Shipping Their Oars

A demonstration of wooden oar making at the 2011 Rowing History Forum.

Tim Koch writes:

There have been two recent HTBS postings on wooden oar and scull making, F. Collar – Oarmaker  and Ian Marriott: Memories of Collar and Cousins. Here is a third from the Pathe film archives, a wonderful newsreel made at an Eton boat builders and oar and scull makers in 1950.

BOAT BUILDING

The clipped and assured British accent of the narrator and the upbeat tone of the commentary hides the sad state that much of British manufacturing was in at the time, just five years after the end of the Second World War. The country was heavily in debt, its infrastructure and manufacturing base was worn out and it was in the process of giving up its Empire. Though few may have admitted it, Britain was unsure of its place in the post war world. For a long time many people hung onto the idea that ‘British craftsmanship’ would be enough to beat off foreign rivals, an idea even more ludicrous when these undoubted skills were put to making the same products that they had done for years – with no thought of innovation. The result is that today we have a few people like Collars who make a high quality product for a ‘niche market’ but we no longer dominate the ‘mass market’ at home or abroad. This cannot be blamed on cheaper foreign labour as the three most popular makes of racing oar today are manufactured in first world countries where labour costs are high.

Going afloat at the 2014 Head of the River Race in London. All the oars shown are Concept2. The boat is German but that is another story.

Concept2 (Dreissigacker) dominate the world racing oar market today and I presume that they are made in the USA. Their website is not explicit about this but their headquarters is in Morrisville, Vermont, and they say that ‘factory tours are available’.

Probably the second most popular oar is made by Crocker in Australia. Their website says:

Owned and made in Australia since 1962, Croker Oars resides on the banks of the beautiful Manning River in coastal New South Wales. Today Croker Oars manufacture quality carbon composite sculling, rowing, surf, ocean rowing and timber sweep oars for surf boats as well as other quality products for the rowing world.

Empacher also make racing oars and sculls but my subjective view is that they are not very widely used. This seems strange considering the high regard that their boats are held in. Possibly they are overpriced and badly marketed – but so are their boats.

I found this online which claims that the blades among medalists at Beijing 2008 were approximately 64% Concept, 29% Croker and 7% Empacher. Concept claim that 69% of medalists at London 2012 used their oars.

Returning to wooden oars, some time ago I paid a very brief visit to Jerry Sutton Traditional Oar and Scull Makers in Windsor. Interestingly, they told me that a big and growing part of their business is making wooden Macon oars for the thriving sport of Cornish Gig Racing (which uses only wooden oars and wooden boats for racing). Sutton’s also make barge poles – work which some people will not touch.

Cornish Gig oars.

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