Row, Row, Row, Your Boat? What better way to start a discussion on the subject of rowing! Although “just” a child’s song, one I think most of you will know, it depicts what fun it is to be merrily rowing, gently down a stream! While it does ignore the hard work of rowing upstream, there is still a life lesson in there somewhere. I’m on the subject because I decided to make a set of 10 foot ash oars for DIANNE’S ROSE so she could be a “true” Shanty Boat! I hoped to leisurely guide her downstream without the noise and cost of the outboard. Maybe we’ll even drift down the mighty Mississippi one day! I will not throw away the Iron Lung but keep it for the upstream legs! There are also lakes where engines are forbidden and a leisurely row could place your “Cabin in the Woods” in paradise lost! Also if that new motor we bought gets old and quits, we have a real chance getting somewhere safe without making it a big deal! Rowing fell out of favour this past century as motors became more powerful and reliable (not mine so much, but I remain optimistic!). Time progressed and hull shapes mattered less, you could just get a bigger motor to push your wedge through the water, why bother designing an efficient hull. Yeah, I’m not a fan of today’s plastic! I may risk losing half my readers but I suspect many of you agree. Truth is, today’s boat hulls simply can’t be designed for rowing. They need to support ever increasing weight and horsepower. While rowing could still move a powerboat to safety when the motor fails, safety regulations typically require only a single paddle as a backup! Why is that? This is a joke waiting to be played on anyone trying to paddle a motor boat any distance in wind, wave or current! Most people therefore dismiss human power altogether as a practical option. We may also be in too much a hurry and have forgotten that “life is but a dream”! Times change and I believe more efficient hulls and even rowing are making a comeback. Gas prices are a factor but we are slowly realizing life goes by too fast and there are special places where slowing things down a bit makes better sense. Being on the water, in nature’s back yard is one such place! When I designed our Shanty Boat, DIANNE’S ROSE, the plan was to mount a trolling motor on the bow, to maneuver in shallow waters, like fishing boats do. It was also going to serve as back up to the Big Push. I’ve predictably changed my mind as a romantic image of Old Shanty Boats sunk deeper into my brain (my best ideas need time to percolate, another reason to slow down!). Last season, while using our newly built Camp Boat I had the chance to experiment sculling from the bow, managing to move her around quite easily to new fishing spots. A loop of rope on the middle, front cleat, secured the shaft of a single oar. Worked back and forth, twisting the blade on each stroke it pull the boat forward. Working better than expected, I was convinced a good set of oars would work better still. I was fortunate a neighbour had a cracked Ash tree, a while back, needing to be cut down. I struck a deal to do the work for free if I could have the wood. A portable mill cut it into 1” and 2” planks. I used it for the boat’s flooring, runners and rub rails. It would also be the perfect wood for the oars. The wood had been air dried, better than kiln dried, which makes wood brittle, air dried maintains the woods flexibility so is ideal. But as always use what you have if you want to make yourself a set. I created a cool jig to turn the handles down to 1 3/4” radius (a router bit could also be used to knock off the corners and hand tools could finish the round). My system involved a strong drill (old with a broken switch), a 2”hole saw, a shaper and a wooden jig. The jig was key, made of plywood it allowed the square stock to be turned with the drill through a large diameter hole (to fit the 2 X 2” block). The hole saw, having screws into the wood through its slots, prevented it from slipping as the blank was spun and moved forward into the spinning shaper blades. This cut away the corners leaving a round shaft. The back part of the jig had two more holes spaced apart to receive the finished 1 3/4" rounded stock. In theory these two holes would tame any vibration! Well not so much! We ruined the first attempt because the stock was so out of balance it almost shook my arms off! It didn’t help that I had to plug my drill into a power bar to turn it off and on. I was in trouble because I had walked past the power bar that sat on the floor so couldn’t reach its switch. My helper, Ben, “helped” and unplugged me before things got too exciting! Our first blank had good sections so we proceeded, learning from Ben’s error (blame is important in woodworking!), this time I selected straighter material. Success!!! If I had to make more than two oars, I’m confident we would be able to perfect the jig and cutters to get perfect results every time. Needing only two, I was happy to do a little planning and sanding. The last 2’ were left square, to epoxy on more ash for the blades. When cured the blades were cut thin on the band saw and shaped. The previously mentioned jig was also used for the handles but with a router instead of the shaper. Again some hand work was required. This process too could be perfected. Another cool jig was used to finish sand the shafts. Using an inside-out belt from a belt sander. The blades after band sawing thinner were further shaped using a power plane, spoke shave, belt sander and then a random orbital sander. Wow, we had a beautiful set of oars! They became more beautiful when they were oiled (1 part RAW Linseed Oil/1 part Turpentine). Allow it to soak overnight, then wipe with a rag to remove excess oil (dispose of the rag safely). Three coats of varnish and since I like the look of painted tips we did this as the varnish cured. That’s it! I was so excited with the results I thought I’d let you all know about it. Since we’re all friends now. I will tell you that when my son was young I would sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat for his bed time. I made up a bunch of verses to stretch it out hoping he’d fall asleep. Row, Row, Row your boat gently down the Ditch. