In 2011, inspired by the birth of our first grandchild, I started construction of a row boat. My rationale was that his parents would be more comfortable if he could ride in a boat that was more stable than a canoe for his first trip in a boat. I completed the construction of the boat in 2012 and he had his first ride, with his father and me, around the edges of the Puget Sound near Olympia, Washington, where his family lived at the time.
I chose the design of my boat carefully. I wanted a stable craft, but also one that had a traditional appearance. I also wanted a boat that I could handle solo, including loading and unloading it from the rack on a pickup truck. I chose the Chester Yawl, designed by John Harris. The boat can carry quite a load. It is rated for 450 pounds. Yet it is light enough that I can move it about on a set of wheels and, with a bit of care, turn it over and load it on the rack on my pickup. That takes a bit of work, so I usually roll it onto a utility trailer when heading for the water. I finished my boat to workboat standards, with a painted hull and bright interior. It is fitted with moveable rowing seats, adapted from a design my L. Francis Herreshoff. I installed oar locks mid ship for solo rowing and two more pairs for double rowing.
Some people who have seen my boat have referred to it as a wherry, but technically it is a yawl. Yawl is a term often used to refer to a sail rig, but its earlier historic use was for the boat carried on board a larger ship for the captain’s use to go back and forth to shore on errands. Harris’ design is inspired by the Whitehall boats of New England and has a delightful wineglass transom. My boat has its name, “Mister E” on its transom. The pun is intended. Our grandson, Elliot, is now ten years old. He continues to be a wonderful mystery for our family. He’s been through a number of different life jackets as he has grown up, but he has retained his interest in boats and boating. He now paddles a small kayak solo when we have time to head to the lake.
Since July of 2012, when the Mister E was first launched, I have had time to explore the joys of rowing. I’m not what you would call an experienced rower, but I’ve gained basic competency and can maneuver the boat when rowing on calm waters. It’s been in saltwater where we’ve rowed close to shore, but most of the time I’ve rowed it in small lakes. With my spoon blade oars, carved by Shaw and Tenney, I can obtain a good glide from the boat and can make good headway while getting plenty of healthy exercise.
The truth, however, is that the boat has sat unused for more than a year. It didn’t touch the water in 2020. The processes of retirement and moving distracted me from my usual trips to the lake. I have promised myself that 2021 will be different.
People have done amazing things in rowboats. Jasmine Harrison, a 21-year-old swimming teacher from Yorkshire in England, became the youngest woman to row solo across the Atlantic Ocean when she arrived in Antigua on Saturday. It took her 70 days to complete the trip. She didn’t have the traditional loneliness of long distance solo rowers because she carried a satellite phone and was able to speak to her mother daily during her epic journey. Who knows how long her record will stand, but you can count on a younger woman to challenger her feat some time.
Lee Spencer rowed across the Atlantic in 60 days early in 2019, shattering the previous record for crossing the ocean continent to continent. The former Royal Marine has a prosthetic right leg having lost his and making his accomplishment even more amazing.
Back in 2015, 53-year-old John Beeden rowed solo across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to Australia. He had previously rowed solo across the Atlantic Ocean the year that I started building my rowboat.
Of course these and other record-setting rowers didn’t achieve their feats in a simple boat like mine. They had special machines and used sliding seats for more efficiency in their rowing. I have no aspirations for going long distances or setting any records. I’m happy just rowing around a harbor or lake for pleasure. My boat has plenty of capacity to go on short journeys and could be used for camp cruising. It could easily carry a tent and food and one person could sleep aboard. But I’d prefer a canoe for than kind of journey. In a canoe I get to face the direction I’m going. A paddle takes less energy than a pair of oars. I find a canoe better suited to going long distances. However, I really enjoy my little yawl and hope to keep paddling it for many years to come.
Due to waterfowl hunting, many lakes in our area are closed to recreational boating until the end of February. However, Birch Bay is just 5 miles from our son’s farm where the boat is currently stored in his barn. It would be a simple thing to head out for a row on any day when the weather is cooperating. Although there are areas along the Salish Sea that require local knowledge as the many islands affect currents and tides, Birch Bay is a good place for a quiet and safe solo paddle within sight of land.
The boat needs one small repair before it is ready to hit the water. I could accomplish that in 20 minutes. My goal is to get that repair done tomorrow when I am at the farm. After that I’ll have no excuse to keep me off of the water. It will be good to have oars in hand once again.