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Thread: Rowing Technique

  1. #1
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    Default Rowing Technique

    I'm am a long time sailor and paddler and an occasional rower with a new to me Cosine Wherry. I'm looking for good information/instruction on rowing technique, that is geared towards conventional boats, not sculls. Everything I find on the Internet seems to be directed towards sculls, or at least boats with sliding seats. There is very little info on rowing wherries, skiffs and whitehalls. In particular, I'm looking for info on feathering oars, because my wrists are not flexible enough to roll up 90 degs. Our boat came with conventional open oarlocks and two sets of very nice 8' spruce spoon blade oars which are a joy to row with.

    I'm also looking for suggestions for keeping track of what is in front of us, when we are rowing on a rather crowded river. One of our very close rivers is quite small, and has a lot of snags, as well as a lot of canoe, kayak, paddle board and swimming traffic. I have to stop rowing and pivot on my seat to see what is in front of us, which really slows down the progress, especially if we are rowing tandem. I don't have any problem keeping the boat going straight, but on this particular river, that is not an option.

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    A year or two back there was an article in WoodenBoat on the Doryman's stroke. Fixed seat open water rowing at it's best.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    As far as seeing what is in the way of your intended route, I suggest a "Thorne" mirror. I call it that because I first saw it mentioned by Thorne in this forum. Basically, you mount a waterski mirror in some fashion on the boat. It seems to me it would be best at about eye level from where you sit. Another option when you row tandem is to have the aft rower face forward as (s)he rows. This has the added advantage of enabling communication between the two rowers. Yes, rowing sitting forward is a little more awkward, and perhaps less efficient, but it can be done.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique


  5. #5
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    I just turn my head at the end of the power stroke/start of return. By alternating sides and trusting my periferal vision, I manage to row easily through crowded anchorages. I also look for straightaways where I can row a while on only back bearings.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    A few thoughts, as someone who has rowed both fixed and sliding seat. With the caveat that opinions may differ between reasonable people on all of these points...

    1. Most of the techniques for sculling sliding seat are directly usable for fixed seat rowing on flat water. You just leave out the sliding bit. But back posture, hand position, use of the large leg muscle groups, etc. are all exactly the same.

    2. Looking ahead: I've never used a mirror although it's something I might try at some point. But if you turn your head to one side right at the release (when you are leaning back the furthest) you can get a good look at one side without interrupting the stroke at all. Turn your head the other way on the next stroke. Repeat every few strokes as you feel comfortable. I've used this technique for thirty years or so and I've never felt the need to stop and turn around or to use a mirror. I do have good neck mobility though, so it may not work for people who have more difficulty turning their head.

    3. Feathering and wrist motion: Done correctly, feathering uses no wrist motion at all. Your wrists should remain completely flat through the entire stroke (my first sculling coach told me to imagine balancing a wine glass on my wrists). If you are rolling your wrists to feather then you are probably holding onto the oars too tightly. They should sit right at the first joint of your fingers with your thumb at the end of the oar, not wrapped around and you should be able to put a straightedge on your forearm all the way to your knuckles through the entire stroke. The feathering is done by rolling the oar with the fingers not the wrists. This motion is not intuitive and takes some practice. Getting a lesson from a good sculler would help. However if you are rowing in open water where this light grip on the oars is not feasible then you may need to use a different stroke and I would second Ian's recommendation of the Dory stroke.

    4. If you don't have foot stretchers of some sort you need them. It's impossible to get good power without engaging your legs even in fixed seat rowing. If I'm really going for power I'll lift myself off the seat slightly at the catch as I push with my legs.

    5. Stroke cadence should also be the same between fixed and sliding seat. Fast hands, slow arms and back on the run to maximize distance on each stroke, then straight arms and use your back and legs for power before pulling in at the release. There are many sculling videos that talk about these concepts. It's the same for fixed seat - just leave out the sliding bits.

