steering oar

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The forerunner of the vertical rudder hung on the sternpost. Originally a single oar projecting over the quarter of the boat, usually on the starboard side, it was multiplied in larger vessels to two or three oars. A quarter gallery pierced for such steering oars gave the necessary pivotal support, examples of this technique being seen in Egyptian bas-reliefs of 3000 bc. A somewhat later example from Egypt (2500 bc) shows a steering oar projecting over the stern of a vessel, lashed to the counter and secured to a vertical post in the sternsheets, and operated by a vertical tiller dowelled into the loom of the steering oar. By 1200 bc steering oars projecting from both quarters were common in Egypt, an obvious improvement in obtaining directional control of a vessel. In some pictures of the Phoenician trading ships, steering oars are shown projecting on both quarters through the hull of the ship itself, and they were also sometimes connected by a bar. In a Viking longship dating back to the 9th century it was attached to a pivot and this development led to the oar becoming rudder shaped and hinged onto the side of the longship. However, as representations of them in the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry and elsewhere show, they remained the only means of directing the course of a ship up to about the beginning of the 13th century, when they were gradually replaced by the vertical rudder. However, their use still continues in surf boats and in some Chinese river junks.

Subjects: Maritime History.

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