In April Fretwater Boatworks will be hosting two seminar / mini courses. I’m starting what I hope will become an erratic and unending series of low-cost short courses and seminars to help infect more victims with the incurable estoteric disease of wooden boats. Most boat schools cost well over $100 a day and are still a bargain. For these first two courses I’ll be asking a per-day donation of around half that–maybe a little less if its just me instructing, more if we are bringing in talent to teach. Do what you can, and hopefully it will work out that we can continue to do these. These will be more informal courses than you might find at a “real” school, but also more flexible and personalized.
The classic, balanced, workingman’s oar is a thing of the past. Modern wooden oars are almost without exception heavy, stiff, poorly balanced things that, when used commercially, lead to wrist, elbow, and shoulder fatigue and misery. The market seems to demand heavy bludgeons that are hard to break–but they end up breaking you. Oar authorities Pete Culler in 1978, and Andrew Steever in 1993, both bemoaned the fate of the oar market even then, saying it had been decades since a good rowing oar had been manufactured. It has not improved. A light, balanced oar with true dynamic flex just does not exist.
As the years go by I have been tinkering with ways to make oars more user friendly, visiting oarmakers around the country and the world, and taking an oarmaking course from Clint Chase at WoodenBoat School. I’ve come up with several techniques and procedures to help you and your joints prolong your bad habit of rowing. Shaft and blade thinning, re-tapering, blade scalloping, mild handle counter weighting, ultra-light oar tip protection, minor shortening, and slick leather wraps. Coworkers on the river are gobsmacked with some of the oars I’ve been running the last couple years. So am I. We’ll be working all these angles throughout the four-day course. Bad-ass surfboard shaper Greg Loehr will be on hand to help share the professional shaping aspects of blade work.
Before signing up you should let me know what sort of oars you are starting with and where you want to go with them. Not all oars are conductive to modification. My shop is big, but oars are long, so let me know now if you want a spot.
Here’s a radio story Scott Thybony did on the Fretwater oar quest.
For more than ten years Wade Smith was the Director of the John Gardner Small Boat Shop at Mystic Seaport, curating and documenting the coolest collection of small wooden boats anywhere, and teaching a wide variety of wooden boatbuilding courses. He now works as a professional wooden boatbuilder in Connecticut and teaches boatbuilding at WoodenBoat School in Maine each summer. Wade will be accompanying me on AzRA‘s Grand Canyon Dories and Stories trip, and has enthusiastically agreed to teach a short course on the fundamentals of boatbuilding before our river trip. We foresee this as a somewhat informal introduction to this age-old craft, with flexibility to move toward whatever the class needs. Since the Great American Desert is a poor place for traditional lapstrake plank-built boats, and since we have limited time, we plan to focus more on the plywood-on-frame style typical of Oregon Drift boats and dories of the mid-1900s.
From hallucinating a boat concept, to drawing it up and translating lines to wood to a boat, we’ll be pretty busy. Boatbuilding is a continuous dance of problem solving. Expect to learn tricks and techniques that will be useful in far more applications than the precise thing we may be doing at the moment. If you’ve ever dreamed of building your own boat, this is an excellent place to start turning the dream into
your own private nightmare reality. We hope for a course size of ten to twenty, so let me know now if you want to hold a spot. I expect I will learn as much or more than anyone else.
For those who realize four days is simply not sufficient to learn enough about boatbuilding, come on back to WoodenBoat School in Maine for Wade’s two-week course in Fundamentals of Boatbuilding. This year he will have the world-famous proprietor of Fretwater Boatworks as his lovely assistant. That’s me. We’ll be going deep into all aspects of the craft. Your mind will be irrevocably twisted. Tell them that alumnus Brad Dimock is sending you and you’ll get a 10% discount on tuition. You can also save a bit by camping, but be sure to sign up for the food—it’s outrageous. Warning: WoodenBoat School is addictive. It is just about the funnest place I’ve ever been. Just thinking of it makes me twitch and giggle.