Notes From Our Vermont Row Boat Owners
Subject: Going with the current!
Had a dandy row on Puget Sound yesterday. Should’ve taken a camera. Launched off Ft. Warden’s beach out by Pt. Wilson, rowed out to the fast current gushing from Admiralty Inlet and swept fast for Port Townsend Bay. A little breeze was with me; that and a strong plus-tide current going my way made me row harder to see how fast we could really go over the bottom. `Wish I’d brought a GPS. We wuz makin’ knots, mon! I’d look down a moment, look up and a trophy house atop the bluff, abeam seconds ago, now receeding fast.
I stopped rowing, let the oars trail, took a drink of lemonade ~ and only slowed a little. I realized if I did that too long observers on the bluff would know it was the current, not the guide boat or the rower making us ~ me & the guide boat ~ go so fast. After that I kept rowing when thirsty.
Approaching the entrance to the bay, a 70’ whale-watch boat roared up sounding like a three-engine freight train climbing a mountain. Bow-wave like a destroyer’s, wake big enough to blot out the shoreline across the Sound, it slowed as it neared, but that wake continued to roll my way.
I turned the guide boat, pulled for all I was worth and surfed the huge wake, stern lifting, mustache peeling white off the hull four feet aft of the stem, but no water came aboard. Between my pulling, the current and wake-surfing, we made serious speed for several moments!
Rowing can get exciting.
I dawdled around out in the bay watching birds, clouds, seals, distant boats, pulling an oar occasionally to keep facing snow-covered mountains. I leaned back on the caned back-rest, ate an energy bar, drank lemonade, then noticed the tide had turned. It was time for it but surprising how fast the reversal happened. From plus-high-water to the ebb running hard seemed like five minutes! By the time I finished the munching, I was being carried smartly back the way I’d come, so I took up the oars and swept us faster yet to began a swift pull for Pt. Wilson.
Around the corner out in the Sound again, the wind was considerably fresher, still out of the north. A wind-against-current chop built fast, a headwind, but the current ruled with lots more effect on our progress than wind & seas. We were again screaming over the bottom ~ except the water was piling up over what I’d guess is an abrupt shoal some 500 yards off the beach. That and the wind made for waves approaching Oh Shit size from dead ahead, of course. The guide boat’s hollow bow sliced into each wave, then its fuller, more buoyant sections took over to lift us skyward. A strong stroke right then shot the boat up & over the crest to levitate a moment before crashing into the trough. Again, again and again we did this bold, noisy, spray-flying curtsy. I felt like a surf man in a dory bashing out from a beach. It was a little thrilling, a little scary. The sea continued to build, a dark grey sky loomed over the Straits of Juan de Fuca. Was this wind building before a rain?
I debated – keep going less than two miles to my put-in or come about and pull for the shelter of Pt. Hudson, tie up and hitch-hike out to the fort for my rig? I judged my speed. The shore a quarter mile off was going by at a good clip – almost as fast as it had gone the other way with the flood. I wasn’t shipping water. Boat & oars were healthy. I seemed ok. It would only be another twelve or fourteen minutes — go for it I decided. Much simpler.
In another couple hundred yards, we were out of the big waves ~ the bottom’s effect on the wind-stirred sea diminished and the wind dropped! I was rowing in a mere one foot chop! A generous wave-period made the boat lazily hobby-horse. We still streaked north and less than a mile later, the wind died completely. I rowed the last half-mile or so to the state park’s sandy ramp on a sheet of glass. The retired proctologist and his trophy wife I imagined watched our sprint south from a mansion on the bluff saw the boat go north just about as fast.
Yup, sounds like a phony show-off alright, but it was enjoyable contrast to so many rows past populations where we’ve gone fast with the flow one way, slow as a dying dog the other against the current. I’ve always thought for lubbers that gave lie to the slippery beauty of a guide boat no matter who is rowing. Oden helped so much yesterday, those folks could be forgiven if the doctor mansplained, “That boat’s got a motor in it. Just a guy rowing can’t make it go like that.”
Dr. David Petters is a chiropractor who lives in Skaneateles, New York. A few years ago Dr. Dave was seized by the idea that he wanted to row the length of each of the eleven Finger Lakes in Western New York. He sent us an e-mail asking if he could borrow a boat for this undertaking, saying that he was going to write a book about his experience. Sure, we thought, why not? Better him than us.
