Friday, May 29, 2009

Oars and Rowing

Yesterday was a fine day on the water for a quick row in the bateau Huckleberry. As you may already know, this is a new boat, in fact, this was the second time on the water. The first time out was at the Depoe Bay Boat Show in April and I used a new set of seven foot oars that I'd made specifically for Huckleberry. The bateau is a narrow boat (three feet extreme beam), but the seven foot oars seemed short. I'm accustomed to longer oars -- my favorites are a set of "Culler style" that run 8 1/2 feet -- so I took a longer set this time.
(A man can never have enough oars! I love to make them and nothing feels more natural in the hand than a loom carved in your own shop!)

This trial was with an eight foot set, and it was a mistake! At first all seemed well and the light bateau skimmed along, even against the tide. In a few minutes I found myself crossing my hands. Not a bad technique, but a sure sign that the oars are not balanced in the oarlock. After a half hour of shifting weight, my back hurt and I was done, time to head home.

The blades I used are light and worked well on the boat they were designed for, which was a foot wider. A small difference, but.....

I suppose the answer is to make another set of oars. Just the excuse I need! The best description of making a set of oars is found in Jim Michalak's work. Jim is a fan of the Culler style oar and has adapted the master's design to modern methods. His oars are laminated from one inch stock, which obviates the need for high quality wood.

I prefer the more old fashioned one piece stock, but adequate raw wood for a strong, light set of oars is fast diminishing (I'm not telling anyone where I keep mine!)

My oars are finished with two coats of clear epoxy and six coats of spar varnish.

Note the different lacing patterns used on the leathers. The lacings on the lower set of oars in the picture were done by my proud apprentice.
Each of the oar sets shown have a different handle pattern, as well. It's good to experiment and find the style that works best for you.

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