Update: Hollow Shaft Wooden Sculling Oars

We’re trying our hardest to get the plans, build video and gallery for our oars completed soon, but have been temporarily sidetracked with our core business, Angus Adventures.  Julie’s book Olive Odyssey is coming out in a couple of months, so we’ve been busy preparing for the launch.  We do, however, hope to get the plans for our gorgeous wooden hollow shaft sculling oars out within the next month. In the meantime, if you’re interested in seeing our trailer film for Olive Odyssey, an expedition we did in partnership with National Geographic, you can see it here: Olive Odyssey Trailer

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Hollow Shaft Wooden Sculling Oar Progress

For those who have been waiting for our hollow-shaft wooden sculling oar plans, we’re pleased to inform you we’re nearing completion.  We’ve been simultaneously working on a build video, manual, plans and the final version of oars that we’ve developed.  It’s been an interesting experience, and our objective was to transform a process that is often described as a complex art into a step by step process that any intermediate builder can complete.

Construction of the shafts is a relatively simple (albeit precise) process.  Four 10-foot-long strips of wood of varying thickness and width are ripped from clean knot-free stock of spruce (or similar wood).  These are glued together creating a long rectangular-ish box which is further shaped and contoured.  Several blocks of wood are then laminated to the end of the shaft creating a large rectangular block that the blade is carved from.

It is the sculpting of the blade that is the greatest challenge.  Most people are not skilled carvers, and the shape of a fine-crafted sculling blade is very elaborate.  Our objective was to create a foolproof system using templates and straightforward instructions allowing non-artistic first-time carvers to make a perfect blade.  We fine tuned the shape of the blade so it is both functional and beautiful while being as easy as possible to replicate with basic carving tools.

When researching the subject of constructing hollow shaft sculling oars, the information we found was often very daunting.  Complex and hard-to-find tools such as convex-shaped planes, spokeshaves, drawknives and expensive band saws were usually listed as necessities.  It seemed carving expertise and a draftsman-like prowess for transferring line drawings was also required.

We feel we have been successful in simplifying the process to the point where almost anyone can make a fine set of sculling blades.  To emphasize this, we constructed our final set of oars (the ones that are featured in our upcoming build video) with the most basic of tools and materials.  The wood is cut from a few ten foot spruce 2x4s picked up from Home Depot (yes, we did have to sort through several hundred pieces before finding the perfect straight-grained knot-free specimens required), and we purposely used old low quality tools that would be found in most basic shops.  The fanciest piece of equipment used was an old $100 table saw.    The only carving tools used were a handsaw, a half-inch low-quality chisel, utility knife, a $14 block plane and a random orbital sander.  Not everyone wants to spend a fortune for a one-time project, so we wanted to make sure it could be done easily with the basics. The results, however, look like something suitable for taking royalty down the Thames.  Of course, if you have more specialized tools, the job will be even easier.

It’s a significant time commitment building your own wooden sculling oars (25-40 hours), however, the savings are substantial. Composite oars cost $500-$700, while materials for building your own are $50-$100.  More importantly, the finished product is infinitely more beautiful than a pair of mass-produced carbon-fiber oars.  If you’ve spent the time creating a beautiful wooden rowing craft with a sliding seat system, it’s well worth spending the time to create a matching set of gleaming wooden oars.

The biggest question, of course, is performance.  If you have a sliding seat rowing system, you simply cannot use standard off-the-shelf wooden oars designed for fixed seat rowing.  The oars need to be long, light and shaped at the collar so they feather in the oarlocks with a twitch of the hands.  Our sculling oars tick all these boxes.  They are only a little heavier than carbon fiber (we’ll provide the precise specs soon), and all other aspects are the same.    Plans and details will be available in 2-3 weeks.

Row for Autism

In other news, one of our customers, John Carinha is currently finishing off his Expedition

John Carihna's boat which will be rowed around Vancouver Island

John Carihna’s boat which will be rowed around Vancouver Island

Rowboat which he plans to circumnavigate Vancouver Island in.  The purpose of his journey is to raise funds and awareness for a couple of great organizations, Canucks Autism Network and Autism Community Training, and you can learn more about his expedition at http://proceansports.wordpress.com/.  John just sent me a picture of his freshly painted boat, and his creative finishing design is almost as impressive as his huge efforts to raise awareness for a condition that affects almost one percent of North Americans.  Good luck, John!