Every few weeks while he was rowing we’d receive a package containing newspaper clippings, photographs and videos documenting his progress. His adventure was completed right on schedule, and in one case, ahead of schedule. At the end of one of the lakes, his wife and other well-wishers were going to meet him at the town park, with a cake shaped like a Guideboat and a film crew from the local television station. The only problem was……he was two hours ahead of schedule. He couldn’t arrive before the invited guests and news cameras. So….he pulled under a large tree and sat in his boat and for two hours. Then, sensing he’d waited long enough, he pulled out from under the tree and rowed into town to a hero’s welcome. Dr. Petters has since written several articles about rowing the lakes… the 15 miles of Canandaigua, the 38 miles of Seneca, 40 miles on Cayuga and 8 other lakes. We look forward to the publication of his book.
Brooks Townes is a writer, a rower and a friend of the company. He knows more about boats than just about anyone we’ve ever met. Here’s a note from him about his latest adventure ….this time involving a kite and his dark-blue Guideboat.
Hi Steve & Dave,
I meant to write a couple weeks ago and think I forgot (damn lead pipes, or maybe it’s age) to tell you that the old guide boat served me well down on North Carolina’s Outer Banks earlier this month—and I discovered a thing or two.
I took it to Beaufort, first to the NC Maritime Museum where I did some research, then I rowed and kite-sailed about 80 miles just inside the Banks, sometimes within apple-throwing distance of wild horses frolicking over their islands.
Actually, I only kite-sailed a few miles, but that was an E-ticket ride at hull-speed and beyond until I got a string caught in an oarlock’s safety chain. Catching your kite string in the little chain when hauling hiney two miles off shore makes things exciting. I got very sincere there for a bit. The bloomin’ boat half-broached and slipped along at a strange angle of attack and heel, the downwind rail scooping more water than seemly.
After an eternity of that, I discovered the water out there was only thigh-deep: All I had to do was drag a foot to get the boat straightened up and headed more appropriately downwind, then simply jump out, drag along to a stop and stand on the sandy bottom to deal with the situation. The kite, a 12 sq. ft. parasail, pulls like a mule, but with feet planted in the bottom sand, it became easy to control.
Before the fiasco it was highly satisfying to sit in the bottom of the boat (the center seat was removed so I could steer, sorta, and trim by shifting my weight fore & aft and to the sides) and scream along, pulled by the colorful kite, green water shooting up the hull to thunder, white against the rails. The one time I chanced looking back, the top of the sternpost was about level with the water as the boat’s rump wanted to fall into the hole in the water made by the boat’s forward sections.
I’d guess with wind gradients, the breeze was about 20 knots up where the kite was—and about half that on the water. In that wind, it took judicious weight-shifting, and enough attention had to be paid to make one plumb tuckered fairly quickly. It’s more relaxing to row the thing.
Speaking of which, while rowing solo and lightly loaded down there in brisk breezes and chop, I found it very easy to trim the boat to track well on any point to the wind by filling a two-gallon kitty litter jug with water, tying a line to it and putting it on the floorboards just ahead of the center seat. Going upwind, I simply shove the jug forward, lowering the bow and the area it presents to the wind while raising the stern a tad. That lets the boat weather-cock and keeps tracking upwind without making you pull harder on one oar than the other.
Slightly off the wind, the boat trimmed nicely and tracked well with the jug shoved only a couple feet forward of the center seat. Just the right amount of freeboard bow & stern makes a big difference. It’s easy to adjust the weight fore & aft until it’s just right regardless of wind direction. For downwind or no-wind, I pull the line tied to the jug and slide the thing back against the center seat under my tailbone and, again, she tracks like a train. I suspect the bow is slightly higher than the stern when thusly trimmed since a rower’s weight is naturally aft of the hull’s center station. When the boat’s lightly loaded, due to the extremely hollow ends and lack of buoyancy in the extremities, shifting a mere 16 lbs. or so of water jug three or four feet along the center line makes a big difference!
Nice thing about a plastic water jug for trim ballast is it can be dumped out or refilled whenever and it doesn’t mar the boat’s finish. I don’t tie the full jug to the boat so if I go over it’s not a liability.
Since returning to the mountains, in Western North Carolina, I’m still using the ballast jug. It greatly expands the number of days I can comfortably row on my local lake. Before, if it was blowing 12 or more, I’d often not row since fighting to keep the boat pointed right took a lot of the fun out of it. Now I just fill the jug and shove it to and fro as required. There’s satisfaction in rowing on a windy day with the water slap-slapping the hull, the breeze cool against the fevered brow, the ability to pull as evenly on the oars as on a windless day.
