R2AK – Race to Alaska: Who will win?

With the upcoming R2AK challenge, there has been a lot of speculation as to what types of

Maybe we'll get our drag our Yenisey boat back from Siberia and use it

Is this the winning boat?

boats will be entered, and potential speeds and finishing times.  I’ve spent a bit of time contemplating these questions myself, and will share my thoughts on this blog.  The race is open to all types of motor-less boats from SUPs to higher performance multi-hull boats.  While all boats are welcome, it is obvious that the organizers have an emphasis on smaller and/or home built craft.

Overall consensus is that a performance sailing craft is the most likely candidate for hitting the finish line first.  If this is the case, we can make some fairly accurate guesses on speed by looking at the results of the Van Isle 360.

The Van Isle 360, a sailing race conducted in stages around Vancouver Island, is an excellent source of information to predict potential speeds for the R2AK.  Half of the Van Isle 360 route (the course along the inside of Vancouver Island), overlaps the first half of the Race to Alaska, so Van Isle 360 participants are encountering very similar conditions to the R2AK.  The Van Isle Race attracts some of the(if not the) fastest sailing vessels in the Pacific Northwest, so they provide a clear indication of the very top speeds possible in R2AK- like conditions.

Looking at the 2005 results (these are the only results I could find online, however, the fastest boats then are still the top contenders in recent years, so results probably haven’t changed much), the fastest boats complete the race with a total elapsed time of about 100 hours.  There are two anomalies – Dragonfly and Cheekee Monkey, which are extraordinarily high-performance multihulls which completed the race in 79 and 86 hours respectively.  The two other high performance multi-hulls competing – Bad Kitty and Blue Lightning finished in over 100 hours.  We will leave Dragonfly and Cheekee Monkey out of our equation, as the likelihood of a boat of their caliber competing in R2AK is highly unlikely.

So let’s take 100 hours as the time it takes for an extremely high end racing boat to circumnavigate Vancouver Island.  The circumference of Vancouver Island is 593 nautical miles – so the faster boats are moving at an average of 5.93 knots.

For the caliber of boats in the Van Isle 360, this is a very unimpressive speed, and speaks volumes about the winds they are encountering.

There are several other factors to consider when applying this comparison to R2AK.  The Van Isle 360 is raced in stages and is not unsupported.  This contributes considerably to overall speed for several reasons.  The crew are able to rest, conduct repairs, strategize, etc during their rest stops and the boat is able to travel lighter.  Additionally, night sailing is minimized – a time when winds are at their lightest and more prudent courses need to be followed due to reduced visibility.  Additionally, the crew motor through Seymour narrows during one of their layover periods, so they don’t need to worry about being stuck waiting for favorable currents.

I think we can safely assume that VanIsle 360 average top speeds would be cut by at least half a knot if it were a non-stop unsupported race that also required sailing through Seymour Narrows.  This brings the speed of the fastest boats to 5.43 knots.

Finally, there is one more factor to consider when applying the Van Isle 360 race to R2AK.  Contestants in the VanIsle challenge clock their fastest times on the west coast of the island and in the Juan de Fuca Strait where winds are more consistent and in their favor.  At this time of year winds come more frequently from the north.  Undoubtedly, winds will be less favorable for a boat heading north from the tip of Vancouver Island to Ketchican, rather than a boat heading south on the western side of Vancouver Island.  At a very rough guess, I would estimate another half knot average would be lost if the VanIsle 360 boats kept going north along the R2AK route, rather than the more favorable route they follow.

So according to my estimates, the top boats from the VanIsle 360 race would likely average a thoroughly unimpressive 5 knots if they were to enter the R2AK.

Realistically, however, none of these quarter to half million dollar racing sailboats will be entering R2AK.  The R2AK is a grassroots race catering to creative home builders and small boat enthusiasts.  In the spirit of inclusivity, it is open to all boats, but like Usain Bolt competing in a small community track meet, the question to be asked is what’s the point?  It is not worth their time and resources to compete in a race that means very little in the competitive sailing world.

