Alastair Isherwood – A World Champion’s Perspective

Those more mature members of the rowing community will remember a time when cleaver blades did not exist. Come the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, some crews had made the transition from Macon to cleaver blades, including Australia’s own Oarsome Foursome. After a disappointing result in Amsterdam leading up to the Olympics, the reigning World Champions in the Coxless Four made the decision to move to cleaver blades. As they say, the rest is history!

The future is now?
In the years since there has been a slow but progressive evolution of the cleaver blade with Braca, Croker and Concept 2 all selling their “smoothie” equivalent blade. If one were to row the original cleaver “big blade” back to back with these new smoothie designs, you would notice a distinct difference in the ease you can control blade depth and achieve maximum grip with the water. Failing this slow evolution, there has been a distinct lack of innovation until now! Sydney School Teacher and rowing enthusiast, Ian Randall, may have come up with the next big thing in the evolution of rowing and boat speed. The “Randall Foil” is a lip that attaches to the top of the blade.

Testing I have extensively tested the foils and can make the following observations (with some changes to the set up of the gate/pin):

Benefits:
Blade depth is controlled so there is far less vertical movement of the blade through the drive phase.
There is far less slipping of the blade at the catch and release, resulting in greater effective length and a more efficient stroke.

Compromises:

Having rowed with a foil on stroke side and no foil on bow side, I can say that into a very strong headwind there is a small increase in inertia given the larger surface area traveling into the wind.
The foils need to be professionally installed. After testing, if you are to commit to the foils they do need to be attached to the blades with the appropriate resins to ensure they remain intact.

Verdict:

If you consider the development of the cleaver blade, the Randall Foil are a fairly natural and logical progression in making rowing easier. With several prominent European rowing countries currently using them foils are only one win away from being an essential part of any successful crew’s equipment list. In 1992 there were several crews on the podium at the Barcelona Olympics still rowing with Macon blades. Having witnessed the extinction of the Macon blade those rowers must still wonder to this day what would have been had they been more open to change at the time.

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