[Note: this is Part 3 in the series on Oars and appeared in Shavings, Nov 2016]

Well, we’ve had historical, professional, and modern examples, advice from unidentified contributors on shafts, blades, leathers, weight, and rowlocks – now it’s time to look at some of our other members' oar making. There’s also a list of oar making references at the end of this article (for those who don’t want to design their own oars) to help you get underway in choosing what is right for you and your boat.

A small contingent of four boats made the rip up the Werribee river. Jim and Penny in Talisman, Andrew Campbell in Mars, Peter and Kirsty Batchelor in their new diving platform, the rubber ducky, and myself in Curlew.

There was much evidence that the high rivers of the last few months have also effected the lower reaches of the Werribee river, with fresh erosion showing about 300mm higher than the current level. In any case the river must have been higher than on other visits as I could go two more bends further up beyond the cliffs to the golf club, before running out of water depth.

For those of you that have not cruised this river the K road cliffs are spectacular with many bird nests in the nooks and crannies. Penny and Jim had the binoculars out to watch for the varied bird life.

We finished the cruise upstream just on 12 noon, and had a message that Chris Kelly and Andrew Cohen had arrived at the jetty in their yacht after a voyage from Williamstown, also there were David and Margaret O’Dempsey, and Graham Signorini in his canoe Nabari. So we turned around and headed back to the jetty for lunch together.

For those that don’t know Nabari, it is a peddle powered craft using the recumbent position like one of Graham’s bikes, driving through all wooden gears to a wooden propeller.

What a great night at Seaworks! Marg and I arrived just after 1700 hours to find our Promotions Officer Andrew Cohen already hard at work. “Need a hand Andrew?” – “nope, it’s all under control”.

We hadn’t been to Seaworks previously so we wandered around, checked out the pictures and memorabilia in the Pirate’s Tavern, met up with the flow of arrivals carrying salads and desserts, and chattered on. Andrew looked as if he had nearly finished organising the setting up of the area and laying out the silver and gold cutlery (plastic knives, forks and spoons) so it seemed a good time to ask again if he required help – I gathered from the glance he gave me that things were ok..

With nothing to do and the numbers swelling, we all wandered down the dock to view the tied up shipping – the Sea Shepherd in its camouflage grey and black, Tenacious, Ocean Warrior with its water cannon and looking to me a bit like a submarine with a modified conning tower, and of course Chris and Andrew’s 20 foot Golant Gaffer lost amongst the monster sized ships at dock around it.

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.


Despite the disturbing weather forecasts, the hardy WBAers who headed to Paynesville for the annual weekend away, managed to snatch some quality time on the water. Andrew Campbell (Mars) and Jim & Penny (Drascombe lugger) arrived on Thursday night and woke to a fine Friday, albeit with a northerly change due. We launched at Bairnsdale and, after a brief flurry of activity to quickly lower the lugger’s mast so as not to come to grief at the foot- and road bridges, motored leisurely down the Mitchell River. The river was high with all the recent rain water coming from upstream, picturesquely still.

Paynesville Oct 23 2016 1 Paynesville Oct 23 2016 2 Paynesville Oct 23 2016 3

The threatened front followed us downriver, an ominous shadow, past cliffs reminiscent of those at Werribee’s K Road, as we travelled between the silt jetties towards Lake King. As we crossed the lake and neared Paynesville a light wind sprang up and the front appeared to pass by. Leaving Penny with the boats, Jim and Andrew returned to Bairnsdale to pick up the cars and trailers. Suddenly there was an almighty whoosh – the wind had come in, the Strait was covered in whitecaps, boaties hurried into the pens and hunkered down. All according to the forecast, no? Nope, it was a south-westerly and way stronger than expected! The boats were retrieved without incident and we returned to Resthaven, where we were joined by Jenny & David Stott (Penguin), Leigh & Kerrin McNolty, David & Jan Gibson, and Brian & Robin Flewell-Smith (Rowdy, a very recent purchase).

Well here I am, finally getting to build my long awaited boat. I had to build a shed first and that took longer than I thought to get the prefab made and the building permit through council. Anyway that's all behind now and I have started.

I chose a small B & B Yacht Design from the States - Their Spindrift 11, as pictured. I haven't built a boat before so I wanted something I could manage to build by myself, something I could sail for fun, row if I had to, or put an outboard on if I wanted.

Here I am starting to loft the hull from the plan onto the scarfed 1-1/2 sheets of 6mm gaboon marine ply. I scarfed the one and a half sheets together before I started to take photos of the build. I found a nifty jig to make for the circular saw on YouTube and it worked pretty well. Got a nice neat 70mm scarf.

The build started by joining the sides and bottom of the hull, stitching the keel line before unfolding

the "wings" to produce the hull. Worked pretty well. It was good to have another pair of hands though.

Well, the presentation on “Could Ancient Romans Sail To Windward” measured up to the publicity, and was well received by the large group (members and non-members) in attendance.