So, that brings us to the more likely top candidates for the race.  The fastest sailing vessels that have so are entered are a handful of home-built multihulls – from an F-32 to one of Richard Wood’s designs.  There’s even talk of a Corsair 32, but 20 knot fantasies will quickly be brought into perspective by multi-day straight line averages.

I have no idea how much slower these types of boats are compared to the likes of “Bad Kitty” (a performance multihull used in the Van Isle 360), but a very rough guess would have the fastest contenders going at about eighty percent.  Even though contestants of R2AK have the added advantage of being able to augment their speed by human power, this will only be nominally beneficial (from the perspective of a standard multihull sailboat).  My guess is that a laden 3000 lb. trimaran will be lucky if it can sustain 1.5 knots through a sustained calm.

In summary, after crunching the numbers and making educated guesses for many of the variables, my estimate is that the winning boat for R2AK will average about 4 knots.  This means the 675 nautical mile distance for the race will be covered in 169 hours or 7 days if all goes well.  Due to the high likelihood of breakdowns, sustained poor winds, etc., my guess is that 169 hours is probably optimistic, with it likely taking up to 9 or ten days for the winning boat to finish.

So, what about human power you may be wondering? From what I’ve seen in the forums, it appears the multihull sailing enthusiasts believe human power has no chance.  I don’t share this belief, and I think it stems more from a lack of information on the potential of human power, rather than the reality of the situation.

As with sailing speeds, we can come up with fairly accurate human powered speed estimates by looking into the history books.

A good example providing insight into potential speeds of by human power is the human powered Vancouver Island circumnavigation challenge.  Believe it or not, the fastest time ever clocked circling Vancouver Island by engineless boat is not one of the carbon fiber rockets from the Van Isle 360, but lone Kayaker, Russell Henry who circumnavigated the Island in 12 days.  Of course, this is total time from start to finish, not just elapsed time on the water, but it gives a good idea of what can be achieved by raw human power.

I broke this record myself in 2011 circling the island in 14.5 days (including 1.5 days off due to injury) in a rowboat. My average speed while on the water was just over 4 knots.  I am guessing Russell Henry’s speed was probably 4.5 knots.

Of course, just as with applying the speed of the Van Isle 360 sailboats to R2AK, you can’t assume speed on water with rest stops applies to 24/7 voyaging.  By travelling around the clock with human power, more than one crew member is required, adding weight and other factors that will reduce average speed.  In other words, because Henry Russell can maintain a speed of 4.5 knots for half the day, two Russell Henry’s taking turns in a larger boat will not be able to maintain the same speed continuously.

So how fast can you travel continuously by human power?  Another good example to look at is the non-stop self-supported rowing race around Britain.  The distance for this race is almost two and a half times as far as R2AK, and sea conditions make the Inside Passage look like a mill pond.  Wind and currents come from all directions.  The fastest team to row around Britain non-stop, a team of four, completed it in just over 26 days, averaging a straight line speed of just over three knots.

Considering conditions off the coast of Britain are much more challenging, and the race is more than twice as long, it is feasible that the speed could be significantly faster in the relatively calm waters (and much shorter distance) faced in R2AK.  The boat that they used is also a relatively inefficient design, designed more for rough oceans than speed.  For the Inside Passage, a much lighter and lower profile vessel could be used.  It is not inconceivable at all that a strong crew in an intelligently designed vessel could sustain 4 knots entirely by human power.  It might be a rowing boat, or some other type of craft.

It is unlikely that a human-powered craft will win this year, since no likely candidates have entered.  To me, it seems the Holy Grail of the Race to Alaska isn’t just to win it, but to win it by human power.  It is possible to win by human power, but it won’t be easy, and to do so would be one of the greatest accomplishments.  A combination of strength, design and luck will need to come together to make it happen.