John Carinha's boat

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Tents Vs Cabins in Rowboats


Rowboat camping on our 7000 km voyage from Scotland to Syria


In our quest to be the third team to navigate the Amazon’s full length, we spent months voyaging  and living 24 hour days in this rubber rowing raft.

A few people have asked about the possibility of using a tent in an open rowboat such as the Oxford Wherry.  The idea of using your boat for shelter as well as transportation can be appealing.  This is a subject I am well versed in, having lived for months at a time in row boats with either tents or small cuddies for shelter, on voyages ranging from rowing the length of the Amazon River to rowing across the Atlantic Ocean. On our more recent seven-month expedition, rowing from Scotland to Syria, we had a system of catamaraning our two Expedition Rowboats and setting up a tent between them.  Both systems have pros and cons, but overall, a permanent cabin or cuddy is preferable if you plan on doing any serious boat camping.


During our voyage to become the first to navigate the full length of the world’s fifth longest river, the Yenisey, we opted to use a more substantial sleeping structure.


During our  unsupported voyage of becoming the first to row across the Atlantic from mainland Europe to mainland North America  it was imperative to have a (literally) huricane-proof shelter. Over five months we were hit by two hurricanes and three tropical storms.  No tents here!

One of the biggest misconceptions with boat tents is that it is easier and simpler to fabricate a cloth shelter for a boat than to construct a permanent cabin.  The reality is tent making is an extremely complex task, and the work of making a good-looking and strong tent is often greater than the work of building an entire boat.  Also, tents generally don’t cover the complete boat, meaning in a downpour the boat will still start to fill with water.  Substantial floor boards are then required to keep the occupant above the water, adding further weight to the vessel.  Additionally, most boat tent designs require coming ashore to setup, creating more work at a time when you’d probably prefer watching the setting sun with a glass of wine.  Perhaps, the biggest downside to a tent is their performance in windy conditions.  The water is a volatile environment, and a calm evening can quickly transform to strong winds and choppy waves.  Even the best tents will become flapping nightmares in a stiff blow, creating drama and discomfort that we could all do without.

I’ve listed a lot of cons for boat tenting, however, I still think there is a place for it.  It is the simplicity of camping in a boat that makes it so appealing, so staying true to this spirit will make it a positive experience.  Instead of spending months cutting and sewing a custom tent, why not just bring along a small piece of plastic or tarp and some ropes.  A few pieces of driftwood will assist in making an adequate shelter, and you can camp on the beach or be anchored out.  If the wind starts rising, you can quickly pull the plastic off and row ashore.  Alternatively, off-the-shelf tents can sometimes be coaxed to conform to a boat’s dimensions, however, in most situations, it would be simpler and more secure setting the tent up on the shore.

On the other hand if you want to camp regularly in your boat, and require a system that is simple, 100% durable and weather tight and no work to set up, you’re probably better off using a boat like our Cruiser Rowboat which has the cabin built in.  Not only does the cabin provide dry secure shelter for the occupant in winds up to hurricane force, but it is also a large dry compartment to store your gear.  Even more importantly, it provides significant reserve buoyancy enhancing seaworthiness when underway, beneficial for coastal and open water rowing.  There are few drawbacks to a system like this apart from a slight bit of added weight and windage.

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Cruiser Plans Completed

We’ve completed plans for the cruiser, and are in the midst of finishing the manual.  ChristmasinrowboatFor those who can wait no longer, we will be offering Cruiser Plans for sale starting Dec 15th.  While it is unlikely the editing of the manual will be complete then, we will provide the plans and the first two chapters with the complete manual following shortly after.  This way Cruiser enthusiasts can get their projects underway in the New Year with plenty of time to be completed by spring or summer.

