Monday 29 December 2014

In Praise of Overlapping Handles

The latest issue of that eminent publication Water Craft has an interesting article about choosing oars for pleasure rowing, by John Rawson. 
Rawson began to consider the vexed question of the 'right' dimensions for a sculling oar when he bought a book on how to build a skiff that gave no guidance on the oars, leaving him to work it out from first principles. 
Me too, except that in my case I had bought my Sprite skiff with a pair of horrible unusable oars and needed to upgrade.
There is a lot of good stuff in Rawson's article, but for one thing. He doesn't like overlapping handles, advising an inch of clearance so you don't bash your thumbs.
I disagree. A good gap between the handles is probably a good thing for hire boats that can expect to be rowed by people with limited skills, but if you want to get the most pleasure out of rowing the handles should overlap by their own length as demonstrated above by me and Christine Ball in Langstone Cutters' Teifi skiff Millie.
The reason is simple - with an overlap you get an extra six inches or so of leverage inboard and the oar will balance better so you can get more length outboard as well if you need it. The boat will go faster and you will have more fun.
The downside, of course, is the skill you need to acquire to move the handles smoothly past each other in the stroke. Happily, it isn't difficult - just lead with the left hand and slide the right underneath it.
The process is made easier by adjusting the button so the handles just clear each other when the blades are in the water, like this:
This allows you to put more power in on one side to turn the boat, without risking your thumbs.
Rawson rightly rejects an exaggerated overlap as found in boats such as the Adirondack Guide Boat. In that case, the boat has to be very slim to be light enough to portage between lakes, but a bit of beam is a good thing in a pleasure skiff, providing stability, buoyancy and room to put the champagne and picnic basket.
(Thanks to Mike Gilbert for taking the pictures)


Chris Partridge said...

Keith Webster comments:
I like overlapping handles & most of my boats are rigged this way. I remember some years ago when I rebuilt a pair of skiffs for a local club, I made the sculls overlap & was inundated by complaints. People screeching at committee that I didn't know what I was doing etc etc. When I suggested that they should learn to row properly the howls of ire doubled!
So they ruined 4 pairs of lovely sculls by sawing the handles off short. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink!
Funny thing is they wouldn't feather either. Even when I demonstrated one day the windage of four cleavers they still refused to do it. I think it is a cultural thing with that club they insist on rowing into a howling gale with square blades.
Our new club on the other hand sees it as the height of slovenliness to row square bladed & a point of pride to feather properly, Go figure! Funny lot rowers!

Chris Partridge said...

A funny lot indeed, Keith.
The Cutters divide into those who want to feather and those who find it too difficult or just don't want to, but we are a tolerant lot - the only thing we insist on is timing.
I have noticed, however, that more and more Cutters are beginning to feather. We can turn out some smart crews on occasion!