A friend of mine Greg Kolodziejzyk, is pondering entering R2AK 2016.  Greg is not just a phenomenal athlete, but a genius in designing fast human powered vehicles.  He holds the world records for both the greatest distance travelled by human power over land in 24 hours (over 1000 km), and the greatest distance over water (without current) in 24 hours (242 km – that’s one man propelling himself continuously propelling himself at 5.5 knots for 24 hours!).  Greg’s designing a radical new boat which he feels will be perfect for R2AK.  If anyone has what it takes to properly pit human-potential against wind, it’s Greg.  Should be an interesting one!

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2015 – A year for Rowing and Sailing Adventures

Happy 2015!

Sailing Rowcruiser3

A starting point for the setup we will be using for the race to Alaska. The finished layout will be significantly different than illustrated. Watch the boat come together on our Facebook page.

Here at Angus Rowboats we’re celebrating as we finish another busy year.  2015 will undoubtedly be another exciting year as we launch our Bumblebee sailboat, and gear up for the big Race to Alaska.

Plans, kits and completed boats for the Bumblebee will be available in mid-February.  This is the only sailing boat designed for kids aged 2-5.  If you think toddlers are too young to sail on their own, wait until you see our upcoming video!   Small Craft Advisor will be the exclusive retailer of Bumblebee kits.

Over the coming months, we’ll be posting regular updates on the development of the boat we’re designing for the Race to Alaska – a voyage from Port Townsend Washington to Ketchikan, AK.  If you spend some time researching the race online, you will see there is a huge amount of discussion as to what will be the ideal boat for the race.  Will it be a human-powered craft, a sailboat, or some kind of combination? The rules are simple – no motor allowed, anything else goes.  The first to reach Ketchikan gets $10,000.  Check out the official site here.

The route of the race which parallels the Inside Passage is gorgeous, but boating conditions can be very treacherous.  Winds are fickle along this stretch, with frequent headwinds and calms.  Despite this, consensus seems to be that a high performance multi-hull sailing craft will be the likely winner.  Undoubtedly, if any of the super-high performance giant cats enters they would handily win.  A big variable, apart from the weather is the types of boats that are entered.  Most likely, the highest performance sailing vessels are unlikely to enter such a grassroots type of race that has emphasis on smaller and alternative craft.  It would be a bit like NASA entering their Mars lander at the school science fair.  Additionally, the VanIsle 360 sailing race takes place at the same time, which will keep many of the carbon-fiber rockets occupied.

My own thoughts, initially, were to use an exclusively human powered boat, rowing 24 hours/day with Steve Price from Oklahoma.  While it was unlikely we would win the overall race, we’d have a good shot of placing well for a solely human-powered vessel.  My experience circumnavigating the 1200 km circumference of Vancouver Island in a rowboat in 15.5 days four years ago gives me excellent insight into the types of conditions we will be encountering and potential speeds that can be achieved by oar. I believe a two-person rowing vessel could cover the 1250 km distance to Alaska in 10-12 days.

Over the last few months, however, as Marty Loken and I have been developing a sailing rig for the RowCruiser vessel, I have become more intrigued with the idea of combining rowing and sailing.  Generally, boats do not row and sail well simultaneously.  The heeling effect from the wind interferes with the rowing action – in particular with a sliding seat system and 9.5′ oars.  Amas can be used to provide greater stability, but there is also the challenge of placing them so they don’t interfere with the oars.

We’ve come up with a design that should work.  According to our estimates, in calm conditions the boat will row sustainably (24 hours/day with two people) at 3-4 knots.  With light breezes of 3-7 knots the boat will move at 5-6 knots combined with rowing.  In heavier winds, the boat will be propelled by wind alone moving at 5-7 knots.

In windy conditions, our performance will pale compared to performance multi-hulls, so reasonable placement will rely on abundant calms and light winds.  Heavy headwinds are still a question mark, and sea trials will be the only way to get a precise idea of the performance we will achieve into steep waves and wind.

The beauty of using a sculling rowing system is that it is relatively high-geared and will actually be able to contribute significant thrust to a sailing vessel already in motion from the wind.  The key is to have everything in balance.  While paddling with a single or double blade is much simpler, it is fairly ineffective at providing additional boost – akin to hanging your legs out the side of a rapidly moving car trying to get it to go faster.