With work developing the Cruiser manual/plans coming to an end we will next be developing  plans for our hollow shaft wooden sculling oars – another product we’ve received significant interest in.  For practical purposes standard carbon fiber or fiberglass oars are hard to beat, however, there is nothing that replaces the beauty of traditional wooden sculling oars.  And remarkably, the weight is not much greater with properly made hollow shaft oars.  Another perk with wooden oars is the price tag – not much more than $100. Hollow shaft oars were designed for competitive racing and were commonly used right up until the 1980s.  We are using mainly the same specs for our shafts– a tried and tested formula – while adding a few elements to the blade for aesthetics.

We hope you all have a wonderful Christmas, and a New Year filled with small boating adventures!


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Expedition Rowboat Kits Now Available

We’ve moved to a new location in Victoria, BC.  As we’ve been expanding inventory and

Our Expedition Rowboats are available.  They are as at home on the Thames as the NW Passage.

Our Expedition Rowboats are available in Kit form.  These versatile craft are at home on the Thames or the Northwest Passage

further developing kits and boats, we decided it was time to move up to a larger shop.  We have also relocated geographically 2.5 hours south from Comox to Victoria on the south end of Vancouver Island.  Victoria is the rowing hub of western Canada, so it seemed like an ideal location for Angus Rowboats.

Needless to say, the last couple of months have been pretty busy.  We have, however, finally developed our kits for the Expedition Rowboat, and are excited now to be able to offer this boat as both plans and in kit form.  Developing kits is a long complicated process, and attention to detail is paramount.  The vessel is comprised of more than 75 intricately shaped pieces of wood.  Each shape needs to be made as a Cad file so it can be cut robotically with a CNC machine.  Next, boxes need to be designed to efficiently contain these odd shapes and endure the riggers of shipping.  And of course, there are dozens of additional materials that go into the kit – from epoxy to bronze nails to wood flour – so it’s all about paying close attention to the checklists.  It’s been a lot of work, but we feel we’ve done a pretty good job of making the Expedition as accessible as possible for those that want to get out on the big water.

Many of you will be pleased to hear the project we’re working on now is developing the plans and manual for the Cruiser Rowboat.  Of all our boats, we’ve had the most inquiries into Cruiser, and for good reason.  It’s the only practical boat with a comfortable watertight cabin that can be propelled efficiently by human power.  When my friend Steve Price (62) and I took it on a trial row last year we voyaged over 200 miles in three days in open coastal conditions and predominant headwinds.  There are few human powered craft out there that can maintain that kind of speed in open ocean conditions, never mind one that also boasts a sleeping cabin, kitchenette and ample storage.  We’ll let you know when plans are ready…

Also, we’ve just uploaded a short video showing the Oxford Wherry in action.  Of all our open water rowboats this is probably our most gorgeous – combining traditional simplicity with functionality.  If you want a lightweight boat you can singlehandedly put on the roof of your car, yet have the capacity to carry your family this could be the boat for you.  You can check out the video on our Oxford Wherry page.

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August Update – A New Boat

Oxford Wherry

Oxford Wherry

It’s been an action packed summer! We haven’t been outside enjoying the sunshine as much as we’d like to, but instead have been working on the finishing touches for the book Olive Odyssey, due out in the spring of 2014, doing presentations, and growing our other business, Angus Rowboats. It’s been a lot of work developing full kits, creating marketing material, etc., and in many ways we find it similar to an expedition. First comes the idea – the fun, easy part – and then many, many little steps to bring that concept to fruition.

As we mentioned in our last newsletter, Colin and his friend, Steve Price used a prototype for our latest boat, the Oxford Wherry to break the non-stop speed record from Whitehorse to Dawson City (a 51 hour 50 minute non-stop slog). This month we completed the showboat version of the same boat built from one of the kits we sell. You can see pictures of the boat in our flickr gallery with more information on our www.angusrowboats.com website.

And speaking of the boats, we’ll be at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept 6-8th) with a booth displaying the Expedition Rowboat, Oxford Wherry, and a top secret prototype currently in development. Colin will also be giving a presentation on three of our expeditions – around the world by human power, Scotland to Syria by rowboat and his circumnavigation of Vancouver Island.