It was a privilege to have Dr Chris with us and even non-sailors such as myself learned

not only about the design and function of ancient sails, but about sailing itself.

Peter Batchelor has put Dr Davey’s entire presentation on our website and it can be viewed by selecting “Articles…. Dr Christopher Davey”.


         Davey Presentation 2

  OARS old chinese   OARS Viking   lifeboat20oars20pile2

Oars! They’ve been around for a long time, as the pictured ancient Chinese and Viking oars show, and the stack of old oars alongside seems to indicate that the basic design hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

I’ve received pictures, presentations and thoughts from several members – and non members too; too many to put into one article, and so it appears that there will be more oar(some?) articles to come.

My own research indicates that the search for the perfect oar continues, however you may like to consider some of the historic designs before choosing an oar similar to everyone else’s! Those 4000 year old Chinese oars actually look pretty practical, and of course there are interesting oars from the Victorian period to be considered, as a search of the patents records shows –

The PS Adelaide was launched on 21st July 1866 and has just celebrated her 150th Birthday. PS Adelaide is the oldest wooden hull paddle steamer still operating in the world and has recently undergone a refurbishment for her birthday.

     2136 p s adelaide at wharf1         Adelaide

PS Adelaide reaches back in time for us, with some notable events happening at the time being:

As intimated in the last Shavings edition, this AGM was my last as President, and I wish the new President Andrew Campbell a successful reign.

The WBA Annual General meeting was held at Albert Park on Sunday 24 July 2016

on a cold but clear day. The conditions obviously influenced the member’s choices, as there were plenty of warm clothes, lots of hot food, but no boats on the water.

The 36 intrepid members attending included two new members , Bob Morgan and

Robert Tolano - welcome to you both and we hope to see more of you.

From time to time the WBA president receives a call from people wanting to sell or get rid of an old boat.

In my time as president this happened a few times and my Putt Putt Curlew is one such outcome.

About 12 months ago Chris Kelly received such a call from a fellow living at Somers, who wanted to get rid of two old boats, “free to a good home”. One was a mirror dinghy and the other described as a minihydro.

Given my interest in power boats, Chris thought I would like a new project. Not knowing what it was I asked for some pictures and David Gibson, who subsequently took on the mirror dinghy sent me a few pictures.

Apparently there are few wooden boats in regular use in and around Darwin. So said Chris Naden, owner and skipper of the former pearling lugger Streeter during our sunset cruise around the harbour. And he should know. Between the deleterious effects of damp and mould during the Wet, teredo worm and termites, keeping a wooden boat in good repair is a difficult – and expensive - exercise. Gaff-rigged, built in Broome in 1959, Streeter’s working life included time as a fishing boat and she has been beautifully restored for use in the tourist industry.

Topsl 1Jimmy and I took Rufus out on Wednesday 1st June, in light airs. We spent a happy half hour raising the topsail. Then, as we were ghosting along we decided to try out the new fishing rods on board. 

The results were quite amazing. Here was Rufus sailing at about half a knot with all sails up while we were busily pulling in the flathead!  The topsail makes a big difference in light airs and we finally doused the lines and had a pleasant sail over lunch time with a slight but strengthening breeze. All in all it was a great day.

I have attached photographic proof of topsail and the catch in case you might think it is one of those nautical yarn.

1Hanh and I ventured to the Morgan Living Festival in South Australia for the weekend 14 and 15 May. Although it was a long drive, it was a worthwhile weekend away. We towed Mars the distance which was a test for our new / old motor home.

P5221353Winter is upon us...  the last few weeks have been windy (very) wet and cold with some beautiful late autumn days thrown in for good measure. 

Our Maribyrnong trip went well with a handful of intrepid enthusiasts turning up for the voyage.  We met at the "Warmies"and launched our craft - Geoff Carrol with Kibby crewed by Jimmy Baillie, Mars with Andrew and Hahn Campbell, Graham Signorini as OOD with Nebari, and Chris Kelly with Takapunt crewed by David Mahony.

IMG 20160424 142214Our April sailing day saw the St Ayles Skiff Cariad return to Albert Park Lake once again, with members of the Melbourne Welsh Church. Several of our members were able to take advantage of the wonderful conditions and enjoyed putting her through her paces.

Not to be outdone, Begonia also carried a number of WBA members in the light conditions, with not a leak in sight.

IMG 1410Geoff Divko invited other WBA members over to Coburg and his fine furniture workshop for our April club night, and a good number of members took advantage of his kind offer.

He explained that when building in wooden wood, it is crucial to have sharp tools – it makes your life easier. We started with learning about orb stones on bench grinders – we all ‘fessed up to having blue/grey orbs, which he said are used for roughing up whereas black ones are good for taking junk off your chisels! What you really need is a white stone.

Peter Medlings (pcb10@bigpond.com), one of the organisers from the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally forwarded the following to the WBA.