We’re not yet divulging full details of our racing boat, but it will be based on our RowCruiser, which provides comfortable sleeping accommodation and good rowing performance.  Over the next three months we will posting updates of the build on our Facebook page as it progresses.  Ideally, sea trials will be commencing by the end of March.

A few people have asked me about conditions and strategies for voyaging up the Inside Passage.  In particular, the biggest question is optimizing tidal flows.  Interestingly, strategy with tides, while still important, is much less of a factor than it was on my solo row going around Vancouver Island.  The fastest vessels will undoubtedly be voyaging 24 hours/day for the most part.  This means that they will be experiencing all tidal flows – favourable and not.  And trying to time arrival at the so-called “tidal gates” at specific times will be next to impossible, since the best strategy is to continually maintain top speed.  Since you can’t further increase top speed, arrival times at the “gates” will largely be dictated by luck.  There are only a couple of places where the tidal flow is strong enough to stop a vessel.   If you don’t get there in time, you’ll need to wait a few hours.

You can maximize tidal assistance depending on where you place your vessel in the stream.  The current is rarely consistent through passages, so the key is to be in the strongest flow when it is with you, and in the weaker flow when it is against you.  It can be challenging figuring out where the ideal currents are, so following the knowledgeable tugs is a good tactic.

On my journey around Vancouver Island, I was surprised at how modest the turbulence accompanying tidal flows was, considering fearsome reputations.  For the most part, good seaworthy vessels shouldn’t have much of a problem. I went through Seymour Narrows in my kayak-like Expedition Rowboat when it was flowing at 11 knots (at the peak of ebb flow), and conditions were reasonable – large boils muscled me around a bit, and I easily steered away from the larger whirlpools.

One of the biggest challenges is strong headwinds over current, creating steep waves.  Such conditions, while generally not dangerous, are very demoralizing making progress next to impossible.  For those rowing or paddling injuries and blisters intensify with the greater loads conveyed through tendons and muscles. Sailing rigs and gear are heavily tested.

For those voyaging solo, and only planning to be on the water 10-12 hours/day timing the currents in your favour will be a huge part of the strategy.  Additionally, headwinds tend to peak in the mid-afternoon, and are at their weakest around four or five in the morning, so be sure to take advantage of these lulls.

There is an advantage to only voyaging for half the day – in particular for the human powered boaters.  By avoiding the worst of the winds and riding the best currents much more favourable conditions will be encountered.  By going 24 hours, you will endure more countering forces, so, with all else being equal, distance travelled will not be doubled.

In the Johnstone Strait, there is more outflow current than in, interestingly, which is a nice added boost.  Unfortunately, this is an area where very strong headwinds regularly blow, and the wind over current makes steep poweful waves.  Conditions improve as you get north of Vancouver Island, and the historical wind data around Bella Bella indicates that winds are likely to be kinder here.  The key is to get through Johnstone Strait as fast as possible, and make sure you have a boat that can achieve reasonable upwind performance in steep waves and strong winds.

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Racing to Alaska

Well, I’ve officially committed to the big race that everyone is talking about.  The NW Maritime Center in Port Townsend is launching its inaugural race from Port Townsend to Ketchikan, Alaska.  The rules are simple – no motor allowed, and there are two waypoints boaters have to pass through on their way north – Seymour Narrows and Bella Bella.  And the winner gets $10,000.

The race has created a lot of buzz, and a lot of people are wondering what is the ideal

The RowCruiser

The RowCruiser

design of boat to win the race.  Will it be a performance sailing vessel, a human powered vessel or some sort of combination of the two?  Winds are variable and calms frequent, adding more question marks to the discussion.

I will be doing the race with Steve Price from Oklahoma, and we will be using a modified racing version of the RowCruiser.  We’ll be posting pictures of the boat as we design/develop it through the winter.

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Busy with Boys, Buoys and Boats

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Oliver was born in June

It’s been a busy, busy summer for us here in Victoria, and not just because of record sales. Julie and I have had our hands full welcoming our newest family member, Oliver, to the world.  Oliver was born June 10th, and he’s been growing like a weed ever since.  It won’t be long before he’ll be demanding his own boat!

