Rule Britannia – 1948 Olympics oars

I have recently completed an oar renovation and painting job that celebrated the famous 1948 Olympic win of Bert Bushnell and Dickie Burnell. It’s a great story that I wish I had time to re-tell, but if you are keen you can watch the film version or read a few articles at the Hear the Boat Sing blog.

The blades themselves were in very good condition for their age. They are made from a single piece of wood and are likely pre-WW1. The leather sleeve and collar were in excellent condition, but the protective copper blade tips were rather sad. The design for painting was to mimic those used by Bert and Dickie.

Bert and Dickie

Sam Hoare as Dickie Burnell and Matt Smith as Bert Bushnell in the BBC film Bert and Dickie

After stripping back the old varnish and years of grime, the old tips were removed, the blades repaired and the shafts revarnished. I prepared the blades in a two tone undercoat to make the later top coats a little easier to do.

With new material sourced (you can imagine how difficult 0.4mm copper sheet is to find) and a few handy tips from Master Craftsman Mark Edwards of Richmond Bridge, I set about making replacement copper tips.

Next up was the detailed paint work required for a Union Jack. All those straight lines might sound easy, but quite a lot of tape was used to get the job done.

Then after all that there was some text to do!

shaft text

All in all quite a fun job to do.

Working under lockdown

Although I can be socially distant in the workshop – as I am all year – the lockdown still brought things to a halt.

This business is really only part time as I am the primary carer for the little person in our family. So when lockdown knocked out our usual routines for child care, I became full time ‘daddy daycare’ with our full on little one!

However, I have still managed to get a few hours of work in each week, all squeezed in around my wife’s work hours.

So far I am busy keeping up with last quarter’s job bookings.

Completed and shipped recently are jobs for Australia, Germany, and the USA. Locally I have done four duplicate Head of the River Fours blades (two with mounts), and two pairs of Twickenham blades have been repaired and painted ready for the next season. Next to complete I have four OxBridge oars that are already well on their way, and I’m even rebuilding a set of eight sculling blades for a local school.

Wales Macon

Welsh job for Australia

What I haven’t done is get anything done on the four boats clogging up the middle of the workshop!

Warm and fuzzy feelings

A few months ago I helped out a small start up club with a long email detailing how best to renovate and paint old blades.

The club didn’t have enough money for new oars, so they were chasing older ones that would do the job suitably for novice and intermediate. However, despite seeking second hand equipment, they didn’t want a second class experience.

Today I received a warm thank you email complete with photos of the lovely newly renovated and painted oars. Our heroes at the Carrick Rowing Club had found the time over lockdown to really get stuck into the job and what a job they have done.

I didn’t earn a single pound, but I feel all warm and fuzzy inside!

Autumn Updates

It has been a busy few weeks with a number of oars being worked on. I managed to build up a small backlog as I was busy at Henley, then had two major boat renovations to complete. Since sanding back hulls and painting things at the same time isn’t a great plan, the oars were put to one side!

The first ever Oxford V Cambridge ‘old boys’ race held in Dubai was an interesting job. It was also using a very nice 1942 oar with a copper tip and leather sleeve. The leather button was also quite remarkable.

I also painted another blade from McLean High School, who clearly had a great season. This will make a matching set with one that I completed last year.

Also completed was a pair of sculling blades for KRCG in Ghent. You may recall that I drove to Ghent to purchase a number of old oars, some of which were used for the 10 matching Dulwich College 400th Anniversary job earlier this year. My host at KRCG when I visited was a great man who has done a lot for his club, so I took a pair of their old sculling blades and created two mounted blades for him to sell at the annual fundraising event. One blade is horizontal for wall hanging, while the other is vertical and can either be free-standing or wall mounted.

And finally, one of my dragon boat paddle jobs from a few months ago has finally been mounted at that club. The new Sports Bar has opened as part of the RHKYC club redevelopment, and this is the new home of the Royal X Team paddle.