    I hope this helps! I love the simplicity rowing fixed seat but I use everything I learned as a sculler to be able to do it well. Taking a beginning sculling class would be worth doing even if you don't plan on ever rowing sliding seat.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    2. I'm 75, and just can't turn my head far enough to see behind me without rotating my upper body quite a bit. I was looking for a mirror suggestion, and will look at some mounting options. I considered one of the self contained backup cameras that uses an iPhone screen. I would only need it in congested areas, not out on the bigger lakes or rivers.

    3. I'm looking for the article on the Dory Stroke. How do you get access to Wooden Boat Archives? I'll look more seriously at sculling technique, though some of the places we row can be rough.

    4. We don't have foot braces yet, but I certainly see the need for them. I'm a white water canoeist used to kneeling with thigh straps, so wanting to be connected to the boat is second nature. In the aft rowing position, the area of the stern seat works for bracing, but in the middle and forward positions I'm using the center brace under the seat in front of me, and it is only "better than nothing". I don't want to start adding any permanent braces until I'm sure they are what I want. Right now I can stow all four oars on the bottom of the boat, under the seats, for trailering. I'm considering some light removable floor boards that would go on either side of the center seat supports, and could have adjustable braces attached to them. I'm not sure how far apart my feet should be for optimum rowing. In the aft position I have no real choice, but in the forward and center positions I obviously do, but narrower would be a lot easier to do.

    5. I don't think my overall rowing technique is to bad, though it could certainly use some refinement. Proper Feathering is my biggest issue right now. I can do it by rolling my wrist down, but I have to go past 90 degs to be sure the blade won't dig in in chop. I will see if I can understand the proper sculling technique for feathering.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    People love rowing technique. It's an honorable conversation. One thing that will solve most problems is to just keep rowing. I know it sounds simplistic. But hours in the saddle matter greatly. Your mind will remap, you'll get stronger and less tender, and you'll always be really hungry when you're done. Think of the burgers you'll get to eat with even greater confidence.

    I'm not a proponent of any particular style of fixed-seat rowing. I can scull, do the dory stroke, and feather oars - especially during really gusty head-on moments. Sometimes I alternate my strokes. Is that the fisherman? Sometimes I cross handles and sometimes I don't. Depends on the situation. Depends on my level of care that day. On longer rows I get out my foot stretchers. They help. I put them away when I'm sailing, then forget to use them when I'm rowing again. I read an interesting article by Eric Hvalsoe a while back that talks about quartering into the wind when the wind gets big. He messes with his centerboard now and again. All valid.

    I don't use a mirror, but then I avoid rowing in congested areas. I could see it helping when tandem rowing.

    Article on the dory stroke is here ... https://www.woodenboatstore.com/product/WoodenBoat_magazine_Issue_198_DIGITAL/woodenboat_181-210
    Quote Originally Posted by James McMullen View Post
    Yeadon is right, of course.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Those who use mirrors that clip to hat or glasses find, once used to them, that they work fine.

    You want to feather with the tops of your knuckles rolling towards you. Start the feather as you reach the end of the power stroke and are bringing the oar up. That way you'll have about 45 degrees blade angle as the oar, having lost most of it's direct push-power, is going up and you have thrust like a prop. I plane and sand my oar loams to get them just a bit flexable (oval shape from leathers to the blade, long axis normal to blade). This gives the end of the stroke a little flip.

    I do not feather through 90 degrees. Firstly, during the power stroke I have the top of the blade slightly in advance of the bottom. My oars have a sort of spine down the blade on each side with a bit of hollow going each way from the spline to the long edge of the oar. With the angled blade angle, this does for me as much as I felt on asymetrical scooped oars which I dislike because if they bounce out in rough seas they are more of a pain to reset.

    I think I turn the oars about 60-70 degrees. On the return stroke this means the leading (formerly upper) edge of the blade is a bit higher than the trailing edge. This is a huge advantage in open rough water rowing as if you catch a wave on the return stroke, the oar won't dig and catch a crab.

