Hadaway Harry’s oars

An interesting little story about some old oars has popped up on the “Hear the Boat Sing” blog.

With the success of a stage play about  J H Clasper (“Hadaway Harry”), an interesting discovery of some old oars has been made.

More at https://heartheboatsing.com/2017/02/17/hadaway-harrys-oars-found/

Holes (or shafted?)

Quite often a client will ask for a full length oar to be sectioned. This can help with shipping and storage, or it could simply offer more options for display if space is limited at the current time.

The common way to achieve this is to install a plug of some type in to the oar shaft. Most timber oars are actually hollow (unless you have a very old one!) and you can fashion some timber to match this space. Modern carbon fibre oars are simple tubes and a tapered round plug is easily shaped.

Most of the time the cavity is a regular shape. The Sutton oars (very common in the UK) have a nice neat square hole that makes creating a section join quite easy. Some of the common Australian oars (Croker and Sykes) had a curved arch shaped cavity due to their method of construction (two matched halves with a back strap instead of the Sutton 4-sided box).


Sutton internal view

Here is an example of one join:

However, what do you do when you saw an old oar in half and you are presented with this?


1960s Aylings

There is a central rib, presumably designed to provide stiffness, that divides the cavity. This was going to make work a bit more difficult. By chance I met an old oar maker after this who had started work at Aylings in 1963 (as a 14 year old) and remembered this old design well (right down to the leather sleeve and cast aluminium button).

Using two thin strips, I fashioned up some ‘D’ shapes and repeatedly trial fit them until all was well. Once I was happy I bonded the pieces into the handle end. The finished result isn’t as neat as the much simpler Sutton example above, but has come together rather well.

I hope the customer is pleased when he gets it!

Tips and tricks

Many older oars have had hard lives. It’s not just the years, but things like rough docks, accidents, and the weather take their toll.

Following on from the paint stripping archeological dig, this set of oars all had worn and damaged end tips and one also had a significant chip off the top edge.

I’ve seen the ‘old school’ boatmen do these repairs very quickly, but here is how I’m bumbling along…

Damaged and worn down.


Old tip removed with chisel.


New tip bonded in place.


Trimmed with saw, then planed to shape.


Two replaced tips beside unrepaired oars.


Then I had to repair the damaged top edge…

With small chips it is usually easiest to do a repair with some epoxy filler, but when bigger chunks are gone you need to use pieces of timber. This is how the oars were repaired to rowable condition back in the day.

First I planed the area smooth. Then some new spruce was bonded into place. For economy a thin piece was used, but it had to be put on in two sections so that it could deal with the curve of the blade face. It does stick out a bit!


Then the rough outline for the repaired shape is pencilled on (see above) with the aid of another oar as template, and the excess material was cut off with a jig saw.


Still a bit lumpy, so a small plane was used on the convex back of the blade and a spokeshave used on the concave front of the blade.


Then a bit of coarse sanding to get the shape and edge looking good.


There is still some more work to be done with sanding and light filling, but very soon these two oars will be ready to be painted.

It’s a lot of work, but the final result is worth it.

Around Hong Kong remembered

Early last year I was asked to paint a blade to commemorate the first women’s crew to take part in the Around the Island Race. The RHKYC had just purchased its first coastal rowing boats in 2006 and there were only a handful of rowers crazy enough to think that racing 45km around Hong Kong Island would be a good way to spend your weekend.

The rower who commissioned the trophy said that she was going to present it to her crew mate. I thought that was very nice of her and proceeded to complete the oar.


When done, the customer said it was lovely and asked how the second blade was going.

Second blade? Ummm…

Somewhere along the email chain this small detail was missed or presumed. I did think she was being very generous, but she actually wanted a copy for herself too!

There was no problem with creating a second blade, but there was going to be a slight delay. I was just about to move from Hong Kong to London and all my materials were to be packed and shipped.


Six months later I had a matching copy and the customer was able to collect them.

