Why do we see some Cat boats rigged with the oars forward on the craft?
I have often pondered this myself. There is some benefit to be gained by every change and some disadvantage. I am assuming that the benefit to this style is to get the weight and the power of the oars through a reversal (hole) first. In this way it is possible to have the weight and the power down stream of the reversal where it can be used more effectively. The Down side to this style is that you are dragging your load behind you instead of following the load down the river. In Idaho they use the forward oar position a lot, doing day trips on class 5 rivers. In my opinion as the gear load gets larger the benefit of this technique diminishes till it is a disadvantage. Definitely not a style I would use on a multi day trip. The advantage of having the oars mounted in the center or rear of center, give the ability to follow the load down the river, to pull back upstream, and aid in maneuverability by slowing the boat down in relation to the current. An oarsman can always turn the boat around and "Powell" down stream, or pull down stream across big waves to make his moves. This is a classic Grand Canyon big water move. This move gets the boat into the slower water at the edge of the rapid, and can really help a boatman avoid big holes in the middle of high volume rivers.
Should I use open oar locks or pins and clips?
I am like to recommend open oar locks. Here are the Benefits. With open oar locks a boatman can feel the current. By keeping his oars in the water the boat will track better. Sometimes all it takes to maneuver is a twist of the wrist. There is more power in a properly placed stroke. The entry and exit of the blade can be smoother, and there is less wind resistance when the blade is feathered when out of the water. The skill of boating is enhanced by open oar locks. The disadvantage is there is a possibility that the boatman can miss a stroke, and end up in the bilge or in the river (with a Cat). It is imperative that you get a feel for where the oars are, and keep checking their position in the water. There is virtually no safety advantage over either system. Since pins and clips usually use a oar stirrup, the hazard of getting an oar handle in the face is about the same with either system.
Here is what Jon C Comini wrote to me about why he uses pins and clips.
"I have been rowing for over twenty years and am a late convert to pins & clips for a couple of reasons. First, we do a lot of high flow, technical runs in the winter and I am assured of positive blade placement with each stroke. Secondly, I have two friends who have been impaled by oarlocks. One was gored through his upper arm (on the Cal Salmon) and the other was caught by the calf (and was hung there for some time) as he was thrown from his raft in Hells Canyon on the Snake. In each case the trauma was severe and major medical attention was required. Rescue was difficult in both cases and both victims had long and painful recoveries. Both now use pins and clips.
"I know that the P&C's have their drawbacks but like anything else, overcoming them is a matter of continued practice. It dangerous enough out there without getting stabbed by your own boat.
"Have been using Cataract composite shafts for several years now and have seen them bend more than I would have suspected was possible but as of yet we've not had one break. We have bent the Carlisle blades (heavy duty outfitters with 8" blades) but have yet to lose an oarshaft (knock on composite).
"One other thing that I've noticed especially with intermediate boaters is a real fascination with heavy oar tethers. We use a light twine that will easily break if the oar begins to helicopter."
A note from Jack:
I have not heard of this kind of injury before. I have heard about other injuries with oars and I have been injuried by oars. There is plenty of potential for injury as people like Jon push the sport to its limits. Please be careful out there, and do not take the Class 5 rivers lightly. Ron Griffith's story hit me the hardest.
Ron Griffith of Griffith Expeditions had a oar shoved through his thigh down on the Bio Bio. The oar had a Clip on it. As the story goes they cut the oar in half with a saw on a Swiss army knife, and they had to convince the doctor to take an x ray because he did not understand that the clip was inside his leg. The Clip was wrapped around his femoral artery.
There is good and bad in any rowing style. I think that it is simply a matter of choice. I have missed some vital strokes because of improper oar placement. I just like the feel of open oar locks better.
When rowing across the current in shallow water always watch the down stream oar. If it hits a rock it could come up and hit you in the face. Row with the down stream oar handle away from your body, and use the upstream oar for maneuvering as much as possible.