carbon fiber oars for fixed seat boats : LUSENET : Open-water rowing : One Thread

There are numerous makers 9.5 foot-long carbon fiber sculls for sliding-seat competition, Concept 2 being an excellent example. Does anyone know of a supplier of good quality carbon oars, perhaps with hatchet blades, in the 7.5 to 8 foot range used in open-water, fixed-seat boats? Concept 2 will make short oars on special order, but it is not their primary focus. Keep Pullin' John Mullen

-- John Mullen (, February 11, 2001


Dear John,

I've been trying to resist taking a swing at this one, but when someone throws me a hanging, not so fast ball I just gotta swing for the fence. The primary reason no one offers such a device is that a short, carbon fiber, hatchet is the answer to a question few people are asking. Hatchets are ocassionally used in fixed seat boats(See the Sulkava Race in O-WR issue#19)but they add a degree of complexity that you don't get with more conventional oars, even spoons. Hatchets are primarily a racing tool. In relatively short races it isn't necessary to carry spare oars. As hatchets are specific to port and starboard a long distance cruiser would need to carry 2 spares. Also, should a carbon fiber oar break on a long trip it would be much more difficult to repair than a wooden oar which could be repaired to like new condition by a resourceful rower with simple tools and materials that are available at any hardware store. One of the salient features of carbon fiber shafts is their incredible stiffness. That kind of stiffness is desirable in sleek, lightweight racing shells which respond instantaneously to each stroke. Less svelt, heavier fixed seat craft are typically more sluggish in their in their response. Without a little flex in the shafts those loads are transmitted directly into the rower's arms and shoulders. Over a long distance, especially if the craft is loaded with gear, those repeated tresses will take a considerable physical toll on the rower. Wooden oars are usually much cheaper than their carbon fiber counterparts and are almost always a better match to the way most people use fixed seat craft. Currently, a pair of high quality, lightweight wooden oars can be purchased for about $200.00. With modest care they will last indefinitely. For most fixed seat rowers, wooden oars are probably the best value. There are even more reasons why short, carbon fiber hatchets are not more readily available, but these are the most obvious. Relax and enjoy the simplicity of your fixed seat boat.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (, February 12, 2001.

John, I don't know of a supplier, but for all it's worth, I would prefer wood. I have never used a carbon oar, but even if they were better I would want wood, just in respect to how they look and feel. I even like the sound wood/leather makes. To me, the most high-tech rowboat still lends itself to the beauty of wooden oars. David

-- David Bean (, February 13, 2001.

John - in an ill-advised quest to wring more speed out of an Alden single shell, I sent off for some Concept II carbon fiber hatchets a couple of years ago. I used them for one summer on the lower York River in Virginia. That stretch of water throws interesting currents, unpredictable winds and rogue waves at you almost every time you go out. Well, to make this short: those carbon fiber fiber hatchets didn't work out. Not only were they difficult to stroke in anything other than flat water, but they also did a number on my shoulders and upper arms. It took me a couple of months to connect cause with effect, but I'm pretty sure that the stiff oars tore some tissue in my arms and shoulders. After reading Andre's post, I'm not just pretty sure, but plain sure. After

A few weeks ago, I varnished my sadly neglected wooden Douglas Feathors in anticipation of pulling them through the waters of the York River as soon as it gets just a little warmer.

-- Michael Kaspareck (, February 15, 2001.

Dear Reader,

In my response to Mr. Mullen's query I made comments that would indicate that the answer should have been immediately obvious to anyone. Later I received a message reminding me that only a lifelong, certified, boat geek would expect "normal" people to know such things. I'll have to admit that this critic had a point. Some say I spend an inordinate amount of time immersed in esoterica that would cause the eyes of most people to glaze over. In the future I'll try to keep things in perspective. While I believe most people would have eventually reached the same conclusions expressed in my answer, in reality, it would probably have taken a considerable investment of time and money getting there. I hope my answer proves useful to anyone interested in these matters.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (, February 23, 2001.

