Friday, 29 October 2010

Rowing, pulling and sculling

Here's a little learning from Eric McKee's "Working Boats of Britain".

Propulsion by oars and sweeps, standing and sitting, facing forward and aft, with varying numbers of hands on each oar or men in the boat, needs a book to itself to describe adequately. Oars are as practical today as they were thousands of years ago. In spite of rowing being an easy manoeuvre, the mechanics of it are not self-evident, nor has the geometry been recorded systematically in the past. Even the terms are confusing, as they differ in salt and fresh water. In salt water a man is said to be rowing when he is working a pair of oars, one in each hand, but pulling if he is working with both hands on one oar. A thwart is single-banked if there is only one man on it pulling, but as rowers can only be single-banked, they do not get this designation. (A double-banked thwart is one with two men, both pulling separate oars.) In fresh water, the waterman rows with one oar and sculls with a pair of sculls, only state barges being double-banked. This may be why scholars, who are more likely to be wet-bobs than salts, persist in writing about 'rowing' in sea-going oared vessels, one thing that could not have been done.

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