Another exciting upcoming event related to human powered boats comes from our Calgarian friend Greg Kolodziejzyk. He holds the world record for the greatest distance travelled by human power on flat water in 24 hours and is going to try breaking his own record. Traditionally, the record was held by surf skis, but Greg, a very innovative guy, created an entirely new craft – a trimaran with a specialized propeller drive system. He comfortably beat the old record, voyaging more than 245 km in a 24 hour period. That was back in 2008, and since then nobody has been able to take the record away from Greg. So Greg’s going to try doing it himself.

But to add a further twist to the attempt, Greg has partnered with Carter Johnson, the fellow who previously held the record with a surf ski. The two are creating a two person race, each vying to beat the other and to lay claim to a new world record. They’ll be going around the same course at the same time, so it will be exciting to follow – the surf ski vs pedal power. Who do you think will win? And they’re using their quest to raise money and awareness for an organization providing assistance for those with mitochondrial diseases. You can check it out on their website www.pedalvspaddle.com.

In our previous newsletter we talked about a couple of other expeditions: Kevin Vallely and crew attempting to row through the Northwest Passage and Sarah Outen’s attempt to row the Pacific. Well, the headwinds have diminished for the Northwest Passage voyage, and the guys are making great progress now. It’s still touch and go whether they will make it through before the ice starts closing on them, so it will be particularly exciting to follow from here on.

Sarah Outen’s progress has been a little slower, and it is now unlikely that she will make it to her destination of Vancouver Island before the November storms start picking up. Her route has taken a sharp northerly drift which could be a good thing. We calculate she could possibly reach the Aleutian Islands, a much shorter distance, before the weather degrades too much. From here, it would just be a series of hops to mainland North America. Again, it will be exciting to follow her progress, and we’re all hoping to see her in North America soon.

Anyway, we hope you’re all having a great summer full of adventures, and hopefully we may see a few of you at the Port Townsend Boat Show.

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Come See us at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

We’ll be displaying the Oxford Wherry, the Expedition and another new boat in development at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.  If you’re interested in checking out our boats, or have any questions, come on by and say hello.  I will also be doing a presentation talking about some of our adventures in wooden boats including rowing across the Atlantic Ocean and breaking the speed record around Vancouver Island.  It’ll be a great place to be Sept 6-8.

And we almost have the Expedition Kits ready.  The wood components have been cut and full kits will be available in a few weeks.

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Rowing into Headwinds

There are many common phrases that have nautical origins. Some examples include “by and large”, “chock-a-block”, “close quarters”, “give a wide berth”, “loose cannon”, “panic stations”, “shake a leg”, “taken aback”, “the bitter end”, and “the cut of your jib”.

Another term that has loose origins in the watery world is “headwinds”. It is used frequently – literally and figuratively, often describing challenging economic conditions. This newsletter focuses on headwinds from a rower’s standpoint, the curse that has more influence on progress (or lack of) than any other force.

Last month we highlighted five rowing/paddling challenges – Jerome Truran’s kayak journey around Vancouver Island to try to break my speed record set in a rowboat, Sarah Outen’s row across the Pacific Ocean, a rowing race around Britain, an attempt to be the first to row through the Northwest Passage and Steve Price and my attempt to break the all-time human-powered speed record from Whitehorse to Dawson City in a rowboat.

Before giving an update on each of these quests, let me describe the effect headwinds have on a small boat. We all have experience with headwinds, whether from the saddle of a bicycle or simply walking down a sidewalk in blustery conditions. On land however, it is only the force off the wind we have to contend with. On water, it is the sea conditions created by the winds, which pose the real challenge. The longer the winds blow, and the greater the fetch (the distance for the waves to travel), the bigger and more powerful the waves become. It is the waves that pack the real power, crashing into the boat and arresting forward progress. Inertia is lost and the rower has to repeatedly re-accelerate the boat into messy seas. Generally the rower is wet and cold, hands blister from the extra force applied to the oars, and muscles fatigue. From a psychological standpoint, it is extremely frustrating to work so hard, yet make almost no progress.