To those who feel so strongly that carbon shafts and/or hatchet blades belong only on flat-water racing shells, I suggest they straighten out those foolish folks who have crossed oceans in very heavily ladened boats using carbon/hatchets. Tori Marden and just recently Richard Jones, as well as the winners of the 1997 trans- atlantic race Rob Hamill and Phil Stubbs come to mind among many. Another misinformed fellow was Ned Gillette who rowed with three other guys from South America to Antartica with carbon oars well over ten years ago. Drakes Passage is not normally considered flat water. As to wood being easier to repair, that may be true, particularly if you stay close to Home Depot. I guess these foolish folks just thought for serious open water rowing it made more sense to use oars that are lighter, stronger and much harder to break. Wood oars are wonderful and so are carbon. Give 'em a try. Keep pullin' John Mullen

-- John Mullen (, March 06, 2001.

To all those who offered there opinions about wood and carbon/fiberglass oars I would like to offer something from a rower who has done all three. Sweep and sculling in competitive shells, Maas open water and some Fixed Seat Guide Boats. Simply put in comes down to personal preference. Is wood better than carbon/fiberglass probably not except to the person that wants a wood feel and aesthetic. The price for composite sculls ranges from equal to double that of wood depending on how one purchases the equipment. But most importantly for me is the safety issues on the rower in terms of choosing the correct length(adjustable/fixed), handle size, blade choice, stiffness and center of gravity. Most of these can be custom built into a set of carbon/fiberglass sculls and is not always possible for wood. Finally, the use of the legs in coordination with the back and arms does add another dimension to the term "rowing" and it is when this type of rowing occurs that many of the open water folks look to the carbon/fiberglass for a change. There is no right side there is just what is best for you and your situation. Most importantly we are a family of rowing enthusiasts and to borrow a few lines from Kenneth Grahame's, The Wind in the Willow, "...there is nothing--- absolutely nothing---half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats---simply messing". Just being out there is good enough for me. Larry Gluckman

-- larry gluckman (, March 06, 2001.

John - no doubt, those folks who row their boats across oceans use what works best for them. I have a picture on my dresser, showing Tori Murden holding on to a pair of Concept II adjustable carbon fiber oars. But I'm not Tori Murden. I'm a week-end rower. Just because a superbly conditioned athlete has no problems with a particular piece of equipment, doesn't mean that I won't either.

Lately, I've been looking a little closer at the question "what am I after?" To me, I've been thinking, the squeak of leather and a glimpse of sunshine coming off a wooden oar might have become more important than a slight gain in speed or efficiency.

-- Michael Kaspareck (, March 09, 2001.

Dear Readers,

This discussion began as a question about the suitability of carbon fiber hatchets for fixed seat boats. Since then it has progressed to include sliding seat rowing and ultra-distance rowing and still the original question may not have been answered satisfactorily. First I want to clear away the ultra-distance end of things. Oceans have been crossed by males and females, rowing single and double in fixed and sliding seat craft, with wooden and carbon fiber oars. Some of the boats were open, others were decked. Some were flat-bottomed and others round. Some of the rowers were very experienced and at least one was practically a novice. The entire body of ultra-distance rowing experience is insufficent to draw any conclusions about which combination is best. The one thing we can conclude with certainty is that many combinations will work if the crew is tough, determined and lucky.