Almost to the day, Carrie gave this gift to Sara to celebrate the 10th anniversary of this epic first row. What a wonderful way for two great friends to recall their great adventure!



Sara and Carrie racing past a Star Ferry in Victoria Harbour. Sara with her gift.



Oar Archeology

As a small update to my previous comments about paint stripping, here are some photos to illustrate.

This set of oars has certainly had a few lives. As best as I can see, they have had at least three different paint jobs.

  • White with a blue band (white undercoat)
  • Yellow (white undercoat)
  • Yellow front with black back (grey undercoat), and
  • a second coat of the same with slightly different paint


The joys of re-stripping paint

I strip a lot of paint – it’s part of the job. Old oars arrive with many extra coats (and occasionally extra clubs) of paint from over the years. Stripping these back to provide a better surface for a new colour is something I am used to.

What I really hate is the need to strip back paint that I have only just applied!

Why do I need to do this? Paint can be a temperamental beast at times. All manner of things can cause an imperfect finish. Dust, greasy fingerprints, show-through of colours and patterns underneath, cold weather and so on.

With care these things can usually all be dealt with, however there is sometimes an element of luck involved, especially with the multi-colour jobs that require you to be lucky multiple times.

So today I’ve had to take a tri-colour blade and strip it back so that it can be done again. The first colour was perfect. The second colour wasn’t quite right, but it would have been hidden by the coat of arms and text added later. The third colour wasn’t that great at all…

In the end the customer will get a better finished product and I hope will appreciate the extra effort.

Old mechanics

I just purchased a set of old oars from a club and they came with something cool that I’d never seen before.

Check out the quick release cam lever on this button. I believe that these Sutton oars are 1980s vintage and this part looks to be original and not a modification. I know that Dreher are making a mechanism to easily adjust their modern oars whilst on the water, but this goes to show that there is not much new under the sun!


Rowing – all about the timing

I have just returned home from an unexpected overseas trip, but I was lucky to have a short stop over at my old home at the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.

By some sort of serendipitous magic, the Rowing Captain’s Dinner* was taking place and the assorted Captains were making a special presentation to a noted member of the club and the founding President of the Hong Kong China Rowing Association (HK Amateur Rowing Association when originally founded).

Bob Wilson has recently retired after almost 30 years leading the Association. He had also been both Rowing Captain and Commodore at RHKYC. He was presented with a trophy oar that had been painted six months ago, but that was unable to be presented due to his retirement travel schedule.



In the Main Bar with some Captains (L-R): Mark Welles, Bob Wilson, Mark Reynolds, David Sorton, Patrik Talas, Ng Kong Wan (current Captain)


The presentation took place in the Main Bar prior to the dinner, where I was lucky to meet with the group.

The blade has the original and current logos for the Association, as well as a short message of thanks to Bob for his many years of service to rowing in Hong Kong.


*Is it the Captain’s Dinner or the Captains’ Dinner?
This all depends on which year it is. In the first year of being the Rowing Captain, the dinner is hosted by the past-Captains and is known as the Captains’ Dinner. In the following year when the current Captain is officially the host, it is the Captain’s Dinner. If you mix it up be prepared for a telling off and an expensive round of drinks…

New life for old oars

The annual clean up day for any club often sees the assorted unused oars removed and stacked out of the way.

Older sets that haven’t been used for years. Broken oars. Mis-matched oars. You name it.

I just had a quick visit to the oar graveyard at my club to get some blades for some new trophies that I’ve been asked to make.

Getting them home wasn’t easy though! The new car should arrive in a fortnight…


Head of the Charles

I’ve just returned from Boston where I filled a seat in a friend’s crew and raced in the Head of the Charles. It is a fantastic event and well worth going to if you can get an entry.

After the racing I had the good fortune to visit a friend at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.

There were a number of rowing related items to see when we had a quick tour of St Anthony’s Hall, dinner at Mory’s, and a tour of the largest collection of rowing memorabilia in the world*.


Of course there was a Fairbairn trophy oar as well…


*probably the largest!  ; )