Oars, masts, and spars get you where you want to go in a small boat built for rowing and sailing, but those long sticks are awkward to stow when they’re not in use. I saw one interesting solution to the problem when I was kayaking the coast of Croatia.

This natural crook has a squared tenon to fit in a slot in the gunwale of a Croatian fishing boat.

In the island village harbors there were lots of small fishing boats equipped with natural crooks set in the gunwales. Some crooks had more than one branch, providing two places to set spars or oars. This crook has a squared tenon to fit into a square hole in the gunwale. Others are round and tapered to fit in tholepin sockets.

A few boats had metal equivalents set in oarlock sockets. A pair of these held long items, like the oars shown below, just above the gunwale and clear of the cockpit.CroatiaMetalScan


These maple crooks took only 30 minutes or so to make..

I’ve cut pairs of crooks from maple windfalls and used a spokeshave to take the bark off and taper the bottom end to fit tholepin sockets.

In rough conditions I’d opt for an arrangement that’s more secure and doesn’t interfere with the operation of the boat, but at anchor and on days of mild weather, having a place for spars and oars keeps the cockpit open and comfortable. I’ve seen many boaters stow oars in a pair of oarlocks in a manner similar to this, but the crooks have the capacity to hold more stuff. With the sails and spars you see here held up high, I  have enough clearance for rowing.

Two pairs of oars secured to the foredeck keep them out of the way while I'm sailing or at anchor.

The crooks weren’t a good solution to stowing oars while under sail. I kept the oars inboard but they were always in the way. I decided to get them out of the cockpit and fastened pairs of chocks on the foredeck of my Caledonia yawl.

The mainsail with its yard and boom and the mizzen with its mast sit high enough that I can row at tholes between the crooks.

The mainsail with its yard and boom and the mizzen with its mast sit high enough that I can row at tholes between the crooks.

The crosspiece holding the oars has two jam-cleat-like notches for quick locking of the lashing to the cleat below.

Two pairs of oars rest in the chocks’ hollows and are held down with an oak crosspiece lashed to a deck cleat. The oars project beyond the bow like a bowsprit. I’ve come to like the look and having the cockpit uncluttered for sailing is a great pleasure.

The "bowsprit" on my Caledonia yawl is a pair of oars.


Different boats, of course, require different solutions to stowing oars and spars. If you’ve come up with a good solution to the problem, please email it to me and we’ll share it with our readers.

Christopher Cunningham is the editor of Small Boats Monthly. He has been building and cruising in small boats since 1979.