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.

Painting club sets

I’ve been asked more than once about the best way to paint complex designs onto sets of oars for everyday use.

Obviously you are not going to hand paint the details like a trophy oar – it’s too difficult, time consuming, and inefficient!

There are some great technologies that can help…

1 – Stencils
Using machine cut stick on stencils can make a detailed job a breeze with a spray can, even if you have multiple colours.
See examples here – https://twitter.com/RowingVinyl/status/1096059793800876032

2 – Vinyl tapes or sheets
If the blade is already the correct base colour (painted by you or purchased that way), then stripes or larger colour blocks can just be stuck on. Some complex logos or shapes can be done easily like this.

3 – Printed sheets
I’ve seen a few clubs apply a printed sheet with multiple colours all in one go. City of York apply three stripes at once like this – much easier than painting three colours or even applying three tapes. This can even work with multi-colour logos trimmed and applied, or even whole blade wraps.


If you apply your mind, it is possible to easily and cheaply apply your club colours to your blades and look extra smart out on the water!

Copper-Tipped Cambridge Copy

Yet another duplicate blade has just been completed and delivered. This was briefly mentioned in a blog post a few days ago but I can now show more detail.

In a now familiar scenario, two brothers were each keen to retain and display their father’s winning trophy oar. The old family house is now to be the home of the elder brother and the original oar is destined to return to the same spot that it graced for many years. The younger brother had custody of the oar for many years and had grown rather fond of it, so a copy was duly required!


The keen ones among you might notice that this is not a Boat Race trophy. The official records do not include the races held during the Second World War.

One interesting detail that I haven’t managed to fully investigate is the name at 4 seat. Many of you might have known that the actor Hugh Laurie rowed for Cambridge (as mentioned on Hear the Boat Sing recently) and that his father Ran Laurie was Cambridge Blue as well as an Olympian. Given the dates and that this A.W. Laurie was at the same college as Ran Laurie, I’m guessing that he was a younger brother or closely related. If anyone can help clarify I would be most grateful.

Getting back to the oar…I set to work armed with a number of photographs and measurements. The oar itself took some time to find and repair (see my previous note) but once I had a surface ready to work on things started to happen quickly.

The ‘new’ oar dated from 1960 and had slightly different dimensions. It was a few centimeters shorter and a tiny bit fuller in shape. The design was altered slightly to fit everything in and the changes are difficult to see unless pointed out.


Plenty of measurements, stencils, and chinagraph pencil marking out were needed along the way, but the final result was quite pleasing.


The Great Wave

A friend who knows some of my older work has sent me a link to some wonderful new research done by a team of researchers based at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh.

The researchers have recreated a ‘freak wave’ in the artificial wave-making pool at the University of Edinburgh’s FloWave Ocean Energy Research facility. The wave form created is a near exact mirror of the famous nineteenth century Japanese woodcut ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (or ‘The Great Wave’) by Katsushika Hokusai.

Links to some news articles:
Oxford University
New Scientist

Video of the recreated wave in the research pool:


This is of some interest to me as I once painted this design on a trophy blade for an outrigger canoeist from my then club (yes, we did do some rather special ‘thank you’ gifts for long standing and much valued committee members).


Congratulations Roger!

The paddle design was modified from the original to include a 6-man outrigger canoe instead of the traditional fishing boats, as well as deleting Mt Fuji.


There were a number of detailed and time consuming hand cut stencils made to help create this design. Yes – it is all very much hand painted! No – you don’t want me to quote a non-gift price for that!





Seeing Double

No, my eyesight is still fine but creating detailed copies of existing designs is still quite tough on the eyes! The Christmas and New Year period has been very busy with lots of duplicates and replicas.

Clients are often far away and unable to provide the original for me to work from, so they assist me by taking numerous photos of the blade they wish me to copy. Detail and full images, as well as extras taken with a tape measure or ruler in the frame. From these I hope to replicate the colours and also the exact proportions of the design.

It is not always easy and there are common problems with the curved nature of some blade shapes as well as with the photos themselves (colour consistency, parallax distortions). However, when armed with a range of images I have managed to piece together some very successful copies over the years.

Some jobs are even more complex than just copying the artwork. The blade type itself can be just as difficult to replicate. Modern oars are fairly plentiful and very uniform (made in moulds), but the vintage timber oars are more rare are vary greatly. Two of my recent jobs required older style oars to be found and renovated.

Here is a list of what I have recently done:

Completed in time to be a Christmas surprise was a matched pair of trophy blades for some twins. Not only did they face the common issue that twins face – namely having to share awards because people are unable or unwilling to distinguish between them – they also had won an annual club award that needed to be returned at the end of the year so that it could have a new name added and be handed on to the next year’s recipient. Now there are three near exact copies!

On New Year’s Day I delivered an oar to someone who had seen a blade that I painted for his crew mate and decided that he’d like one too.

Then shortly after the year started I delivered a very special duplicate blade to some brothers who had been sharing back and forth their treasured souvenir since 1976. It is a wonderful story that is artfully retold by Tim Koch on the Hear The Boat Sing blog.

(Note one ‘correction’ to the original – the two small ‘c’s in the names)

I only had a moment to rest before it was time to complete the next job that was due a week later. With seven blades to deliver I was seeing more than double! Luckily I’d started the preparations in December and there was only text to paint and no complex club badges or a coat of arms.

Last, but not least – this week I’m working to complete a duplicate of a 1940 Boat Race oar.