On a dock in Beaufort was one of your boats, a cream-colored Kevlar guide boat fitted for the big back-rest. I couldn’t recall f’sure the color of the boat I delivered to the Colonel in Washington for you, but thought it might be the same one. Nobody around to ask.
I’ve had to tell plenty of people this spring how to reach y’all and hope they have!
Tim Gleason is an agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. We kept asking Tim what exactly he does for the ATF but he wouldn’t say. As we were nearing the completion of his boat, Tim was sent undercover to a far-away place. His assignment took longer than expected and, getting bored in the empty hours, he kept calling to check on his boat. “Tim,” we said, “Your boat is done. It’s sitting right here. It’s beautiful. When are you coming home?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Where are you?”
“I can’t tell you that either.”
Finally, as his days dragged on, he told us that he was undercover, buying drugs and machine guns in New Orleans. At the conclusion of his assignment, he returned home, collected his boat and rowed for five days with his 15-year-old daughter from White River Junction in Vermont, down the Connecticut River, through Vermont, New Hampshire, western Massachusetts and Connecticut to the Long Island Sound. We’d like to show you pictures of Tim and his daughter on their trip, but then we’d have to kill you. Also, his first name isn’t Tim and his last name isn’t Gleason.
We sold a couple of boats to FBI agents….including a former director of the FBI… we’d tell you who they are and what they think of their boats … but then, well… you know…
Al Freihofer teaches English at Boys’ Latin in Baltimore. We first met him when he pulled into our parking lot with his life-long pal, Brian Rooney of ABC News. Al eventually orchestrated a surprise present for Brian of one of our wooden boats. Then, others in the family orchestrated a surprise present for Al of one of our Kevlar boats. Since then, we don’t even know if Al could estimate how many miles he’s rowed. His exploits have been written up in his book, The Big Row, as well as on his blog. How he managed to get himself and his boat onto the Green Monster in Fenway….well, we don’t actually know.
The following is an article published about his exploits, published in Soundings Magazine. Al Freihofer was at the oars up to 12 hours per day, sleeping on public docks, beaches and on the boat. Sunburned and exhausted, Al eased his 15-foot Adirondack Guide Boat into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor after a 13-day row this summer from New York. Greeted at the dock by a crowd of friends and family, Freihofer later learned that his voyage helped raise more than $17,000 for a scholarship at the school where he teaches English.
“Last spring my students, their parents, my colleagues and many friends climbed aboard with the idea of this becoming a fundraiser for my school to assist students whose families might struggle to raise tuition money,” Freihofer, who is 55, says in an e-mail to Soundings. Freihofer teaches at the Boys’ Latin School of Maryland, located in Baltimore.
“We were able to raise $17,650 on pledges ranging from a penny per mile to other more hefty lump-sum all-or-nothing’ promises,” he says.
Freihofer pushed off from the city dock in Troy, NY. The amateur rower guided his boat down the Hudson River, under the Verrazano Bridge to New Jersey, down the Intracoastal Waterway to Cape May, NJ, up the Delaware River, through the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and south through Chesapeake Bay into Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Freihofer was at the oars 10 to 12 hours per day, he says, and slept on public docks, beaches and on the boat. He spent only two nights in hotels.
“I started in Troy because I was born and grew up there,” explains Freihofer. “The idea of a trip ‘from home to home’ held appeal. In addition, the waters along the way are largely protected, even though later, particularly on the Delaware, I would discover that they were not as protected as I might have wished.”
Freihofer’s boat swamped twice while on the Delaware but his biggest obstacle, he says was his own physical endurance. “It’s rather a kind of limiting factor,” says Freihofer. “While weather was not a factor, wind, tides and current presented challenges. My shortest day was only seven miles near Mantoloking, N.J., because of high, sustained winds on the bow. I simply could not make ground.”
Freihofer says he rowed 452 miles at an average speed of 3.39 knots. He estimates he pulled his oars 128,000 times.
Since returning to Baltimore Aug. 17, Freihofer has returned to teaching and is enjoying “life as usual.” He’s considering a more ambitious row with a friend from Duluth, MN, to Troy but says that journey could be years away. “Truth be told, this trip has given me a lifetime of fond memories,” he says.