Ian Marriott: Memories of Collar and Cousins

After having run the entry about oar markers Collar and Cousins on 2 May, HTBS received an interesting e-mail from Ian Marriott (on the right), sculling coach at the Dragon school in Oxford.

Ian writes:

I loved the video about F Collar and their foreman Ron Cousins, which brought back some wonderful memories.

The small blade presented to the Oxfordshire museum was finished in my club, Abingdon Rowing Club (ARC) colours of yellow and green. Ron was an active member of ARC and at one time its captain.

I used Collar blades made by Ron to row in a coxed pair at two World Junior Rowing Championships. We were told that 12 of the best blanks had been selected for an order for the New Zealand national team 8 (eight blades plus two spares) and that we had the best two, the New Zealanders got the others!

Timber selection was critical for making high quality oars and masts. Collars would buy a whole standard of high grade timber, select the best 10% for their use then sell the remainder on for other carpentry uses. I needed some good quality timber for the keel and longerons of a sculling boat I was building and Ron sourced me 28 ft lengths of ½ by ½ and 1 by ½ cut from one piece of timber without joints.

Having Ron at the club allowed us to experiment with blade shapes. We ended up rowing in the 2+ with macons about 4 inches wider than normal, with another set slightly narrower for head winds/rough water. Same area as modern big blades, but 20 years earlier. Any changes in blade shape Ron would do and return immaculately varnished a few days later.

Later I used two pairs of Ron Cousins crafted Collar sculls (one pair of which I still have and use) to get to the semi-finals of the Diamonds.

I was fortunate to have Ron show me how to carry out blade repairs, and went to the works to see my own sculls being made. I asked how I could buy the curved wooden planes used to hollow out the blade cheeks and Ron informed me that all his curved faced planes, including the steel blades were hand crafted by the oar makers as part of their apprenticeship. Watching Ron rough out the loom shape by eye with a 12 inch spokeshave was amazing, the sound of razor sharp steel on wood was almost musical.

I now work as a sculling coach at the Dragon school in Oxford. We have found a unique pair of wooden F Collar racing sculls in the back of the boathouse. They are longer than standard and the end of the shaft is laminated into about a 20 degree curve (towards the stern) and carries a small triangular plywood blade. They must be of late manufacture as they have what appears to be a carbon insert at the front. Looking at the profile I am guessing they are designed to exploit the aerofoil lift of the blades at the catch.

One of Collars former employees is now the St Johns College boatman, so I plan to see him to make further enquires. If I find anything of interest I will let you know. I am also planning an outing with them but waiting till the water gets a bit warmer!

Thanks for finding this video!

Thank you, Ian, for your interesting feed-back.

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