While June was a busy month as far as rowing challenges were concerned, it was also the month of headwinds. Jerome Truran was forced to give up his quest circling Vancouver Island due to persistent headwinds. He completed the most challenging parts off the NW coast, but time was running out and his headwinds weren’t. Sarah Outen has faced relentless and atypical contrary winds, delaying her so much that she is already rationing food. She has been on the Pacific Ocean for almost three months, and still has two thirds of the crossing ahead of her. We all have our fingers crossed for a return to usual weather pattern.

Ornery winds have also been testing Kevin Vallely and crew as they attempt to be the first to row through the Northwest Passage.  They left from the Mackenzie delta a few weeks ago, and have been plagued by northeasterly and easterly winds (headwinds).   Normally in this region winds come from the west, but not this year.  As a result, their progress has been painfully slow.  They’ve even taken to towing their boat like sled dogs in some of the very shallow water they’ve encountered.  At this point they’ve covered about 200 km with 2,400 km still to go.  Again, fingers crossed for more favourable conditions.

Headwinds also played a major role in the outcome of our Yukon River challenge, a 715 km stretch of the Yukon River Steve Price and I hoped to row in under 49 hours and 32 minutes (the record for the fastest time, which was set by a 6 person voyageur canoe).

We suspected the biggest variable we would face was weather conditions on Lake Laberge, a 48 km stretch of open water notorious for heavy winds. After analyzing weather data from previous years, we learned that the early morning hours statistically have the lightest winds. To optimize our chances of success we left Whitehorse at2:00 AM, so we would arrive at Lake Laberge at 6:00 AM.

Unfortunately, luck was not on our side and we faced the heaviest winds of the day. Winds blew at 20-30 km/hr, funnelling down the long lake and whipping up three foot waves and whitecaps. Steve and I took turns rowing while the other bailed, barely keeping up with the waves coming over the boat. In total, it took us almost eight hours to cover the 48 km instead of the six hours it would have in calm conditions. As soon as we crossed the lake the wind mellowed, and we later learned that for the rest of the day conditions were glassy calm.

The boat handled superbly on the windswept lake and on the turbulent river, which both delighted and relieved me. I had just finished building and designing the Oxford Wherry, and except for a one-hour row in the gentle waters off Comox marina, it was untested. Needless to say, it was a little daunting beginning a two-day non-stop marathon run on a turbulent river in a brand new untried design.

Yet everything worked as I hoped. We laid a Thermarest mattress in the forward section so one person could rest while the other rowed. I was apprehensive about shift changes on the Yukon`s roiling waters – we`d never had a chance to test this in advance – but Steve and I shuffled past one another a total of 24 times without capsizing. This arrangement allowed us to maintain a speed of 8 km/hr on flat water without current indefinitely. On the river, the current pushed us to faster speeds.

We rowed from Whitehorse to Dawson City in 50 hours and 42 minutes – missing our target by one hour and 22 minutes. While we didn’t break the record for the fastest time ever, we did break the record for the fastest unsupported (not picking up any gear or supplies en route) voyage. Although it was an amazing experience, it also felt pretty good stepping ashore after being in a sixteen foot rowboat for more than two days, especially since it was followed by a bacon and egg breakfast.

You may be wondering about the rowing race around Britain. Well, that`s the one quest where headwinds were not worse than average, and two teams did very well. The fastest team, a four-person rowboat ended up breaking the all-time record and taking home the purse of 115,000 British pounds. Well done!

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Yukon Rowing Quest to Start

The Oxford Wherry we’ll be using on the Yukon

This is the month for breaking human powered boating records. Jerome Truran, a seasoned kayaker well known for his role in the first descent of the Amazon is currently trying to break my speed record for circumnavigating Vancouver Island. Sarah Outen is mid-ocean trying to be the first woman to row across the north pacific. Kevin Vallely and team are days away from launching in the Arctic Ocean attempting to be the first to row through the Northwest Passage. And currently two remaining teams are battling to break speed records rowing non-stop and unsupported around the Isle of Britain.

