Double Blues

It isn’t easy to earn the right to race in the top crew at either Oxford or Cambridge, and lightweight rowing is especially difficult. Who likes rice cakes anyway?

Making the crew, then winning, is special. Doing it twice is remarkable. Having one win at each university is exceptional!


University Challenge

With the single scull renovation out of the way I am now playing catch up with the list of oars to paint. These blades had already been prepared (repairs, undercoat etc) but not yet given their final base coat colours.

At the moment we have a bit of a custom colour university challenge going on. All three blades pictured (and one out of shot) have especially mixed paints.

Oxford (at back) was hand mixed, while both Cambridge and Durham were matched at the paint shop using PMS colours.


Odd deliveries

I have managed to score a small stash of timber oars for my stocks. It is a bit of a mix with some Aylings and Suttons, and conditions that range from only needing a minor sand right to some serious timber repairs. Overall quite happy with the potential here, even if there is a fair bit of work to do.

oars on car.jpeg

Yes, I do get some funny looks when I am driving.

Not only oars…

It’s not only oars that are worked on here. I have recently completed and delivered a renovated 28 year old CDRS 1x.

This boat has had a long and chequered life. In the early 90s it was involved in a GB team trailer roll-over (note repaired washboards), it had some poor repairs around the millennium (with faulty varnish),  and in the mid-2000s it ended up on an outside rack at a major London club. It was strangely mottled in appearance and had water damage starting to appear.

Fast forward to the present day, the boat had been in storage for over five years at the original manufacturer awaiting a long needed refurbishment.

The owner had stopped racing the 1x and after a couple of years she moved overseas, causing the boat to be moved to a less than ideal outdoors rack. After another couple of years the owner realised that the boat wasn’t going to last as is, and did a deal with the manufacturer to conduct a refurbishment and then sell the boat (with a profit share arrangement). However this never happened as the boat builder is a small shop and constantly busy with creating new boats. Even when the owner found a friend looking for a boat to be a real paying customer (rather than a ‘what if’), the work was still not able to be scheduled.

I asked my friend if she would consider letting me do the work, as it wasn’t going to be done any time soon. I had secured the assistance of someone who had done this exact type of work before and also had access to a suitable workshop space.

Then this boat hit hard times again…

It should have been straightforward and done by early January, but fate stepped in. The person who would be guiding me through this project had changed jobs and no longer had access to the workshop space or the free time. Even though he was still willing to advise by email, it wasn’t going to be the same. Then by the time I had secured a suitable place to work on the boat, my baby daughter had been born. Boats, babies and epoxy do not mix.

However, slowly things started to happen. The old varnish was scraped off, as was most of the underlying epoxy coat. Aside from a few patches of water damage, the hull was in remarkable condition. There would be no ridding it of the mottling, but the areas of water damage would improve. The common damage to the very fine CDRS stern would be easy to fix, albeit with a small filled section in one area rather than with a spliced in timber repair.

The work to sand back the entire hull with long sanding boards is considerable, even when these boats are newly built. A full new epoxy coat made things look lovely again, but this too is carefully sanded smooth to prepare for the final varnish.

A professional spray painter with considerable rowing boat experience was able to do the final varnish with the correct 2-part material as per new.

The final hurdle would now be the fit out of the boat. I had hoped that this would be a simple bolt-and-screw on affair, but there were a couple of hiccups.

Shoe standards vary greatly and the old footboard had been designed around a much older style and was also a bit worn in general. To fit most of the newer shoes it was necessary to have the mounting holes about an inch lower. So a new part needed to be built. I laminated up a new board at my home workshop.

Other parts were also a problem. Mostly it was very common items that are easily sourced (rails, wheels, oarlocks and so on), but there were a couple of manufacturer specific items that were unavailable due to factors such as the age of the boat and some other unexplained reasons. Luckily I was able to call on a wide network of friends at clubs across the country who were able to acquire the missing items or already had them in stock as spares.

Then all that remained was the delivery, and here we had our first stroke of pure luck.

The overseas owner was actually in town for HRR and the new owner was able to drive down from Glasgow to arrange a proper handover. It was nice to see a goodbye and hello between friends over a shared joy.

Now I can finally get back to the long list of oars I need to paint…

PS – please don’t call and ask me to refurbish your CDRS until I have a more suitable permanent workshop and I have had time to recover from this one!

Mounting full oars to walls

This is something I get asked quite often.

“How do I mount an oar to the wall?”

