Were ancient rowers correct in using blade oars?

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To expand on John Mullen's question on hatchet oars, I'm wondering if the blade oar shape is superior to spoons etc. for cruising rowers. Is seems ancient archives always show blade oars, easier to make or best performance? So my question is what is the best shape oar for cruis

-- David Bean (bean2846@aol.com), February 25, 2001


David, My most recent row was in a borrowed dory with spoon oars. While not hatchets , these were uni-directional oars, ie with one working face. The conditions were a 20 knot NW wind against an incoming tide, resulting in 3-4 foot standing waves. This meant that I was doing a certain amount of surfing, both upwind and down. I missed the versatility of my usual oars, and felt my control was less because I had to be sure of my blade orientation as it acted as a rudder. I guess my thought is cruising oars need to be versatile, hence the omni-directional blade shape. Hatchets and spoons were developed for flat water racing, and require more attention in rough conditions. A time and place for each I guess. Adam

-- Adam Pettengill (adampet@gis.net), February 27, 2001.

Dear David,

After looking through my library and browsing through a large, well- stocked, big city book store I found little evidence that hatchet type oars were any more prevalent in ancient times than now. Then, as now, they would have been specialty items. I've thought of a few instances where they might have been useful. In shallow water an oar with an elbow at the throat would allow greater blade immersion without scraping bottom, a feature that might prove to be advantage if you're chasing bonefish on the flats or engaged in trireme warfare along a shoal-ridden coast. Wooden hatchets will probably never be common for several reasons. First they are of dubious advantage in any but a few situations, and second, they are difficult to manufacture. The looms and handles of most wooden oars are typically shaped by turning them on a lathe. Even the looms of common spoon- bladed oars can be lathe turned. You can visualize the problems that a kinked piece of wood would introduce to this process. Hatchet oars almost always have to be assembled from two separate pieces, the loom and the blade. Adam Pettengill hit on another aspect which affects the suitability of radical spoons or hatchets for general use. The more radical the shape of the blade the more limited the number of strokes and manuvers can be performed with it. Modest spoons are great in all conditions if the boat is sleek enough to really benefit from them. The really radical shapes should mostly be confined to flatwater use. By the way, its not necessary that oars have blades at all. I remember rowing a very slippery fixed seat rowing cruiser, at a brisk pace, on the Monongahela River when I was swiftly overtaken by the 4 oared clipper currack of the Pittsburgh Currack Society. Currack oars typically have no blades as we know them. The oars were essentually straight 4x4s with narrow handles carved on one end. Considering the conditions one might encounter on the North Sea around Ireland, maybe this kind of ruggedness and simplicity is required. Many old-time swampers never used oars or paddles to propel their canoes and pirogues. In shallow water they poled, in deep water they worked their poles whirligig fashion like a long kayak paddle. Those long, skinny, round poles had plenty of surface area to propel a small boat with surprising speed. Save your money. Stick with more conventional equipment for cruising.



-- Andre de Bardelaben (middlepath@aol.com), March 01, 2001.

hatchets are the way, I row competetively but often have to train in less than desirable conditions in racing skiffs using hatchet blades and htey are a lot better than spoons. Get yourself some croker hatchets and you'll know

-- todd (notquitethereyet70@hotmail.com), February 17, 2004.

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