Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ravn Rows in the Ocean

With the good weather quickly coming to an end here on the Oregon coast, I often forgo working on the boat to go out for a quick row. Last week my brother was in town and I took him rowing on the Salmon River and crossed a breaking bar out into the wide Pacific. With a four-foot swell and a fresh breeze Ravn was truly in her element. The photo shows the mouth of the Salmon River with Cascade Head in the background.

Ravn did what few boats can do of any size and that's to cross a shallow river bar with breaking seas. At no time did I feel like the boat was out of control or that we were in danger. This is what these boats were built for and centuries of refinement have made them very good at it. She tracked like she was on rails, even when we were on top of the breaking waves. It was nice having my brother there to direct me over the bar. You need a set of eyes looking looking fore and aft to negotiate such a maneuver. It would have been nicer still to have had a second set of oars for him to use, so instead of directing he could have rowed facing forward while sitting on the stern thwart. The added thrust would have been nice, but not essential.

Once we were out on the ocean we fished near some off-shore rocks. The boat held station like she had a parking break. There is a lot of boat below the waterline, even though I have opted for less keel than Mr. Atkin drew. Both my brother and I moved around the boat at will. This boat is very stable. It feels more like a 25-foot keel boat and not at all like a dingy.

After a couple hours of fishing (not catching, by the way) we came back across the bar and found a nice little beach inside the river's mouth to eat our lunch. My brother again proved his worth by guiding me between some suitcase-sized rocks until Ravn's bow slid up on the beach. I jumped out first (I had on rubber boots) and held the bow. My brother, in street shoes, was able to step off the bow onto dry beach. Another good reason to go with the a shallow keel.

I thought Ravn would be a lot less handy than her predecessor, a 13.5-foot Chamberlain dory. She is about three times as heavy, draws about eight more inches and is five feet longer. In other words, she's a lot more boat. I thought that would make her harder to launch and recover and harder to tow behind my little four-cylinder truck. I have not found that to be the case. It takes about the same time and effort to launch and recover the boat and I hardly notice I'm towing anything when I have her hitched up. While I generally agree with the old saw that the smaller the boat the more you use it. that's not my experience with Ravn. From the time I get it in my head that "Hey, I should go for a quick row," to when I'm actually rowing on the lake near my house is about 10 minutes. That's the same amount of time it took with my little dory. And, because this boat is so much more capable and seaworthy, I know I will use it more.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ravn's Rowing Report

Since launching Ravn Aug. 21 I've taken her rowing four times and I'm happy to report that, true to her Viking heritage, she handles like a dream under oars. There's no question that she has some weight when you take that first pull, but the extra glide seems to more than make up for it. She also just brushes off small waves.

The other thing I'm really pleased about is how stable she is. While rowing alone I used all of my 250 pounds to try and push the gunwale down at the middle of the boat. I didn't even get my knuckles wet. On another occasion I took my wife, daughter and her two kids rowing with me. At one point during the voyage four of the five of us were standing and moving about the boat; it didn't feel at all tippy. The grandkids had a ball running around on the boat.

When you look at the boat from the end it is narrow on the waterline, which makes it such a good pulling boat. She quickly gets beamier, however, as the boat heels or as the load increases, making her more stable. This bodes well for her being able to stand up under the press of sail.

I rowed across the lake near my home last Saturday when the wind was blowing about 15 knots creating some nasty wind chop. She didn't ship a drop of water and behaved herself like a lady, tracking straight and true. I decided to stop rowing and see what she would do. She slowly came to a stop and then clocked head to wind. I think that is the payoff for having a long, fairly deep (for a rowboat) keel.

While at the Toledo Wooden Boat Show, a fellow Coot loaned me two binders loaded with information on Scandinavian boats. It included a monograph on the Hardanger Faering by Owen H. Wicksteed prepared for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, copyright 1978. The author's family owned Kari, a Hardanger faering built in 1892. (I believe that this is the boat on which Paul Fisher based his Kari 2.) The oars used on the Kari were 10 feet, four inches long.

All the rowing I've done so far has been with a pair of 9-foot oars I borrowed from a friend. They move Ravn along just fine, but I feel the need for a little more leverage. I'm at work on a pair of 10-foot oars modeled after a pair of 8-foot Norwegian-made oars that are about 50 years old. They are beautifully made and have a nice shape. I'm excited to finish them and try them out.

One concern I had about Ravn was that she would be more difficult to launch and tow than my 14-foot Chamberlain dory. I need not have worried; even though Ravn is more than three times as heavy and has a deeper draft, it is not noticeably more difficult to launch, recover or tow than my little dory was.