I hope that this post won’t be too technical, but at least it could provide something to talk about if anyone is out on a first date in Anstruther, North Berwick or Ullapool, where oars are the talk of the steamie.
At the last AGM the membership of SCRA approved a motion to set up a group of builders and trial rowers with a view to moving towards a standard oar that perhaps might at some distant future date become compulsory for use in racing. Because people are fond of their individual designs and skiffies tend to cherish the slightly anarchic nature of coastal rowing the latter was maybe only a remote possibility.
The group recently reported and SCRA has now decided to recognise the general feeling against compulsion, with the result that two choices are now offered to clubs for each of oar length, construction, type of blade and oarlock system. Clubs are now invited to offer to make a new set of oars incorporating these variations and allow members from other clubs to visit and try them out.
Our club had already decided to make a new set of oars and been accepted as a “testing” club, so we can now go ahead.
Every one of the recommendations would produce a significant improvement in terms of efficiency and comfort over what most clubs have been using.
Regarding length, some clubs are sold on short oars and the recommendation would be for these to be 3.5 metres, which happens to be the length of our existing oars.
Longer oars would be 4.3 metres, 14 feet 1 ½ inches, which is a bit shorter than what some have been using, but gaining efficiency by positioning the pins on the inboard side of the gunwale by about 70 mm. In this event the stroke oar would be 4 metres, a foot shorter. Avoiding the extreme lengths in excess of fifteen feet, that some clubs have gone for, keeps the oars manageable and reasonably light.
Your committee feel that we should go for the longer length.
Regarding construction, the choices are an all softwood oar or a mix of softwood outboard and hardwood inboard. The latter is what we already use and produces oars that are better balanced and that would be our choice.
Blades can be flat or spooned, in the latter case to a specified design. Spoon blades seem to be more efficient, in that they scoop and hold water better, but this comes at the cost of being a bit more difficult to use, because you have to learn to lift them at the end of each stroke to avoid catching a crab! Because we row so often with relatively inexperienced people it seems better to stick with the flat blades we are used to.
Finally, regarding oarlock systems, the choices are between an improved version of what we already use, giving a more positive entry angle to the blade and better control, or an innovative new idea, with the oar slotting over a special pin with a round top. In either case the pin will be made from a tough acetal, rather than oak, greatly reducing friction. Our idea would be to stick with what we are used to and benefit from the acetal pin.
The plan is to go ahead with oar workshops as soon as we have acquired the timber needed. The sketch shows the basic design that we will be working to.