    If you slap the top of a really big wave, the oar may jub out of the lock. This is why I like big open top locks. I have learned how to let the loam rest on the gunnel while I give my hand with that oar a downwark snap. Up it goes and I can usually land it back in the lock. No need to use two hands. The same motion, by the way, lets you ship the oar or oars.

    And if you can't get the oar back in the lock all that easily, extend the wrist motion of feathering through the whole of the return stroke. That rotation will keep the loam against the oarlock, not acting more like a thole pin. This is how the real wizzes row against one pin with no rope keeper.

    I don't know if you can access all articles without having a print/online subscription. Check at the home page. You really cannot live without a subscription.

    G'luck

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    One might think that one needs to roll the oars 90-degrees for feathering, which is indeed harder on one's wrists than really necessary.
    a properly feathered oar really only has to roll about 80-degrees. That is because through the power stroke the oar blades should be angled slightly "top-edge-forward" so that the slight downward force exerted by the oar must be countered by a slight downward pressure on the grip, with the net downward force on an open Davis-pattern oarlock practically GUARANTEEING that the oar will not jump out of the oarlock, ever. Of course that "slight angle" of the blade does not account for the 10-degree difference between 90 and 80 degrees; it only accounts for about 3-degrees. The remaining 7-degrees is the angle of the blade through the return swing, "forward edge-up". This angle will practically GUARANTEE that the oar will skim over the chop instead of "catching a crab". So in reality your wrists must only flex about 80-degrees (even a bit less if they simply won't flex that much) in order to row a boat in a seamanlike manner.

    All of this was taught by our Scout Master at Boy Scout Camp. He had been raised in the vicinity of Boston Harbor. As an adult he was a Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University Of Notre Dame. These lessons from rowing long plywood John Boats tandem at Boy Scout Camp later proved invaluable while rowing our unmotorized Dovekie (as Bolger had designed the boat) over a period of 12 years.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    People love rowing technique. It's an honorable conversation.
    Well put! We could carry on this discussion at great length and I'd enjoy every minute of it, and get no work done at all. I'll say that in reading the various posts from Ian, Yeadon and others, I think it's all great advice. These are people with years of experience in different conditions and different boats and it's all useful. But as Yeadon says, there is absolutely no substitute for time in the boat with oars in hand. The water will teach you more about rowing than any number of videos or forum threads ever could.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Ahh-ha , I see Ian has posted substantially the same information in #9 as I have in #10. I often do not read completely through a thread before commenting on the OP.
    Last edited by Nicholas Scheuer; 08-02-2018 at 04:01 PM.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Nicholas Scheuer View Post
    Ahh-ha , I see Ian has posted substantially the same information is #9 as I have in #10. I often do not read completely through a thread before commenting on the OP.
    There is an interesting discussion feathering to be had here for sure, with different techniques for different styles and conditions. Here is a really good video that demonstrates the hand technique for the sculling stroke:



    But it's also worth noting that sculling sleeves and oarlocks are shaped with a flat side ("D" shaped) to positively locate the oars at the catch position and the feather position so that the sculler doesn't have to do anything to keep the oar oriented properly. Rowing with a round or oval loom allows for different positions more easily.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    One thing I realized going from sliding to fixed seat, having been trained by a top scede sculler, is that the sculling oars have a nice grippy cover and a wood oar does not. So the finger roll technique is a bit trickier. What does help is to have properly tallowed leathers if you are using leathers in rowlocks. This makes an enormous difference in lowering friction for feathering, as does having proper clearance/tolerance between loom/leather and lock.

    For rough water, I use narrow blades and either don't feather or feather only slightly.
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    The first Cosine Wherry I saw at Flounder Bay Lumber in Anacortes had oars with the D shaped shafts and oar locks with a straight S.S. pin to pull against and a plastic bottom to support the oar. Unfortunately I never had a chance to row with that style oars. Mine are spruce with fairly narrow spoon blades and round sewn on leathers and conventional open top oar locks. They are tight enough that the leathers will not easily lift out of the oar lock, I have to slide the oar in past the leathers to lift it out of the oar lock.