King’s Cup

Many of you would have been aware of the special event held at Henley this year to commemorate the centenary of the 1919 ‘Peace Regatta’. The original competing nations from 1919 were joined by a couple of additional nations to stage an eight-oared race with crews consisting of active members of each nation’s armed forces.


I won’t re-tell the whole story since it is covered very well in other places, especially by the ‘Hear The Boat Sing’ blog here and here.


My small part in this event started a few weeks before Henley when I ended up with an older style blade as part of a job-lot of wooden oars. Being sawn off with only a couple of foot of slightly rotten shaft, I wondered what I might do with it. The same week my copy of the new Australian history of the King’s Cup arrived in the mail.

I hatched a quick plan (and it had to be quick with so little time until the event!) to paint up a blade with the older design Australian ‘rising sun’ military badge, then present it to the Australian team at the regatta.


The blade was repaired, the shaft shortened until ‘good’ wood reached, a design created, and the painting took shape.


Before the regatta I was able to get close to the original King’s Cup as it was afforded ‘guest of honour’ status at a dinner that I attended in London. In much the same way that the 1919 regatta and race was being celebrated, my old school in Australia was celebrating a 1919 ‘old boys’ dinner that was held in London by members of the school community who had served during the war and were gathered in England at the time. Stories were told that echoed those in the history book. Tales of boys made men, and of men struggling to return to home and a ‘normal’ life after the trials of war.


Once the regatta had started I sought out contacts with the event organisers and a plan for handing over the blade was arranged.

I was fortunate enough to meet the Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon Linda Reynolds CSC, and presented the blade to her as a representative of the Australian Defence Force crew (Linda herself a member of the ADF, a Brigadier with a long service history before being elected as a Senator).

There was no fixed plan in my mind for the future of the blade, with various suggestions including the Australian Defence Force Academy or the Australian War Museum. The Minister suggested that she would get it suitably mounted and put on the wall of the Minister for Defence’s office in Parliament House, and there it will hopefully be on display for many years to come.

The Minister with members of the crew and support team.

Happy Anniversary

One of the mystery jobs that has kept me so busy has now been delivered and presented, so I am able to share this with you.

It was always going to be a big job, but an order for 10 matching oars is somewhat complicated when the client wanted timber oars. Using pretty much any generation of carbon shafted oars would have been easy. I think I could put out a call and have a set of 10 in no time. Conjuring up a set of 40 year old oars was going to be a bit more tricky.

Luckily I had arranged to purchase a large job-lot of oars from a club in Belgium, and a close look at the photos revealed what looked like a bunch of Suttons that if not exactly matching were as near as you could hope for. So off on the ferry to Dunkirk I went!

There were 10 oars, all matching, and all in very good condition. Some required some minor repairs to the blades, but the bulk of the work was in the stripping back of the paint and varnish. To speed up the process I had the blades chemically stripped by a local company helpfully called “Jack the Stripper”, whilst the shafts were scraped back and sanded by another craftsman near my workshop who had some time on his hands.

30 coats of varnish were applied to the shafts, then the blades were filled and sanded (and filled and sanded again, and again) to get a smooth finish.

dulwich img oar prep

From there it was two coats of blue before the tricky details were started. I decided to do the final black tip of the blade last as there was a high risk that I’d bump one of them when moving them about – something that I needed to do daily as I painted each detail step by step on 10 oars.

Starting from paper stencils, I built up a wax pencil outline before getting on to each stage. Once moving it doesn’t take long to get a full image to appear. In case you are wondering why some details (see far right image) are not an exact match to the paper print, the final design painted was an amalgamation of the current official ‘logo’ version and a more traditional older variant.

Once the detail of the coat of arms was complete, the text was done (unusually both front and back), and the black tips added. The final task was delivery to the school.

The oars have been auctioned at a formal dinner held as part of the on going celebrations for this significant milestone. 400 years is quite the birthday! The new owner of each oar not only gets the oar for display, but also had the option to take part in some of the other celebratory events which included a procession during a service at St.Paul’s Cathedral (explaining the lettering on the back of the oar) and also the opportunity to row in the Royal Barge Gloriana (although not with these oars!).

