December 02, 2011
Looking for a set of oars that will move your boat with less effort and dig better in shallow water? Sawyer's new Shoal Cut Square Top Oars are for you.
My first set of wooden oars lasted me three seasons. Dings in the wood allowed water to seep into the laminations and by the end of the third year, the wood in the blades was rotting and soft. When I caught a tip in a crack in my home river's ledgerock bottom, the blade broke in half instantly.
I'm sure I could have done more to protect those oars; I'm sure I could have made them last longer. But who wants to devote precious fishing time to maintaining their sticks? So I swore off wood, and moved into the deficient world of composite oars.
What's the difference? Well, the difference between a wooden oar and a composite oar is comparable to the difference between a broomstick and a cane rod: one remains stiff as you swing it, the other flexes and transfers your energy toward the tip. One feels dead in your hand, the other comes to life.
But about a year back, I sold my drift boat and bought another, and in the process found myself shopping again for new oars. I called the only company whose oars I trust not to splinter, Sawyer, and asked about their latest composites. That's when I learned about the most radical innovations to oar design in my lifetime; that's when I agreed it might be time to give wood another chance.
Sawyer's new Dynelite oars are wooden sticks made from special extra-tough laminated Douglas fir. Unlike other wooden oars, these are wrapped with a carbon fiber sheath that not only protects the wood from damage but also serves to stiffen the wood in those situations when an oarsmen needs to dig deep for extra power. The blade itself is wrapped with a special Kevlar and epoxy coating that makes it, at least in my testing, unbreakable. The effect is an oar with soul: your energy is transferred directly to the blade, so more water is moved with less effort.
The innovations don't stop there, though. For an additional price, you can get what Sawyer calls a "Shoal Cut" blade, which Sawyer claims helps the blade dig more water when the river is under two feet deep. I was skeptical at first, but one day on the river and I was a believer. The Shoal Cut means that instead of only the tip of the blade digging in shallow conditions, the full face of the blade digs. Gone are those short choppy oar strokes that hardly move your boat; simply pull like your in deep water, and watch your boat glide over gravel bars less than a foot deep. These Shoal Cuts are for real.
Also, the Dynelites can be made with "square tops," which offer superb counterbalance during the oar stroke, lightening the feel of the oars in the hand. In fact, mine feel weightless in their locks. And when I drop the oars while drifting down river, the blade remains on the surface; no more blade digging into the bottom and rising up to punch me in the face as I reach for lunch.
Over the last year, I've tested these oars in heavy whitewater, shallow ledgerock, shallow gravel, and flat water. I've yet to damage them in the least, and my appreciation grows with each new situation I encounter. These oars aren't cheap, but I suspect I won't need to buy another set for a long, long time.