Speaking of wanting boats, many have been inquiring about kits for the RowCruiser, our newest design.  We’re pleased to announce that we have partnered with Small Craft Advisor Magazine with this project, and they will be exclusively offering RowCruiser kits through their line of unique boats.  Small Craft Advisor is well known

Scamp - Portable fun from Small Craft Advisor

Scamp – Portable fun from Small Craft Advisor

for introducing the Scamp to the market, a gorgeous rowable sailboat designed for fun and adventure.  The first RowCruiser kit has been cut and a boat is currently being built to make sure it all goes together properly.  Kits will be available for purchase in September or October.

We’ve also partnered with Marty Loken, a boatbuilder in Port Townsend who will be working with Angus Rowboats and Small Craft Advisor to host build classes for the RowCruiser.  The first class will be taking place at historic Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend February 16-22nd, 2015.  The week-long course will not only allow participants to build their own unique vessel, but also be an opportunity to explore and experience the unique landscapes and maritime culture in and around Port Townsend.  For more details on the class, please visit RowCruiser Workshop.

Marty Working hard getting a  RowCruiser ready for display at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Marty Working hard getting a RowCruiser ready for display at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival

Multi-talented Marty has also created a fantastic website detailing all aspects of the RowCruiser.  It includes a page detailing his first build of the RowCruiser.  One of Marty’s many skills includes being a maritime photographer, so his abundant photographs convey the process very clearly.

In other news, very soon we will have our partial oar kits ready for sale.  The templates have been cut, and the boxes will be packed shortly.  We are astounded at how popular plans for our sculling oars have been, with plans having been sent to all corners of the world in just a few weeks since they’ve first been offered for sale.  You can see pictures of the oars here.

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Everything You Need to Know About Sculling Oars

There’s plenty of information outlining the benefits of a sliding seat rowing system for recreation, but there is very little information about the oars required.  For newcomers to the sport, it can be confusing figuring out what is needed. We decided it was time to write a comprehensive page outlining everything you need to know about sculling oars.

Overview

Many people purchase a sliding seat system for their boat believing they can use it with a standard set of wooden oars.  Unfortunately, this is not the case, and it can be a little 9557873110_3b6909efb0_zdiscouraging finding out what a proper set of sculling oars will cost.  Fiberglass/carbon oars will generally set you back $500-$700 for a pair.

Oars for a sliding seat rowing system (sculling oars) need to be much longer than standard oars used for fixed seat rowing.  As a result they require lighter and more expensive construction techniques.  Additionally, the shaft requires special shaping or shaped sleeves to allow proper feathering action within the oarlock.

You may be tempted to put up with a less-than-ideal setup, simply using oars from your local marine store, but it isn’t worth it.  The performance will be so poor, you’re better off using a fixed-seat rowing rig at less expense.  If you’re planning on using a sliding seat system for your boat, be sure to factor in the cost of proper rowing sculls.  Alternatively, economical and attractive wooden sculling oars can be constructed if you have the time.

Oar Specs

Generally sculling oars are  9’ 6” in length, and construction is as light as possible.  Carbon fiber oars weigh about 3.5 lbs each while fiberglass and hollow shaft wood are about 4-5 lbs.

There are two main blade shapes – Macon and Hatchet (also known as cleaver).  Macons are the traditional tulip-like shape and the oars are symmetrical (interchangeable

Hatchet and Macon are the two main blade shapes used in sculling

Hatchet and Macon are the two main blade shapes used in sculling

on both sides), while Hatchets are asymmetrical with more blade extending down from the shaft into the water.  Hatchets are either port or starboard.  Both designs work well, however, hatchets are slightly more efficient.  Macons on the other hand, are more effective if you decide to row without feathering since the blades are less likely to catch the water on the return stroke.

Oar Feathering

Unlike fixed seat rowing, it is important that sculling oars are feathered (turned horizontal to the water) on the return stroke.  This is not just for decreasing wind resistance, but it reduces the chance of the blades catching the water, since there is generally less clearance than with a fixed seat system.

