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Choosing the right oars for your boat @ Bostonboating.com
By PJ. Williams

I was a passenger in a dinghy the other day, sitting on the aft thwart while my friend rowed out to his sailboat. He used an alternating stroke, first pulling on one oar and lifting it out of the water before dipping and pulling on the other. From my vantage point the bow of the dinghy was veering 30 degrees to the left when he pulled on the right, and veering right when he pulled on the left. Somewhere in the middle of this 60 arc was our true course.

This technique seemed inefficient but I kept my counsel. I decided to search the Web for information about rowing and paddling strokes before offering my friend advice. It will come as no surprise to boaters that this simplest of modes of propulsion has an entire terminology related to it. For instance, if the oars person is using two oars, they’re not in fact rowing, they are sculling. If they are using one oar they’re sweeping. If they’re using a paddle they’re paddling. This latter term seems almost anti-nautical.

The paddle is defined in the tenth edition of Merrriam-Webster's Collegiate dictionary as a wooden implement that has a long handle and a broad flattened blade and that is used to propel and steer a small craft. An oar on the other hand is a wooden implement that has a long handle and a broad flattened blade and that is used to propel and steer a small craft. I was surprised to learn that oar is also a verb and more surprised by the website. that came up when I searched for paddling techniques, but more on that later.

The parts of the oar and paddle are the blade, the shaft (called the loom), and the handle or grip. The Greeks are credited with the addition of the thole pin that added a fulcrum to the wooden implement used to…, probably as a concession to the slave union. The oarsman at Harvard university are credited with being the first to grease the seats of their pants in order to develop a faster, more powerful stroke.

The parts of the stroke are the catch, the drive, and the finish. The catch begins with the rower sitting upright and stretching to get the blade as far forward as possible, then putting the blade in the water. The drive commences when the blade is accelerated through the water using arm and leg muscles. When the oar leaves the water and the rower returns to the upright position, they are finishing. As the oar travels out of the water, the blade is turned parallel to the water. This is called feathering. It is very important to un-feather before the drive stroke. It’s amazing how quickly the rower can back flip off the thwart when driving a feathered blade.

All the information I could gather (and there is plenty) points to the left and right oars stroking simultaneously. I' I've used the alternating stroke at close quarters, but never for traveling long distances. At one boatyard that specializes in wooden boats, they used a single oar sweeping technique with the oar placed in a cutout on the transom. The blade travels a figure eight through the water and propels the boat surprisingly quickly. They use this technique to avoid oarlocks scratching wooden topsides.

A paddler on the other hand uses one paddle and a stroke that alternates from side to side. A canoe paddle has a single blade that comes in a variety of widths and lengths. A kayak paddle is double bladed. The widths of the blades and lengths of the looms depend on the paddlers’s height and the particular purpose such as straight-line speed or quick maneuvering.

When I did the web search, I used the key words "paddling, rowing, techniques" and a few thousand entries appeared. There is a page that explains where and how to install leathers and buttons (2" toward the grip from the halfway point) and the various blades and their uses. Beware! There is also a page that describes paddling techniques used in bondage, but I didn't go into it. It did make me aware that a key word search for sports, water was probably a little dangerous.


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