Open Water Rowing in Casco Bay

"I like to get out there sit in the swell and look out" is how I think of a pleasant row in my home waters of Casco Bay, Maine. Along with dreaming of boats, like Culler's Otter, I dream of where to go in the boats. Next year's big row is out to Halfway Rock in the middle of Casco Bay, about 15 mile offshore. 

Rowing in open water like this scares the hell out of me. When I sit there, in the swell, looking out, the butterflies flutter inside, making it more challenging to assess the situation and peruse the mental checklist of precautions. Weather window, ferry traffic, tidal currents, my energy level, time of day, schedule back on land, amount of food in the dry bag, do I have all the gear I need, what is plan B, plan C....

But I am learning that these butterflies are annoying but good; they keep me alive and ultimately confident. Once I am out there in open water, and I am feeling strong, confident in the boat, and having a blast, I relax and therefore row better. In my open water boat, Drake, I can cover about 4 nm per hour and that is an average. Time slips away and life is good. Christmas has been wonderful, and the weather cold, and now I begin to plan big rows for next year. I am training for long distance rows and hope to make a 20-mile row somewhat routine. Halfway Rock, located below the 'Not' in "Not for Navigational Use" is uncannily "halfway" between the Eastern and western points that define Casco Bay. It is an exposed rocky isle with a lighthouse. Landing there will be difficult, so when I row there next summer, it will be my longest pull yet, at least 25 miles total, depending on the exact route.

Time to dream, be patient as the sun makes its way back north, and time to get in shape!

Oars and Rowing at the Wooden Boat School

Clint will be teaching his Traditional and Modern Oarmaking course at the Wooden Boat School in July 2010. There are a huge number of wonderful course offerings up there this year and Clint is proud and honored to be a part of the scene.

Students will leave the course with actual, usable, and beautiful oars to put on the gunwales of there boats and go rowing. If anybody wants to make a paddle instead, the skills and processes involved are no different from oar making and we'd be happy to have you in the course.

You can visit Wooden Boat School's on-line course catalog for more information and also see my website for more information about our line of oars, stock and custom made.

Morning Row

Taking a break from the start up work for the business and the worries of how to make it all work is important for me. Moreover, getting on the water is my professional development. Using boats, thinking about how they go through the water, and trying new oars or different ways to rig the boat for sailing all matter to my finished products coming out of the shop.

Oars are a key product for my business and every time I row some new nuance of rowing and oars is realized. In these photos, you can see Portland Head Light and the stern of Drake and the oars I made specifically to Drake and my physique and style of rowing. The Spruce oars are spoon blade oars with lead in the handle so they counterbalance beautifully. These 9'1" oars are excellent in rough water because the blades are only 4-1/2" wide and have their maximum blade area outboard, providing the most propulsion. I don't need to feather these oars even going upwind. Certainly, there is more resistance but the energy feathering in rough water isn't always worthwhile.

Those two elements above won't change much. The hull form and my bodily form won't vary over time, but the conditions around me will. Wind, tidal current, waves/chop, my energy level and boat speed will all change. Upwind rowing and downwind rowing require different oars, for instance. You want a shorter oar to enable a higher stroke rating going upwind. Downwind you can use a lower rating and a longer oar and/or a larger blade area. Choppy conditions may require switching to the shorter oar. But once the wind goes calm and the water is flat, the longer oar will be more efficient. So, a good rower and rowboat needs to carry two sets of oars. For Drake, the ideal combination would be a 8'9"-8'10" spoon blade oar for upwind work and a 9'2-9'3" with a short, wide carbon blade for downwind work or calm conditions. It takes time to figure out what works for you and your boat. After a full season, I'm realizing this and luckily the 9'1" spoon blade oars have been a great all around oar to use for Drake and I.

VIP R & D on CF Oar Blades

Vacuum Infusion Process (VIP) is the name of the technique used to make composites. In Maine, this is the new generation of composites and much of our advancement in the state is owed to the North Star Alliance which administers Federal funding Maine received a few years ago and to the Maine Advanced Technology Center which trains people in VIP using world experts in the technology. VIP is easy in concept, difficult in practice: the reinforcements for the part (carbon, kevlar, fiberglass, core materials). Our oar blades are a couple layers of Carbon Fiber on either side of a core called, Soric. The core adds stiffness without much weight; the carbon gives the strength. HOW the carbon is sized, the weave pattern, the fiber orientation all impact the properties of the oar. This will take time to develop, but we believe it is worthwhile. Part of the difficulty is that so few are taking on VIP in small shops to produce part. WE ARE PAVING OUR OWN WAY!

These pictures show some of the behind-the-scenes of the process. The carbon fiber is a woven fabric like any that cuts with scissors. We cut it to a pattern a little oversize. The carbon has a stiffness to it that harks to it's eventual properties when infused with resin. Yet, it drapes like any fabric might. The shop is getting a little cool now so, to keep mold temperatures and ambient curing temperatures up, we create a warm environment with good-ol' lamps. There will be plenty more to show after the next set of blades is complete this week.