Those who have tried feathering oars in a fixed seat rig, will find that it is very different than a sliding seat system.  Fixed rig oar shafts are generally round meaning it is a very imprecise action, and angle varies slightly with each stroke.  Additionally, friction between the oarlock and the oar is often significant, making it a chore with time.  With sculling oars and oarlocks, however, the two have been precisely shaped and engineered to facilitate easy precise feathering.  In each position (feathered and stroke) the shaft or oar sleeve of the sculling oar has flat edges which are braced against the flat edges of the oarlock.  This allows the oar blade to maintain a precise angle through each stroke (see image below).

oarlockconfigurationsillustrated

The image above illustrates how the oar shaft is stable in the feathered and drive position.  The oarlock is shaped so the blade is angled at about seven degrees off of horizontal on the return/feathered stroke.  This slight angle reduces the chance of the oar catching if it hits the water, instead it will skip like a flat rock.  In the drive/vertical position, the shaft is positioned so it is about 3 degrees off vertical, which is the ideal angle for the drive stroke.  The overall angle of the oarlock can also be adjusted slightly (racers sometimes prefer to have less angle) with special bushings.  The transition from one position to the other is achieved very easily with a gentle twist of the wrist.

Having the flat edge of the shaft abutting the flat edge of the oarlock not only provides a stable defined angle, but it also helps distribute the pressure across the shaft.  A round oar

Minimal pressure distribution with round shaft.

Minimal pressure distribution with round shaft.

shaft (only used in fixed seat rowing) generally has a very small contact point with the oarlock which increases the chances of it breaking and causing excessive wear.  As you can see in the image (right) of a typical fixed seat oarlock system, the contact point between the shaft and oarlock is minimal, and blade angle is ambiguous with regards to shaft orientation in oarlock.

Oar Sleeves and Buttons

When the original sculling oars were made from wood (hollow shaft), the shafts were not round, but were shaped to the same cross-profile as to what is shown above in the oarlocks.  This meant the shaft only required a “button” which is a collar-like fitting that kept it from slipping through the oarlock.  Usually, a leather wrap was also applied to reduce wear.  Wooden oars now often use a wrap of fiberglass to protect from wear and reduce friction.

With the advent of carbon fiber and fiberglass oars, it was easier and stronger to Componentsoarlockmanufacture oars with round shafts.  This meant that at the location of the oarlock, is was necessary to install a sleeve (see image to right) that replicates the shape of traditional oar shaft for proper action in the oarlock.

Properly designed and shaped wooden sculling oars do not require sleeves since the oar shaft is already the correct shape for ideal feathering action.

 

Oarlocks

Since the action between the oar shaft and oarlock is very exact, there is only one basic shape of sculling oarlock which is the same c2-oarlocks-bushings-scullregardless of manufacturer.  Generally, the oarlocks utilize a gate system which keeps the oars securely in place, and, more importantly, strengthens the oarlocks by providing support across the top.  There are a few open designs, however, these are not as strong.  Do not use oarlocks designed for a fixed seat system in a sliding seat rig.

Hollow Shaft Wooden Oars

An alternative to expensive carbon/fiberglass oars is constructing your own wooden sculling oars.  These should not be confused with regular wooden oars, as there is a world of difference in weight, shape and specs.  The shaft should be hollow to reduce weight, and it should not be round.  Sculling oars are made from lightweight strong woods such as spruce. Generally, construction costs range from $50-$200. We sell plans in our online store for hollow shaft oars.  Click here for more information.

There are also a few manufacturers in the U.K. that produce completed wooden oars, however, costs, including shipping to North America are over $1000/pair.

Carbon Fiberglass Oars

There are a several manufacturers of good quality composite oars.  We recommend Concept2 for quality and economy, and Croker for those looking for top quality and high performance.

Rowing Geometry

For information on positioning of the oarlocks, sliding seat, foot braces, etc, please visit our rowing geometry page.