There a countless customised solutions that I could come up with depending on the situation, but for a simple and quick result there are many standard products that you can use and find easily online or in a homewares store.

The most common are the mounts for curtain poles, available in a range of materials and sizes.

Another option – also from the curtain section – is a curtain holdback hook. These are mounted horizontally for curtains, but turning them 90 degrees provides a handy hook for an oar. Also available in a range of sizes and materials.

Recent works

I’ve been flat out looking after baby and trying to finish off a renovation of a 28 year old Carl Douglas 1x, but a couple of oars have gone out the door and have been presented recently.

Still quite a few more in the queue! Must get cracking, but this weather doesn’t help…the workshop is a sweat box.

Blazing a new path

If there is anyone who is almost singlehandedly trying to encourage a re-birth and re-discovery of the rowing blazer, then it is Jack Carlson. He is a USA rowing representative, scholar, author, and now business entrepreneur.

Our paths first crossed when he contacted the club I was managing in Hong Kong asking for our help with a book he was creating about rowing blazers. With a lot of back and forth, we managed to find a club member with blazer in hand who was able to meet Jack’s photographer in London.  I can only imagine how much work it was to coordinate photoshoots with the many dozens of clubs that featured in the final book!

Early ‘blue’ edition & current ‘red’ edition. Essential for any rowing geek’s library.

We have never rowed together, although he was scheduled to be the ‘ringer’ expert coxswain for a Head of the Charles club crew I’d been drafted into for 2016. Unfortunately he was called away at the last moment on urgent business and we had to ‘make do’ with another ex-international coxswain. However, we did manage to meet after our race when he generously hosted my wife and I for lunch at Cambridge Boat Club.

Jack is a lover of all things rowing, not just blazers. He is also very keen on heraldry (and author of a short book on the subject) and this topic is remarkably related to the modern blazer. Heraldry is a also key component in most trophy oars and since we met I have painted a trophy oar for him (USA tri-colour blade shown in earlier posts) to help celebrate one of his key races.

Now he is turning his hand to making blazers with the launch of his new business Rowing Blazers.

Bloomberg 2

Photographer: Gabriela Herman/Bloomberg

There is good deal of publicity around the launch, no doubt heavily assisted by his expert status on the subject through his book. He is probably the first person to truly celebrate the blazer.

Bloomberg, Apparel, Mr Mag, Wall Street Journal (subscriber only).

If you start to see more rowing blazers across the USA, far away from their home turf of Henley and OxBridge, you will now know who is responsible.


Under the oar. Photographer: Gabriela Herman/Bloomberg






Home is where the heart is

I have just received an update from an old work colleague for whom I painted a blade at Christmas. She was going to give it to her parents to hang in the house. As is always the case, it takes longer to hang these things than you hope, but it is now enjoying pride of place in a home in Germany.


The artwork is a construction of my friend and not a real coat of arms. Each of the key components does, however, represent something important. The two supporters and shield represent the areas of Germany where the parents grew up and where the family now lives.

As for the text:

Familie ist wo das Leben seinen
Anfang nimmt und die Liebe niemals endet!

– it translates roughly as;

Family is where life is beginning and love never ends!



My friend is also now turning her own hand to painting trophy oars. Using a damaged blade from her club she has created this quite handy first effort. Very soon I think that German rowers will have someone more local to call!


What fate for old boats?

While my business looks to preserve, illuminate, and display rowing oars from over the many ages of boat racing, what fate befalls the old boats themselves?

Sadly, most boats are simply broken up once their useful life has ended. If a boat was a particularly successful one you might see a bow preserved high on the wall of a club. Some boats have met with a fiery end at a traditional ‘boat burning’ event – lots of fun but rather tough on the boat!

Luckily, there are some other ways for old boats to live on…

Rob Thompson is a designer who has worked in many diverse areas from film special effects to motorsport. He now designs and creates wonderful bespoke furniture from his workshop in Somerset.

He has a history of rowing (Kingston) and has turned this into a way to preserve parts of the wonderful wooden boats that still survive.


Coffee table made from a section of a racing boat

From coffee tables to clever trophy cabinets – he can create something to suit your needs and the available sections of boat.

Rob has also worked directly in partnership with rowing clubs to create items for sale from their boats. The many unique items can become wonderful trophies, keepsakes, or fundraising/auction items for a club.

If you have an old boat that you can’t keep, yet can’t face destroying, then contact Rob to see if he can help make it live on in a wonderful new way.


Remember our friend Osgood? Here’s your chance to better him!