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life can be a “blank”! For my young sons ears I’d simply click my tongue to finish this verse. Row, row, row your boat gently down the Creek. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life will make you speak! Row, row, row your boat gently down the Stream…you all know this verse. Row, row, row your boat gently across the Bay. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, what is you have to say? Row, row, row your boat gently across the Lake. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, be careful for goodness sake! Row, row, row your boat gently across the Sea. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, to see what you can see! Row, row, row your boat gently across an Ocean. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, that’d be quite the notion! There you have it, I’ll spare you my many verses of “Incy Wincy Spider” but as a teaser I will tell you the last verse has tickles from foot to head but the poor spider ends up dead(… Best/Roy
I’m not boating yet this spring so I go cross country skiing
instead. On my outings I like to cross over a swampy area but it’s becoming very wet and today I broke through and got completely soaked! My wet feet brought to mind a conversation with my mother. At my last visit we were discussing how spring is taking forever to arrive. She went on to tell me how she needed to slap my bottom as a child when the spring melt started to flow. It seems I liked to get close to running water and would end up with soaked boots (as I did today) and more often I would fall in completely. I didn’t have a bad mother, her concern was for my health as I was prone to high fevers when sick…I’m also confident she did not want to see me drowned! Getting started in boats for me was not just the love of boats but this irresistible draw to water! I was hooked on boats early when I realized in one I had a chance to stay dry. Life is busy and I’m not 100% in control so my story of the boats in my life is often about the boats that where easy to access at that particular stage of life (always ones that are extremely affordable)! In the beginning all I needed was a blue plastic toy boat, towed by a string to give me hours of fun and as mentioned pink cheeks!
Growing up in an environment with rivers and lakes nearby was helpful! Encouraging family members would also have been beneficial but here I think I was on my own! I grew up in Wasaga Beach, the longest fresh water beach in the world on the southern end of Georgian Bay. The Notawasaga River flows into this bay and meanders for miles with wild sections to explore in the upper reaches. At twelve, I wanted more than a toy. Saving my money, I managed to buy an aluminum canoe. It was a “fire” sale and smelt of smoke so the price was right. 12’ Long, it was wide with riveted seams. These made their own wakes as I paddled. With foam flotation down the sides (a little melted), it would float not sink, a feature my mother approved of! I loved the fake birch bark look and the decal of a proud Native Chief on the bow! I later even used pine sap to slow a leak in one of those riveted seams! My Dad came with me on my first trip. I remember how excited I was to see around each new bend and the disappointment at having to turn back. My teenage years have many stories of trips with friends up our local river. This was an ideal place to learn, having rapids that were kind to novices and a small lake where if the wind blew strong enough we’d use a tarp and branches to devise sails. In its upper reaches there was an extensive swamp where we’d get lost and not care as there was so much to see. One spring in high water a friend and I canoed up to the front door of an old homestead. I realized that for some the water destroyed dreams! For me it opened up endless possibilities. I loved how most of our river was wild and camping was free! I still seek out these wilds places and feel oppressed when I have to pay to camp! On another trip, the spring runoff deposited an old 14’ cedar strip boat in amongst flooded trees. I broke my paddle trying to right the upside down boat still filled with water. It sat in 6” of water but must have been there when the water was much deeper, to turn her we needed to brake the suction like when lifting a glass out of a sink bottom up, and no more paddles (try it and you’ll feel the weight of the water in the glass). It took a large branch and all our strength to get the air to slurp into the hull but it was soon turned. I was now the co-owner of real boat and was introduced to wooden boat repairs and maintenance. This boat unfortunately ended up as a planter in our garden, a shame because my friend and I did not know better when we glassed her bottom, which doomed her to rot. Slowly my education in wooden boat construction began!
Boating took a back seat to college, then marriage, as the now famous Dianne Roselee blessed my life. We decided to build our own house, no contractors, doing so as we earned the money. 2X4s weren’t cheap. Selling a motorcycle helped some and unfortunately my canoe too was sold. A few years went by where I was boatless: (! I did eventually get a discarded canoe from my buddy Mike Matthews, helping to rekindle my boating dreams. The wooden parts were rotted so I reworked the whole canoe, decking her and using it more like a kayak so Cleopatra (Dianne) could simply sit comfortably up front watching the scenery go by, yes I’ll admit she dipped her paddle on occasion!