    I downloaded the edition of Wooden Boat with the Dory Stroke article. I'll have to rethink my grip on the oar, since I have not allowed it to move or roll in my fingers, and have always held it pretty tight.

    I'll also try one of the hat or glasses mounted mirrors. I tried one for my bike helmet, but never liked it as well as handle bar mounted unit but rowing is a totally different position so it may work out ok.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Ski-Patroller View Post
    The first Cosine Wherry I saw at Flounder Bay Lumber in Anacortes had oars with the D shaped shafts and oar locks with a straight S.S. pin to pull against and a plastic bottom to support the oar. Unfortunately I never had a chance to row with that style oars. Mine are spruce with fairly narrow spoon blades and round sewn on leathers and conventional open top oar locks. They are tight enough that the leathers will not easily lift out of the oar lock, I have to slide the oar in past the leathers to lift it out of the oar lock.

    I downloaded the edition of Wooden Boat with the Dory Stroke article. I'll have to rethink my grip on the oar, since I have not allowed it to move or roll in my fingers, and have always held it pretty tight.

    I'll also try one of the hat or glasses mounted mirrors. I tried one for my bike helmet, but never liked it as well as handle bar mounted unit but rowing is a totally different position so it may work out ok.
    For a traditional option that works with D-sleeves you can try Douglas oarlocks:

    https://www.shawandtenney.com/produc...uglas-oarlocks

    Doug-Lock.jpg

    I also have a pair of sculls that I want to try on my whitehall, with these outriggers:

    https://www.shawandtenney.com/produc...r-oar-brackets



    but I haven't set them up yet so can't comment on how well they work.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    ^^^ Forgot to add that Shaw & Tenney also sell D-sleeves.

    https://www.shawandtenney.com/productdisplay/d-sleeves

    Not as attractive as a nice leather sleeve though for sure. Someone here (I think Thorne?) made D-shaped leathers for use in Douglas oarlocks a while back. I haven't tried that myself but they did look nice.

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Chris Cunningham also did a followup article on rowing a faster boat than a dory. Marty Loken recently did some work on mirrors in Team Geezer on FB I think. Chris picked up on it in Small Boat Monthly. Stretchers are critical. I did a piece in SBM on them. The Norse do a little more layback than is recommended in sculling which I find useful combined with a narrow seat so my tailbone hangs over the back.
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    I very much like Chrisís comments, especially about feathering not being with the wrists. You let the oar roll in your hand.
    yep, just about everything that applies in sliding seat competitive rowing applies in fixed seat rowing. Something I see in many peoples fixed seat (sort of dinghy rowing) is a cadence of about equal time on the power stroke as on the recovery, sort of 121212. If you put some power and speed in the power stroke, then take twice as long on the recovery and let the boat Ďruní, sort of 12..12..12..12, you will find it easier to keep the boat moving faster longer,

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Always happy to talk rowing, much nicer than working! My skiff has a lockable slide seat, so I row fixed and slide with the same setup. Definitely a mirror to see ahead, the ski boat kind with slight curvature gives a good field of view. Definitely foot stretchers for any distance, butt friction alone is not enough for any real power. Yes on shaped grips for blade angle feedback, I go a step too far probably and use ergo bike grips which give very positive angle control. I use wide blade oars even in waves, the oar efficiency is higher than narrow blades and feathering works to keep wave slap under control. Douglas oarlocks and shaped looms are good, but the clank-clunk gets to me on long rows so I usually use round looms and oval locks greased with lanolin - very quiet, and the shaped grips still work to control blade angle well enough for cruising.