Here is some Drone footage from the Paynesville Classic Boat Rally weekend.The Boats and Paynesville just look Brilliant! See if you can find your boat! We have over  40 minutes of footage. YouTube only allowed 17 minutes. If you would like more let me know. This event was in a lot of minds one of the best events to happen in Paynesville  So please feel free to share and help make the next one in March 2018 even bigger! Please watch it all the way through - the second half is amazing!

On a return form a recent quick trip to Brisbane and back, I took the opportunity to call in on Russell and Margaret Hurren at Nagambie to check on the progress of their current project.

Russell and Margaret took their 18’ half cabin boat Agnes on the Murray trip from Echuca to Goolwa last year, and at the completion of this journey, they decided they need a boat with accommodation, rather than camping on river banks.

I saw this advertised in Shavings, and was hooked.

I have had Jessie II on lakes King, Victoria, Reeve and Tyers (Toorloo and Nowa Nowa arms), and have been on the La Trobe, Thomson, Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo rivers, and up North Arm to Mississippi Creek. I first met WBA when at Marlo for the PS Curlip commissioning, but was without my boat there (it was in SA). This rally would give me the chance to cross Lake Wellington, and poke into the Avon and Perry rivers, then stay on the tackle the Snowy, Mallacoota and various south-coast NSW inlets.

Hanh and I ventured to the rally on the Friday before the weekend start. We didn’t bring Mars as I didn’t think it fitted the entry criteria and I had just bought a small second hand motorhome that I hadn’t used yet so I only wanted to worry about one thing at a time. I think as it turned out Mars would have met the criteria but I was happy to watch this out.

The day started overcast, but warm, with offshore and very shifty winds of approx 5 knots close to shore, and 10 – 15 knots out past the outer channel markers. Soon after lunch the sky cleared making pleasant sailing and boating conditions.

The Inverloch Classic Wooden Dinghy Regatta has established itself as the place to be over the Australia Day weekend for owners of wooden racing dinghies of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Over the three years the event has been going, a core group of regular attenders have been at every regatta. I am one of them.

Where else can you see a collection of boats from the era that made Australian dinghy racing so wild and vibrant?

It was a time when plywood was a new wonder material, and building a boat in the back shed was the booming popular craze. Today’s crazes are about cooking or fitness or renovation, but back then you bought yourself a Mirror kit from Blockey the Boatbuilder, or you built something from Build a Boat magazine and you did the best you could with nails and glue and hand-me-down tools.

At our February Club Night WBA members were introduced by Reverend James Barr to a beautiful St Ayles skiff built as a community project by the Melbourne Welsh Church in the heart of the CBD. Launched in 2014, Cariad is one of a growing number of these elegant, Iain Oughtred-designed rowing craft which have rapidly gained in popularity around the world.

I was given a copy of this book at Christmas, and I have found it to be a fascinating read. As the title suggests, this book describes the Port Phillip coastline, and provides information on the geography, animals and plants that you are likely to encounter.

My father, Neil Smith, spent his early teenage years close the Murray at Swan Hill. His later teenage years were in an ancestral house in South Melbourne, built by his grandfather (or great grandfather), who had worked in port management. His uncle, who had inherited the house, also worked in port management.

Before training as a teacher, my father worked as a numbertaker and ticket seller at Princes Pier. His boats came after a few rural-school postings. The longest (and happiest) prewar stay was at Tooradin North (1936-41), boarding in Tooradin 'a pretty little fishing village', in Stella Maris boarding house. He alternated between weekends in South Melbourne (socialising), and having Melbourne friends come to Tooradin for picnics and to go boating.

Many of you will know that I underwent a total shoulder replacement last October, and although the new shoulder is fabulous in many ways, it has so far prevented me from most boating activities – especially rowing.

Imagine my surprise when I received a call from Jim Stockton the Monday before Australia Day, suggesting that he and Penny Braybrook take me rowing the next day!   Jim suggested that I provide the vessel and he provide the muscle – no rowing for the David, he said, the Jim will do it all!! All I had to do was extract and load the boats etc. and be ready (together with the Margaret) at 8:00am for an hour’s row!

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Membership is open to all wooden boat enthusiasts. Many members own boats, others do not, but all enjoy the chance to get together and "muck about with boats". Their boats include rowing boats, putt-putts, radio controlled models, pond yachts, canoes, kayaks, steam-powered boats, sailing dinghies, dayboats and ocean-going yachts.

The Wooden Boat Association is based in Melbourne, with regular sailing days scheduled on Albert Park Lake, as well as other venues around Melbourne, and at least one weekend each year elsewhere in the state.

Especially welcome is the first-time wooden boat builder or restorer, who can expect to receive ample advice and assistance in getting their dream onto the water.

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  • Use of the Association's own boats, two traditional sailing boats, Begonia and Lindsay Symons, our canoe Stringybark, and our extremely rare Port Philip 12.
  • Access to the Association's extensive library of boatbuilding and other nautical books.
  • Companionship with sister associations in other states

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