My wife blames my old childhood friend for my interest in boating and sailing in particular but she did not take into account my past addictions. Mike is an amazing sailor, able to launch from a beach with high surf. He took me out in these conditions but being a canoer I had no idea our lives were in danger as we sailed through the large breaking waves. My job was simply to balance the boat and handle the Jib. Since his sailboat was wider than a canoe I felt quite safe even when waves submerged my hiked out body. The trill of the speed and being powered by just the wind was inspiring, no paddling! Things got more exciting when the centerboard snapped. We were far from the beach and had been surfing over 4 to 6 foot braking waves, literally flying at times when this happened. Everything fell apart very quickly! The rudder popped off, I lost the jib sheet, the main swung out and we spun to an out of control, scary downwind run. By instinct I grabbed one of the two paddles, Mike quickly grabbed the other and we both braced on opposite sides to keep the boat from broaching as we surfed down a succession of waves. It was a miracle we made it to shore but I was hooked nonetheless. I had to have a sailboat! Dianne still hasn’t forgiven him!
Mike helped me check into my next boat, a rundown 1955 cedar planked Olympic Star. We were at the back of a farmer’s field. Dianne came along but she stayed in the vehicle, plainly not impressed! The tarp was torn and ice filled much of the hull as it was just early spring. I was interested in Sharpies and even with an eight hundred pound keel attached I saw the potential for a shallow draft Beach Cruiser. The price was $500 and someone was coming out to see it later so if I wanted it the price was firm (that was the farmer’s line). I gave him his money and became the proud owner of Whisper. I altered her to have a center board for shoal draft, added a small cabin to sleep in, enlarged the cock pit for comfort and arranged for a 5hp motor to move us along when the wind failed. She also could be rowed when the wind and motor failed (there is a long story why I don’t trust motors and it’s also Mikes fault)! I looked forward to having a cozy cabin on this boat. I remember on a fishing trip with a family friend, freezing on the long trip home when a rainstorm caught us out far from shelter. This would now be avoided. We enjoyed this boat for many years and had many adventures in her but Dianne was always a timid sailor (nothing tippy please!). She was fine on day trips when I motored most of the time but wasn’t comfortable overnight or at any angle greater than 0 degrees! I worked in my adventures with a “guys” trip! We managed to see most of Georgian Bay this way and found many special places that I wished Dianne could see.
I designed several sailboats planning to address her concerns, even
started building one when she asked me to rethink (it would have been awesome!). “Build me something more comfortable and I’ll come out with you more often”. Taking the hint because I wanted her company, I changed gears, setting aside my interest in sailing and designed and built DIANNE’S ROSE a “mini” Shanty/Camp/Houseboat (see previous stories). She’s been a great success, getting lots of attention in part because of her unique concept that comfort and small size can be combined without excluding adventure! The years of accumulated experience on the water helped me design her but also I had learned by designing and building a dinghy years earlier. I wanted to test a construction method I planned to use in my future sailboats. I did ultimately use this in our houseboat construction. You’ve surely heard that if you plan to build a boat, build the dinghy first! In this way you can see if boat building suits you and if not, you’ve not wasted too much time or money! At the time I planned to get right on to the “BIG” boat (to take us across oceans) but work, money and time conspired against me and 14 years went by before I would build. In that time I developed an appreciation for smaller boats, in part because of the fun we had with our Beach Cruiser and the dinghy. Time and money are still an issue so DIANNE’S ROSE is welcome in our lives as she does not demand too much from us. Many larger boats demand too much money and maintenance from their owners. A good friend sold his boat this season for this very reason. He still wants to be out on the water but in a simpler way!
My future looks promising. I’m redesigning that little dinghy as she was a great boat! But after 14yrs of use I see some improvements I could make. It will still be powered with an electric trolling motor, batteries under the full length bench. It will still row well and sail. I’m improving her shape and including a dagger board instead of the lee board, so she will sail better. Although it can be carried on your shoulder, I have removable wheels but want to arrange a wider version so soft sand is less difficult to cross. The oars will act as wheelbarrow handles! I plan to offer kits and plans when finished. With a little luck in the future I will build some of my other designs as they would also make great boats. I have their “cartoons” on a shop bulletin board to inspire me! One that I could even cross oceans in! As for DIANNE’S ROSE she’s just waiting for spring to fully arrive and then Dianne Roselee and I will be out and about enjoying her! For now though, my ski boots have been drying by the fire so I can try my luck again getting across that swamp. Best/Roy