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Peter Mallory's Blog


By pmallory - Posted on 20 June 2012

16 June 2012

National Federation Donations

When I offered for presale the numbered, signed and dedicated limited collector edition of The Sport of Rowing, I promised to donate 10% of the proceeds to the national rowing federation of the country of residence of each purchaser. A few days ago I sent out the last seven checks to seven countries on three continents, and that was a very satisfying moment for me as the world prepares for the 2012 Olympics. Susan and I will be rooting for many, many friends on Dorney Lake.

Coaching at Craftsbury

I will be coaching at the Craftsbury Sculling Center in Vermont right after the Olympics from August 11 through 17. I am really looking forward to that. It will be great to get back in a boat and be surrounded by fellow members of our extended rowing family. In addition, they have asked me to make a presentation one evening on rowing technique throughout history. I can’t wait.

You can get more information at http://www.craftsbury.com/sculling/camps/home.htm. It was the first rowing camp in North America, and the Craftsbury Sculling Center remains one of the definitive training locations and experiences for scullers worldwide.

Old Oars

During the last couple of months I have been restoring a number of oars from various eras to hang as trophies in our home in the hills of Los Angeles, the increasingly aptly named Old Oar Cottage. This work really takes me back to my salad days as a young coach doing odd jobs around the boathouse.

I have a theory. You can always spot rowers who have painted oars. When they are on the dock they instinctually turn their oars over so the paint on the backs of the blades doesn’t get scratched. Spend a couple of days sanding and painting, and you want that oar to stay looking pristine.

It is amazing how much oar technology has evolved in just the last few decades. It is harder and harder to find spar varnish anymore, and I had to special-order the kind of epoxy paste which allows me to quickly replace missing chunks of wooden blades.

I have acquired a 1960’s-era Pocock sweep oar (www.pocock.com), and oh my, it feels so heavy! The tip of its blade is protected by copper cladding. Thank goodness the copper tip was intact when I got it because I can just imagine how difficult it would have been to recreate that technology. I would have gone to my good friend Tom McKibbon, coach at Long Beach Rowing Association during the 1970s. Tom taught precision metal working for years at Long Beach City College, but who knows if he still has access to the machines that cut, bend and punch holes in copper sheets. Then there are the copper nails used to affix it to the tip of the blade. I feel like I dodged a bullet here.

I also have acquired several 1970’s-era Pocock sweep oars, and they had obviously changed in so many ways from their ‘60s forebear. The pencil blade was replaced by a Maçon blade. The copper tip was replaced with fiberglass and then later a piece of harder wood. The fixed collars became adjustable. The leather sleeves became clear heat-shrink vinyl.

This last component has me stymied so far. I can find clear plastic heat-shrink tubes from several suppliers, but the wall thickness is something under 1/16” whereas the Pocock sleeves were around 3/16”, a huge difference. Once I have completed the repairing and refinishing of the oars in another week or two, I will see if two or three layers of 1/16” vinyl tubing will approximate the original appearance. The sleeves I removed can’t be reused as they have been scarred and dulled from heavy usage and the passage of time.

The piece de resistance will be the Pocock logo decal. The classic oval design is still in use by Pocock Racing Shells today, but there have been a number of subtle changes over the years. Stan Pocock has promised to look around. He may have a stack of the old logo decals somewhere, and I am keeping my fingers crossed. Otherwise I will have to recreate the artwork and have new decals made.

All these years I have kept a set of Concept2 sculls (www.concept2.com) from my 1988 USA Team Junior/U-23 U.S. Men’s Quad. No need for restoration there. I could row with them tomorrow (and the red, white and blue paint job is still pristine!).

Actually, back then they were called Dreissigacker Oars made by Concept II! How things change! I remember fondly that circumstances allowed me to be the very first coach ever to use Dreissigacker Oars at a World Championship. In 1979, the women’s pair was the only American entry at the Junior World Championships in Moscow, and the Junior Worlds were the first FISA Championship regatta that summer, the first for the new oar technology. Not surprisingly, we had a ton of offers to sell our oars after the regatta, so there was no need to transport them home. I wonder whatever became of them.

I also have an ‘80s-vintage Dreissigacker sweep oar. It was in perfect shape when I got it except that it was missing its plastic sleeve and collar. Amazingly, Concept2 still has a few sleeves sitting on a shelf, so one will be shipped to me in a day or two. The only other thing I have had to do with this remarkable oar has been to strip and repaint the blade. Today it, too, is again pristine, and now it will stay that way.

Incidentally, does anybody have an early Concept II sweep collar for my ‘80s oar? No more of those left at the factory, I’m afraid. I’d much appreciate your help.

In our La Jolla home, we have a 1970s-era Croker wooden sweep oar from my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. I remember meeting Howard Croker in 1972 in Germany before the Munich Olympics and fortuitously running into him again at the 1994 World Championships in Indianapolis while I was in the midst to restoring my oar. Howard sent me a vintage logo sticker for finish it off. Time marches on, and now his kids have joined him in the oar business. More about their current products at www.crokeroars.com.

Then we use a beautiful pair of Piantedosi wooden sculls from perhaps the 1980s as stairway banisters in La Jolla. My goodness, those oars were sweet in their day, and they are absolute works of art in their new incarnation for us. Gary is still in the business as general manager of Alden Rowing (http://rowalden.com). In fact, he was the person who helped me find the 1/16” clear vinyl sleeves for my ‘70s Pocock oars.

Projects like these inevitably lead to unexpected challenges and complications, but every time I reach out to the rowing community, new nice people step forward either with a solution or with words of encouragement, another reason I am so proud to be an active and contributing member of the world rowing family.