Frankly it is probably easier to build a Skiff than to build oars. It’s a bit like CAMRA – everyone knows about beer, drinks it and has an opinion about how it should be made and how it should taste. So it is with oars, we all use them, know what we like and hold an opinion. Trouble is, all the opinions are valid! So I get to make the oars having listened to all the input – and then I get it wrong. Actually getting it wrong is good as we all learn from that.
The Scottish Coastal Rowing Association (SCRA) spent quite a bit of time and effort recently in analysing and developing oars. It was great fun to take part in that and some great ideas were considered. In the end though we all have to remember that rowing/racing a St Ayles Skiff is actually a rowing competition rather than an oar making competition, so all the bright difficult to build ideas are somewhat subservient to the main purpose.
Thus all the spoon blades and fancy bells and whistles were discounted in favour of simplicity – so that everyone could make oars and be competitive. I haven’t really seen a great advantage in spending large sums on professionally made oars as some of those I have rowed with are really hard work – not well balanced and they can be rather heavy. That said I have managed to build a few ‘dogs’ as well – but at least we recognised them for what they were and decided not to use them.
Interestingly, there was a great thrust to get the unbalanced handle force (the down pressure on the handle to take the blade out of the water) to within acceptable limits – around 1.5 kilos for ladies and 2.5 for men and in consequence I managed to build a few oars that weighed around 4 to 4.5 kilos and could be waved around like magic wands – but nobody liked them in a breeze – crews felt as though the blades were being blown around and they lost the feel and in fact I noted that the light ‘magic’ oars were being left on the beach and the oars being used were a little chunkier, with more heft and a slightly increased unbalance handle force.
We really had been very scientific about what were the features we needed and I even modified the Test Pilot’s Cooper Harper rating scale to give us an objective idea of how oars were liked. Frankly the ‘we left them on the beach’ test was far more profound!!
So we still try to improve oars and offer what people like to row with – so let’s see what innovations this season brings.