ROW YOUR BOAT
Classic Boat|March 2021
There has been a steady rise in recreational rowing over the past few years, and the choice can be bewildering. What’s the right boat for you?
ROGER NADIN

Many of us will have looked longingly at large yachts and wished we owned one. Many will have bought or built their first boat as a teenager and will have seen their boat-owning life as a progression from small dinghy or canoe through to ever larger and more luxurious craft. But life will eventually tell you that the simple things in life bring the most pleasure and for many, it is a realisation that takes them back to the smaller boats of their younger days.

The simplest form of boating is a canoe or a rowing boat. In the past, rowing boats were the mainstay of most harbours, and the Viking longboats took their oarsmen to the far reaches of the then known world. Today, unfortunately, we tend to think of rowing in terms of Olympic champions, muscled oarsmen and women bending their backs to beat their competitors. There is, however, another world. A world of peace and quiet, of infinite tranquillity and solace, of gentle, rhythmic oar strokes across lakes, down rivers and along a coast. Rowing can take you on solo trips or with a partner or family. There is, dare we say it, a special ‘socially-distanced’ satisfaction in being out on the water under your own steam.

WHERE CAN YOU USE THESE BOATS?

Well, just about anywhere that is not outside the capability of the boat that you plan to use. Some boats, like dories in particular, were developed for use out at sea and can have tremendous sea-keeping ability. Few of us live far from some type of water, be it canal, lake, river, or sea. Even city dwellers can find a stretch of easily accessible water within a short drive so they can carry a boat on a roof-rack or tow a light trailer. Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, there is a pleasant world of water lapping along past the gunwale of your own small craft. Your quietness as you slip along a canal or river means that wildlife hardly notices you and you will thrill at the sight of a colourful kingfisher flashing by or the view of a nest full of fledglings hidden in the reeds.

With your painter hitched to a riverside tree or your boat pulled up on a small beach you’ll enjoy a lunchtime sandwich and a cup of something warming on a winter’s day. You might even rig up a boat cover-cum-tent and spend the night rocked to sleep tucked up in your sleeping bag. There is virtually nothing to stop you cruising and camping wherever you want.

Most rowing boats today are based on traditional designs, on well-used work boats that have stood the test of time: dories, skiffs, yawls, sharpies, Whitehalls, wherries, faerings, prams, guide-boats, and others. All these craft used to be built by skilled artisans who understood riveting, joinery, spiling, caulking and all the other craft skills that were handed down from generation to generation. Somehow these boats always “looked right” and, in the world of boating especially, what looks right usually is right. Just look at the sleek, curved sheer-line of a Ness Yawl or an Adirondack guide boat!

Many of these rowing boats can also have a sail added and have been further developed by modern boat designers to suit today’s leisure requirements. The old methods of construction have been replaced to put creating your own craft within the reach of just about anyone who can follow an instruction manual and plan. If time is short or you feel that you do not have the ability or space to build your own boat, then there are skilled professionals available aplenty. The satisfaction of building your own however, is considerable and there’s an easy way of doing this – use a kit.

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