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Wooden Hollow Shaft Sculling Oar Plans Completed!

There have been a few delays, but we’ve finally completed our comprehensive manual and oarpagepic2plans for building exquisite hollow-shaft sculling oars.  The plans are full-sized, laser printed on a ten foot long sheet, and the illustrated manual is very comprehensive.

Hollow shaft wooden sculling oars used to be a standard tool for competitive rowing.  It wasn’t until the 1980s when Olympic rowers started switching to lighter synthetic substitutes.  While carbon fiber oars are lighter than wood, the difference in weight is not as great as one might assume.  A well-made wooden hollow-shaft sculling oar weighs about 4.5 lbs. (weight varies slightly depending on wood density and finish), while a carbon fiber oar of equivalent length is about 3.5 lbs.  This difference in weight, while important in high-end competitive racing, is not such a big deal for performance recreational rowing.  On the other hand, finely crafted wooden oars offer infinitely greater aesthetic appeal and significant savings.  The cost of constructing your own oars will run from about $80-$200, a fraction of the cost of commercially built carbon-fiber oars.

The engineering behind our design is not new.  The shaft is constructed to the same specs that have been developed by top engineers, and tried and tested for decades in the competitive racing world.  We have, however, tweaked the blade shape and design to simplify construction as much as possible.  Most importantly, we have spent months dissecting the construction process, distilling it into a simple step-by-step process that can be accomplished by first time oar builders.

While hollow shaft sculling oars used to be ubiquitous in the racing scene, now there are no manufacturers in North America producing them.  There are a couple of specialized manufacturers in the UK producing wooden sculling oars, but with shipping a pair will cost north of $1500.  So, if you’d like to own a pair of traditional sculling oars, an economical and enjoyable solution is to build them yourself.

Specialized tools such as spoke shaves, draw knives, and convex planes are not required to build these oars.  Instead, the complex shaping can be achieved with just a standard hand plane, a half inch chisel, a utility knife, a hand saw and a flexible sanding block.  A table saw is required for ripping long strips that the shaft is comprised from.  Our step by step system using a series of templates ensures accurate and straightforward shaping.

After the varnishing is completed, we will be posting additional pictures of the oars.

In a few weeks, we will also be providing partial kits which will include most of the basic building materials for the oars (excluding wood) and cnc cut templates.

For more information, please visit the following links:

Sample chapter from manual

View plans

For more information and to purchase

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Wall Street Journal Gives “Olive Odyssey” Thumbs Up!

It was a little intimidating for us when we heard the Wall Street Journal was running a wallstreetjournaltwo-third page review in the weekend edition on Julie’s latest book, Olive Odyssey.  It is, after all, the number one selling paper in the USA and a full page ad costs $210,000.  They say that the value of editorial is 3X that of paid advertising, but of course, that is only if it is positive.  A negative review would be devastating for book sales.

Well, we were extremely excited to learn it was very positive.  Here is a quote from the Wall Street Journal,

“But if anyone is qualified to wring travail and adventure out of these unreasonably glamorous locales, it is Julie Angus. She was the first woman to row across the Atlantic Ocean from mainland to mainland (in hurricane season, no less). And she is trained as a molecular biologist, so she has got the scientific acumen to decipher the nuances of the olive genome and to explain why one sort of DNA is more reliable than another for studying tree genetics.”

With all that’s going on with our film and book on Olive Odyssey, it will be another little while before our hollow shaft sculling oars are ready.  We also have another exciting sailboat design for kids in the works, but we will hold off giving an ETA for plans and kits.

While our adventuring business has created a few delays in the boat business (don’t worry, all orders are still shipped within a couple of days), it is also what subsidizes the sweatshop (and our passion) that is Angus Rowboats.  In a way, it is our adventures and the earnings we receive from organizations like Random House and National Geographic that truly drives our rowboat business.   So, it’s the delays that allow to forge implacably forward.  And, of course, to have some of the best tested boats on the market!

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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

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Rowboat camping on our 7000 km voyage from Scotland to Syria

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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.

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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.

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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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