Stroke oar blade smaller than the others?

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Henry Law

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Oct 7, 2015, 12:23:40 PM10/7/15
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I'm just reading "The Boys in the Boat", the story of the Huskies crew
that won the 8+ gold in the Berlin olympics. It's good; I recommend it.

But there are one or two oddities, of which this is the oddest. Of Ran
Laurie, the renowned stroke of the GB eight, the author (who is not an
oarsman) writes:

"But like many British strokes in those days, he was wielding an oar
with a smaller, narrower blade than the rest of his crew – the idea
being that the stroke’s job was to set the pace, not to power the boat.
With the small blade, he avoided the risk of burning himself out and
losing his form."

Can this be true? It sounds highly improbable to me (and to Göran
Buckhorn, who reviewed the book in his excellent blog "Hear the Boat
Sing"). My father, who rowed only a little later and spent some time in
the Irish crew that eventually went to the 1948 Olys, rowed stroke side
all his life, including stints down at the back, and never spoke of such
a blade.

Anyone else heard of this?

--

Henry Law Manchester, England

Alexander Lindsay

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Oct 7, 2015, 12:51:58 PM10/7/15
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On Wednesday, 7 October 2015 17:23:40 UTC+1, Henry Law wrote:
> I'm just reading "The Boys in the Boat", the story of the Huskies crew
> that won the 8+ gold in the Berlin olympics. It's good; I recommend it.
>
> But there are one or two oddities, of which this is the oddest. Of Ran
> Laurie, the renowned stroke of the GB eight, the author (who is not an
> oarsman) writes:
>
> "But like many British strokes in those days, he was wielding an oar
> with a smaller, narrower blade than the rest of his crew - the idea
> being that the stroke's job was to set the pace, not to power the boat.
> With the small blade, he avoided the risk of burning himself out and
> losing his form."
>
> Can this be true? It sounds highly improbable to me (and to Göran
> Buckhorn, who reviewed the book in his excellent blog "Hear the Boat
> Sing"). My father, who rowed only a little later and spent some time in
> the Irish crew that eventually went to the 1948 Olys, rowed stroke side
> all his life, including stints down at the back, and never spoke of such
> a blade.
>
> Anyone else heard of this?
>
> --
>
> Henry Law Manchester, England

Yes indeed. I rowed for my school at Henley in 1955 (not very successfully) and our stroke had a "shaved blade" i.e. a blade with a little shaved off each edge. I cannot remember how wide the shavings were. The coach's idea was that would help him to keep the rating high.

In passing, it was considered then quite normal to adjust the rig to suit individual crew members. In the same crew I tended to reach farther forward than others, (result of 4 years on a fixed seat) so my rigger was "blocked out": a block of wood about one inch thick put between it and the boat, and an inch added to my oar handle. This was in the days when nothing was adjustable: fixed pin riggers with no adjustment, and leather buttons screwed to the oar.

I have often wondered since why it is unfashionable to make adjustments to suit individuals' different physiques. I recently asked a Boat Race coach, who had a crew with a wide disparity of heights, if he did this. He seemed shocked at the suggestion. Is there any other sport that behaves like this? Relay runners aren't all made to wear the same size of shoe, or pairs tennis players to use identical racquets. Yes, yes I know that's different. But I wonder about multi-crew kayaks. Do they always use identical paddles?

Alexander Lindsay

Richard du P

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Oct 7, 2015, 1:17:24 PM10/7/15
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Heard of it, yes, at a MUCH humbler level, and never took it seriously, but I've an indication that it was being talked about.

In 1971 [I think] I won a Novice pot, sitting opposite the cox. [Worcester, lovely little pot from Victoria's diamond jubilee 1897, on a MASSIVE tiered plinth with 74 years of winners - alas we filled it with beer which all leaked out.] To put my achievement in proper perspective, that win was fourteen years after I started rowing, so this was hardly exalted stuff.

ANYWAY, the beer flowed, and some senior club members got discursive; you might say that "the wine was in and the wit was out"; I could not possibly comment.

One of the senior members - I'll call him Joe since that was his name - was I think being unreasonably kind about me; his prescription was that some [can't remember how much] should be shaved off my blade, for roughly the reason described above. The chap I'm thinking of was I guess born 1910-1920, so may have imbibed his rowing "wisdom" either side of WW2, so that might fit what Henry says.

