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Peter Mallory's Blog

By pmallory - Posted on 03 April 2013

1 April 2013

Remember my vintage Ayling oars with the bikini lines? Well, the months of exposure to the California sun have continued to speed by, and the shafts are now almost but not quite even in color, almost but not quite ready for me to put on the last coats of spar varnish and move on to the next step.

It helps to have been coaching so hard these last few months. Normally I wouldn’t be nearly this patient with a project. By the time I’m done, these oars may well have taken more than a year to complete.

Once I am completely satisfied with the even color of the shafts, the next step is to have someone install leather sleeves to go with the aluminum collars I already have. You can see the way our Ayling sweep oars looked in 1966.

The Aylings I used at the University of Pennsylvania and at Undine Barge Club that year were among the very first to reach the United States from England. The leather sleeves were quite short, only five inches in length, so the collars were tightened in place and never moved.

Within a year or two, the sleeves began to be made of white plastic and were lengthened to eight inches, allowing the same aluminum collars to be adjusted up or down the sleeve several inches before tightening.

To make and attach new leather sleeves on my vintage oars, my first thought was to go to a shoe repair shop, and I know of a couple of good ones around here. I still wear the same belts and the same shoes I wore in college, so periodically I have need of some good old world leather craftsmanship. Another idea is to go to someone who specializes in leather upholstery, and there are plenty of them here in Southern California as well. Either way, the bottom line is that I will be going to someone who probably has never seen a wooden racing oar close up before. I have detailed instructions from Mike Dulieu, an old hand at such things who volunteers at the River & Rowing Museum in Henley, and I have the proper copper tacks courtesy of Richard Way. Many thanks to you both.

The other day I got a couple of scraps of wood from the nearby lumberyard, got out my jack plane and made an 18” facsimile section of oar shaft for my guy to practice on before I let him close to my irreplaceable heirlooms from a bygone era.

I'll keep you posted. Wish me continued luck! Now back to the coach's launch . . .