29 April 2022
By Bill Miller
Bill Miller finds a newsletter from December 1991.
Perhaps it would be fun to turn the calendar back to a time when everyone used conventional symmetrical oar blades – 1991. The last major change in oar shape had been in 1959 when, at the European Championships in Mâcon, France, the West Germany national team showed up with oars with a shorter blade that was widest near the middle of the blade then tapering toward the tip. It came to be called the Macon Blade. It lasted until 1992.
Now let’s go to October 1991. At the time, I was the U.S. Rowing Northeast Regional Technical Coordinator. Quarterly, I would edit a newsletter for the Northeast (New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine). The Northeast Regional Newsletter describes a revolutionary oar design – the asymmetrical Concept2 Big Blade.
Revisit the December 1991 Newsletter below introducing the breakthrough. I wrote:
This fall I had the opportunity to race with a substantially different blade design from Concept II. The Motley Boat Club eight raced at the Head of the Connecticut and the Head-of the-Charles (where we placed seventh) using Concept II’s new blades. This new oar blade was an unconventional design with a large surface area and a shape like a meat cleaver. At first we thought that the designers at Concept II had a nightmare that spilled into one of their work days. But after the Head of the Connecticut Regatta, we conceded that the oars felt conventional but made the boat feel lively. (Considering that most of us are in our mid-forties, not much feels lively to us anymore.) Perhaps the theory behind the design might actually be significant.
Dick Dreissigacker explains the “Big Blade Theory” this way: “Let’s suppose we shorten the outboard lever of an oar or scull and leave the spread the same. We all know from experience that this will result in a lighter load at the handle. Now, let’s increase the blade size until we feel the original load again at the handle. Because of the shorter lever arm, the same force and velocity at the handle will now generate a greater force and slower velocity at the blade. This greater force at the blade will propel the boat faster while the slower velocity means that the blade slips less through the water. In other words, more work is done on the oarlock and less work is done on the water – therefore a more efficient oar. So goes the theory.
“Any theory is only as good as it proves out in practice. So at Concept II we began cutting, pasting, rowing and timing. We discovered that there are numerous factors which complicate the application of the Big Blade Theory. The result of our efforts is a short, fat and some say, ugly oar which is a bit faster and surprisingly easy to row.
“The blade is generally rectangular in shape and is wider and shorter than the traditional blade. This idea is to go as wide as can be easily handled, 21-22 cm. for sculls and 25-26 cm. for sweeps. The length of the blade is shortened to prevent back-watering at the shaft end of the blade. The outboard dimension of the oar is also shortened such that the overall length of the oar is 290 cm. versus 298 cm. for sculls and 376 cm. versus 383.5 cm. for sweeps.
“Although the jury is still out on this theory, we have found that most people laugh when they see these oars, but smile when they row with them.”