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.
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.