My contact has told me that the Bursary Fund is healthier to the tune of “tens of thousands” of pounds, something that will go far to ensure that many more generations can attend the school who might not otherwise have the opportunity.


Enter the dragon

One of the jobs that I have been unable to share until now was a set of dragon boat paddles painted for my old club. Everything “stick-propelled” came under the loose title of “rowing”, so in addition to being the rowing coach I also managed a dragon boat team.

The team has been strong over recent years and had another blinding season this year. They managed to win the men’s, women’s, and mixed team trophies at the big championship event.

I was asked to paint two ‘thank you’ gifts for two key team organisers. The draft designs took a little time to work out with the team, but this is what we ended up with. It can be difficult to create something that avoids some cliché images, yet is still relevant.

RHKYC Captains paddle

Both required some reasonably complex stencils and layout work, but once that was done each image built up nicely.

Melissa was very pleased with her paddle and now has it on display at her home.

The multi colour dragon wasn’t easy, but Gianni was also very happy.

It was difficult to keep these jobs secret when the team captain had also commissioned another painted paddle to go up on the wall of the club, but with a few ‘half-truths’ we managed to sneak it through!

Congratulations RHKYC Royal X Team – and of course both Gianni and Melissa!

Busy, but unable to share…

It has been a while since my last update and despite the lack of news I have actually been very busy. However, although I might have completed a job I am not always able to share it immediately if it is a gift that has yet to be presented! I have over a dozen completed blades that fall into this category.

In the meantime, enjoy a silly photo of my car laden with the fruits of a long drive around Somerset and Devon. 18 sweep and 10 sculling oars.


I stayed with an old rowing mate who has renovated a pub. The Royal George in Appledore is well worth a visit!


Bits and bobs, boxes and blades

It hasn’t been all paint and varnish stripping here. Even though I am still busy with the 10 oar job, I’ve also had a number of other jobs to get done.

A university college club has just purchased a rather nice vintage sea chest to store their archives and other records. I had wondered if this organisation was actually a ‘front’ for a drinking club, but was reassured that they were not a front at all – they were very open about the drinking after games of rugby and rowing races!


The other jobs have included a farewell gift for an old rowing friend in Hong Kong (leaving the club after almost 30 years),  a mounted old style rudder for a Cambridge college Captain of Boats, and a couple of dragon boat paddles. Hopefully I will have some fun photos to share soon!

Oar adventures

I am often driving around the countryside collecting or delivering oars, but now I’ve done it internationally!

One client has asked for 10 oars to be painted. Not only would the artwork on each need to be the same, the oars would need to be a matching set. I had more than enough individual oars in stock, but not set this large.

Luckily I had recently arranged to purchase a large number of timber oars from a club in Ghent. These were patiently awaiting the next big regatta so that they could ‘hitch’ a ride back to the UK on a trailer, but now I had to go and collect them!

After braving a slightly rough Dover-Dunkirk ferry crossing (it’s been about four years since I’ve been at sea, and that was in a 41ft racing yacht) I drove to Ghent. Luckily the club had accommodation upstairs which made my journey a bit cheaper. My host helped me load up the car with all the sweep oars before we headed out for a celebratory beer.


There was a set of 10 Sutton oars that would be used for my big job. The remaining six were a mix of ages and manufacturers.

The journey home was surprisingly uneventful. With the oars well secured there was no trouble on the road, and I was very relieved not to be stopped by a traffic cop or a customs official at any point. The seas were even calm on the voyage to Dover.

Back at the workshop I set to the hard work of stripping off about eight layers (and 40 years) of paint. The bare blades were in very good condition overall with few repairs needed. The oar shafts have now been stripped back and are each getting three coats of new varnish. With 30 coats to complete I did get off to a great start with the recent warm weather, but the cold return has put the brakes on things a bit!

I hope to be able to show the complete renovation in a week or two. The whole job is due at the end of May, so with the permission of the client I plan to do a big reveal later on.