of my boats even now. Fitted with ply blades, they are light, easy to use and reasonably efficient.
Next were a pair of “ladder ”oars, which I suppose are box section shafts with no side panels. These have been very good to use, and despite John Murray’s (Gaco) professional and educated view that the shafts need to be rotated 90 degrees to achieve maximum strength, they have proven to be unbreakable and light.
Angus continued on his own path (yes, he ignores most unsolicited advice as well!) and made more versions of the box section oars, before progressing to his current “I-Beam” phase. All his oars (when used by Angus) propel his boat faster than mine!
Another try at a shaft was to taper lengths of western red cedar then laminate thin strips of oregon to the sides to ensure strength. The shafts are largely rectangular and very light. It was in trying to improve the rowing efficiency of this pair of oars (the best up to this point) that I came across John Murray’s blurb on his Gaco turbo blades, bit the bullet, paid the money – and now use nothing else on new oars. It was like adding a turbo-charger to a car!
The most recent oars are traditional in appearance and ustilise finely tapered shafts made entirely of western red cedar fitted with turbo blades – oars and rowlocks together wieghing just over a kilo each! Is the cedar strong enough? – it’s coped with plenty so far, and is still fine. Even (the unrelated) “Anonymous 1” couldn’t break them!
So what about oar length and hand grip? Angus and I have tried the lot, from short oars to long oars, and it seems to us that 2 .1 to 2 .2 metres works for any boat with beam 1 .1 – 1 .2 metres, and of any length.. We use a pivot point at about ¼ the oar length from the handle end.
Hand grip? In the battle to keep the blade positioning stable, I’ve tried round, square, and flattened faces. Also tried shaping to my hand profile, and even fitting commercial grips. It seems in the end ‘though, that to practise your rowing is the best solution – but in my case fitting the turbo blades cut down oar rotation almost completely, and even Angus has been converted to their use.
And my view of the perfect handyman built oar? Mine, of course!! Why else would I bother writing to you!
Anon 2 “
Once again my apologies to other contributors. I assure you however that your contributions will be recognised in the future. (editor)