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The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea
I. C. B. DearI. C. B. Dear, Peter KempPeter Kemp


a wooden instrument which, working as a lever, is used to pull a boat through the water. It has three parts: the blade, the part of the oar which enters the water; the shaft, the main body of the oar; and the loom, the inboard end on which the rower pulls, or pushes. The point of leverage is the rowlock, crutch, or thole pin in the gunwale of the boat.

Tomb reliefs show Egyptians standing to row as did the Chinese when propelling their junks, but in western Europe rowers usually sat on thwarts facing the stern as did the Phoenicians. In the Orient some oarsmen stand facing the vessel's bows and push on the loom, as does the Maltese oarsman in his dghaisa.

The oar was a basic adjunct of the sea in classical times, when it was the only motive power for galleys. According to legend, Odysseus was told, on his retirement from a life at sea, that he should journey inland carrying an oar over his shoulder until he found a people who asked him what it was he was carrying. There, after making a sacrifice to Neptune, he should build his house.

See also scull, to; yuloh.