Project Damascus – a new 1st 8
The event that led up to the formation of Jeppe Boats and Blades was Jeppe’s 1st 8’s result in the 2020 SA School’s Championships. With no boat of their own, but keen to compete, the school was able to borrow a boat on the weekend of Champs. Undeterred by the fact that they had no time to practice and get accustomed to the boat, the 1st 8 came first in their heat and 4th in the final.
Two former oarsmen, Chris Midlane and Greg Le Roux, were inspired by the team’s tenacity and decided to get the 1st 8 into a boat of their own. With advice from Devin Cripwell, the then Director of Rowing, it was decided that the Swift Carbon Elite 8+, a winged rigger 8+ where all skins are 100% carbon from end to end, was the best option. With the help of Michelle Kirby, who joined the trust a month after its conception, the task of raising R500 000 for the boat began.
The support and generosity of the old boy community was overwhelming and despite the arrival of COVID 19, which coincided with the Jeppe Boats and Blades initiative, it was clear that we were going to achieve our objective.
With the deposit paid in June 2020, the discussion turned to the naming of the boat, and in keeping with the tradition of naming boats after blades the name “Damascus” was agreed.
The reason for the name is that Damascus steel was the forged steel of the blades of swords, smithed in the Near East from ingots of Wootz steel, imported from Southern India. These swords are characterized by distinctive patterns of banding and mottling reminiscent of flowing water, or in a “ladder” or “teardrop” pattern. Such blades were reputed to be tough, resistant to shattering, and capable of being honed to a sharp, resilient edge.
The reputation and history of Damascus steel has given rise to many legends, such as the ability to cut through a rifle barrel or to cut a hair falling across the blade. Although many types of modern steel outperform ancient Damascus alloys, chemical reactions in the production process made the blades extraordinary for their time, as Damascus steel was superplastic and very hard at the same time.
Chris Midlane connects the name with Jeppe in that; “Damascus steel is forged in layers, with various other alloys to make it unique. Just like the Jeppe old boys. A variety of boys pitching together to fund the boat. Each unique in their own way”