Wednesday, 13 January 2010


The word 'oar' was seldom if ever used by the fishermen of the Estuary. All oars were either 'paddles' or 'sweeps' depending essentially on their length. The first and earliest meaning of 'paddle' is the spade of that name used by farmers to clean the ploughshare. The shape of the farmer's paddle explains why the canoeist's paddle used without a rowlock is so called. But here on the Estuary oars are called paddles. This could either be a late joke or an early adoption from the same farmer's fields. When a 'paddle' grows long enough it metamorphoses into a 'sweep'. The oar kept on board the little trawlers was always a sweep.

The long, eighteen foot or so, salmon boats had not rowlocks but tholes and tholes was another ancient Saxon word used and understood on the Estuary. Now there are few tholes to be found. The oaken tholepins were set into holes drilled in the gunwales and could easily and cheaply be replaced. Nowadays the rowlock, in the form of the rounded, metal fork, is universal.

There are people still about who once to order would cut you an oar by hand out of a single plank of timber.

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