    This is a video of testing homemade oars, feel free to criticize the technique :

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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    I've certainly found that my hands go carpal on me if I don't have my thumbs over the ends the way the scullers do. Tingling in the hands etc. I've never had an issue keeping my hands loose even in rough water.
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    Looks good Rick, but you know what I am going to say about what you need under you ???
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ski-Patroller View Post
    I'm looking for info on feathering oars, because my wrists are not flexible enough to roll up 90 degs.
    The only self-feathering oars I'm aware of are those devised by Ron Rantilla for his Frontrower unit as shown here. http://www.frontrower.com/

    I'm sorry your wrists bind. My wife has trouble with that also and it's sadly affected the enjoyment she gets from rowing her boat.
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Ian McColgin View Post
    A year or two back there was an article in WoodenBoat on the Doryman's stroke. Fixed seat open water rowing at it's best.
    Was a great article. I used the technique in my CLC Chester Yawl. Very effective and comfortable.
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    Default

    Good discussion. I love rowing my Oughtred Acorn skiff. Not sure now whether I feather with my wrists or my fingers. Will have to check that.


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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    Quote Originally Posted by Ski-Patroller View Post
    I'm am a long time sailor and paddler and an occasional rower with a new to me Cosine Wherry. I'm looking for good information/instruction on rowing technique, that is geared towards conventional boats, not sculls. Everything I find on the Internet seems to be directed towards sculls, or at least boats with sliding seats. There is very little info on rowing wherries, skiffs and whitehalls. In particular, I'm looking for info on feathering oars, because my wrists are not flexible enough to roll up 90 degs. Our boat came with conventional open oarlocks and two sets of very nice 8' spruce spoon blade oars which are a joy to row with.
    Feathering is not necessary. Sea rowing rarely uses feathering, in fact Norwegian, Shetland, cobles, Portland lerrets, and currachs cannot feather their oars. You can use spoon blades if narrow, not the short wide blades of a rowing shell without feathering them.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ski-Patroller View Post
    4. We don't have foot braces yet, but I certainly see the need for them. I'm a white water canoeist used to kneeling with thigh straps, so wanting to be connected to the boat is second nature. In the aft rowing position, the area of the stern seat works for bracing, but in the middle and forward positions I'm using the center brace under the seat in front of me, and it is only "better than nothing". I don't want to start adding any permanent braces until I'm sure they are what I want. Right now I can stow all four oars on the bottom of the boat, under the seats, for trailering. I'm considering some light removable floor boards that would go on either side of the center seat supports, and could have adjustable braces attached to them. I'm not sure how far apart my feet should be for optimum rowing. In the aft position I have no real choice, but in the forward and center positions I obviously do, but narrower would be a lot easier to do.

    I’ve always found John Welsford’s advice useful. He recommends have one’s feet well spread so you can brace yourself in choppy water. I can’t imagine feeling safe or comfortable with my feet side by side like flat water rowers.



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  28. #28
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    Quote Originally Posted by Osbert View Post
    I’ve always found John Welsford’s advice useful. He recommends have one’s feet well spread so you can brace yourself in choppy water. I can’t imagine feeling safe or comfortable with my feet side by side like flat water rowers.

    Walkabout & Drake
    That's why it is nice to have the wide board or bar bracing typical of traditional British boats with a angled board and side notches of some kind to fit them. But you need the right kind of structure For my dory I have big racing shell style adjustable braces and can use the frames for wide bracing should I need it. How much you need it depends on your boat and conditions. Most oar on gunwale boats rarely roll a lot in conditions in which rowing is a pleasure. The dory isn't conducive to Brit style braces, but with four boards in my removable floor board I could build wider adjustable braces should I need them. In this case the frames fit me fine and this issue was having centerline braces.
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  29. #29
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    Default Re: Rowing Technique

    I normally feather the oars only when rowing upwind. That is the traditional style around here. I normally feather tham less than 90 degrees to save my wrists. If you can feather tham 45 degrees that is already a lot better than no feathering at all.

    For larger oars I prefere traditional oars whittled from a slow grown spruce trunk of the sort found in very dense forest where the smaller spruce trees are fighting hard to reach some sunlight. This type of oars have a very thick inboard end which acts as a counterweight and rather narrow net not extremely narrow blades. Right now I have a pair of thin factory made oars and don't like them particularily.

    The traditional rule of thumb is to make the oars one and half time as long as the boat is wide at the oarlocks or just a little longer. That applies for traditional boats with low freeboard. Higher freeboard requires longer oars.
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