We have heard that both wood and carbon fiber oars CAN be good. Both statements are correct. To be good both must be well engineered and well made. There are so many varieties of wood and so many excellent adhesives that any combination of stiffness, lightness and durability can be achieved, in just about any shape. The same can be said for carbon fibers and resins. At present there doesn't appear to be sufficient demand to encourage a carbon fiber oar maker to develop hatchet oars optimized for fixed seat craft. The availability of high quality, lightweight and affordable wooden oars doesn't help either. There's also no significant body of data to suggest that the hatchets will yield a worthwhile performance improvement. And to make matters worse, there's all that tradition to buck. Fixed seat rowers are a notoriously conservative lot. In the laboratory like conditions of flatwater sliding seat racing all the boats are very similar and all the competitors are of similar size and abilities. Weights, sizes and shapes of fixed seat craft vary from curvaceous 60 lbs. Adirondack Guideboats to 400 lbs., slab-sided Banks dories. The loads of most fixed seat craft can also vary a lot, depending on the activity for which it's being used. What I'm saying is that in the varying and often chaotic world of fixed seat rowing, the relative effeciveness of subtle differences, like varying blade shapes and different shaft stiffnesses is difficult to evaluate. What has been determined in the paddlesports is that the advantages of radical blade shapes diminish as water conditions get rougher. Indeed, in very wild conditions the simpler shapes are easier to control. There is reason to believe similar dynamics will be in effect in rowing craft. If all this isn't confusing enough, some paddle and oar makers are now combining wood and carbon fiber in the same instruments. I suspect it'll be a while before this arguement is fully settled. Sorry I couldn't be more definitive on this matter. I'll leave you with something to ponder. On the surface stiff, carbon fiber hatchets make a certain amount of sense for high- performance, fixed seat boats. Adirondack Guideboats were designed for all-day rowing comfort under load. Traditionally these craft are outfitted with long, very whippy, straight, narrow-bladed, pinned(non- feathering)oars. Traditionally equipped Guideboats have been very effective on the open-water racing circuit lately. For a clue as to why Guideboats are typically given these types of oars, consider the amount, type and duration of effort necessary to close a screen door versus that required to close a bank vault door. The concept of applying varying amounts of pressure over a certain period of time is called transmission dwell.


Andre de Bardelaben

-- Andre de Bardelaben (, March 09, 2001.

Some info that may be of interest to those with an open mind--The day after I recieved a new pair of Concept II ultralight 7'-9" carbon oars with their standard Smoothie hatchet blades on their most flexible shafts I headed up to Maine to try them out in a light- weight St. Lawrence River Skiff. There was more than a bit of anxiety leaving behind my favorite leathered wood oars that fit so smoothly over a fixed pin. However, I thought I owed it to the new Concept II oars and oarlocks to give them a serious test. After four days and well over fifty miles in conditions varying between dead calm to 25+ headwinds with over 10 miles of fetch, I'm hooked. The hatchet blades enter and exit the water very cleanly. On the drive they have a very solid feel. I know from 20 years of using Concept II carbon racing sculls that the oars are strong and tough. I have never broken or damaged one--and no varnish. All of this is just to say that carbon shafts and hatchet blades appear to this rower to be a viable option for fixed-seat, open-water rowers with an open mind. Keep pullin, John Mullen

-- John Mullen (, June 04, 2001.

John Welsford a designer in New Zealand - has a web site & page where he shows how he shorted up C2 carbon fiber oars for fixed seat use.

-- Mike Reiner (, September 19, 2001.

Pearson Surfcraft And Asay Surfboats both supply carbon fiber oars. They are considered the best. They come with either wood or carbon fiber blades. The standard length is 9 feet 2inches but a number of fellows I know end up breaking a pair in the surf and shortening them to use in their smaller craft......and they work well. Carbon shafts alone cost $300/pr, and the blades run another $300/pr. On a 9 foot surfboat oar the weight savings is a significant plus.

-- Harris (, August 23, 2002.

I'll add another idea to the mix. My brother and I row an 18' wooden boat that is a combination cutter/Swampscott dory/ Jersy skiff. Ready to race we weigh in at about 640 LBS. We use an oar with an aluminum shaft and composite blade made by The Indian Point Guide Boat Company. Every one who tries our boat says that they are "too stiff", however, we finished the Blackburn challenge with a time of 3:48:26. We have also won several shorter races with this set of oars. They dont look "salty", but they grab the water like crazy, and seem to be indestructable. We bought ours long at 10 FT. and shortened them down slowly until we got a length that felt good to us. I like these oars, and reccomend them to anyone as a good alternative to traditional oars. Row Hard No Excuses!!! Jeff

-- Jeff Roderick (, September 08, 2002.

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