The energy is palpable, and it feels like a good month to be embarking on our own record breaking quest. In five days Steve Price and I will be launching our customized, self-built Oxford Wherry in the Yukon River attempting to break the record for the fastest time travelling from Whitehorse to Dawson City in a human-powered boat. The current record is 49 hours and 32 minutes, and we’re hoping to cover this 715 km distance in less than two days.

Several have expressed curiosity about using a rowboat to break a record that has previously been held by canoes and kayaks. We received the same question prior to breaking the speed record around Vancouver Island – a rowboat is generally not the type of craft people imagine to be navigating wave-wracked coastal conditions with grace and speed.
Of course, the word “rowboat” usually conjures an image of a vessel quite different to what we will be using. People imagine tubby overweight craft propelled by a couple of wooden oars from Canadian Tire. The boats we have built and designed, however, are long and sleek and designed to be fast and seaworthy. The boat we are using on the Yukon River is propelled with carbon fiber oars and a sliding seat rowing system. Sliding seat rowing allows you to utilize the larger muscles of your back and legs and is one of the fastest ways of propelling a boat. With larger muscles being used, you can also go longer without feeling fatigued.
The boat we are using for our Yukon quest looks similar to a canoe in its overall shape, and we have incorporated elements of traditional rowboat design for aesthetics. Unlike a canoe, however, one person can propel it at about three times the speed that one person can propel a canoe. This gives us a unique advantage for long distance racing as it means one person can propel the boat and a passenger at a sustainable rate of about 8 km/hr. He can then rest while his partner takes to the oars. This allows for non-stop speedy voyaging for days on end.
All previous teams that have held the record for paddling from Whitehorse to Fairbanks have required rest stops due to the impossibility of individuals paddling non-stop for 715 km. We are hoping our non-stop strategy will pay off.

The interior layout of the boat has also been designed specifically for this quest. The sliding seat rowing station is placed in the rear half of the vessel, and the forward half – the princess zone – is a plywood bed covered in a Thermarest. It’s surprisingly comfortable on the bed, so as long as we succeed in not capsizing the boat changing shifts, rests periods should be invigorating.
The restee will eat, sleep, offer insults to the rower, and lazily regard the passing scenery. If you’re interested in following our record breaking attempt beginning June 26th we’ll have a live satellite tracker and will be posting regular updates. You can follow it all here: www.angusadventures.com

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Oxford Wherry Kits and Yukon Rowing

Oxford Wherry Kits available

The Oxford Wherry is a versatile craft that can carry three adults, is fast, and has looks to match

Busy,busy busy! We’ve been working hard developing kits for each of our boat models, and are slowly getting there. The adventuring side of our business has also been keeping us on our toes and over the next month we will be travelling all over the globe from Portugal to the Yukon River. Most of our traveling is related to our motivational speaking business, however, my trip to the Yukon River is to attempt to break the human powered speed record voyaging from Whitehorse to Dawson City (444 miles). I’ll be attempting the quest with Steve Price from Oklahoma, and we’ll be rowing our newly designed Oxford Wherry, which is ideal for this challenge. We’ll be voyaging around the clock, each taking turns at the oars, and if all goes well, we’ll cover the distance in just under two days. For those interested in following the journey, we’ll be posting live updates at www.angusadventures.com.

Despite limited time, the kits are coming along well. Kits for our new design, the Oxford Wherry are now available. Everything you need to complete this functional eye-catching vessel is included in the packages. Creating boat kits is a detail orientated exercise, so it’s taken a little longer than anticipated. Everything from converting all the files to CAD, to designing our SnapTite TM jointing system to sourcing quality materials from across North America takes patience and time. Currently, as I write, the first run of CNC (robotic cutting) cut panels for our Expedition boat are being completed, and we’re excited to be so close to finally having our flagship model, the Expedition, in kit form.

Because we’re so busy over the next six weeks, the Expedition kit won’t be available until July, but it is getting close…

Also stay tuned for our construction videos for the Oxford Wherry and the rigger sliding seat kits. We’ve done the filming, and are hoping to have the videos edited by July.

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