Before Carl adds his better argued bit [a] I'm now aware as Joe wasn't, that trimming a blade down might achieve nothing very much [b] I now know that I in fact instinctively cheated my crew to very much the same effect, by not burying much of the blade!

So yes, heard of it

Richard du P

sully

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Oct 7, 2015, 3:37:59 PM10/7/15
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On Wednesday, October 7, 2015 at 10:23:40 AM UTC-6, Henry Law wrote:
> I'm just reading "The Boys in the Boat", the story of the Huskies crew
> that won the 8+ gold in the Berlin olympics. It's good; I recommend it.
>
> But there are one or two oddities, of which this is the oddest. Of Ran
> Laurie, the renowned stroke of the GB eight, the author (who is not an
> oarsman) writes:
>
> "But like many British strokes in those days, he was wielding an oar
> with a smaller, narrower blade than the rest of his crew - the idea
> being that the stroke's job was to set the pace, not to power the boat.
> With the small blade, he avoided the risk of burning himself out and
> losing his form."
>
> Can this be true? It sounds highly improbable to me (and to Göran
> Buckhorn, who reviewed the book in his excellent blog "Hear the Boat
> Sing"). My father, who rowed only a little later and spent some time in
> the Irish crew that eventually went to the 1948 Olys, rowed stroke side
> all his life, including stints down at the back, and never spoke of such
> a blade.
>
> Anyone else heard of this?

This was not uncommon in my competitive years. Indeed, we often individually rigged some rowers, but not until very late in the season when the lineup was set and we wanted to eke out a bit more. We heard about smaller stroke oars, but never employed it.


martin...@gmail.com

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Oct 8, 2015, 6:58:34 AM10/8/15
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Not heard of the shaved blade but I have been told that the Lea crew who were amongts the last if not the last to win the Thames cup at Henley pre cleavers used macons from stroke to 3 and assymetric blades for bow pair. I can't confirm this thiough

i do know that Cardiff Uni did individual rigging for one of their temple cup 8s - blades were sent back to Concept to get the handles changed to make them different lengths too

Henry Law

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Oct 8, 2015, 7:00:38 AM10/8/15
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On 08/10/15 11:58, martin...@gmail.com wrote:
> pre cleavers used macons from stroke to 3 and assymetric blades for bow pair.

We used to do things like that in our club too. But now we check the
contents of the trailer more carefully :-)

stan...@gmail.com

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Oct 8, 2015, 10:10:04 AM10/8/15
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I've rowed (94-> now) and coached 1999-> Now and while I've never shaved a blade down I have come across the idea of having stroke in a eight set 0.5cm lighter (either overall length or just moving the collar depending on what the technology allowed) from several different sources and in several parts of the UK.
I think (and the times I've employed it as a coach) have been when stroke is a small terrier and have several larger stronger rowers behind him/her who have a tendency to be slightly late at the catch. The idea being that this makes it harder for the stroke to pick up the entire boat by themselves and keeps them fresher in the later part of the race when their rhythm is needed to keep push the bigger donkeys to their limit.

Obvious being a veteran of r.s.r I await Carl and others pointing out that the load on the oar is the load the oarsman chooses to apply and that the maths of small 5mm adjustments makes no sense as the change is so small and it may be entirely placebo effect but sometimes it seems to be the right thing to do.

stan

PS:
In response to Mr Lindsay I have also spanned in very short members of the crew and given them shorter oars to try and keep the arcs the same. I did first did this when coaching the winner of BBC's excellent Special Forces: Ultimate Hell Week as she's tiny but bloody hard.

usbrit

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Oct 8, 2015, 3:58:31 PM10/8/15
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Henry Law

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Oct 8, 2015, 4:32:58 PM10/8/15
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On 08/10/15 20:58, usbrit wrote:
> dig a little deeper in Hear the Boat Sing and you'll find this
>
> http://heartheboatsing.com/2013/12/04/malcolm-cook-shaved-blades-were-used-in-the-boat-race-in-the-1920s-and-1930s/

Bother ... thank you for putting me right.

I suppose, thinking about it, that this kind of "tuning" may have been
the easiest option in days when riggers and blades were as they were,
with little or no adjustment.
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