….or Everything’s Coming Up Rosie.
My love of wooden boats goes back to when I was a child in Newfoundland and loved to hang out in my Uncle’s trap skiff with my cousin Derek. Sometimes I would be rowed around by my siblings. Once I tried, without permission, to take her out for a row by myself. I didn’t get far before my arms fatigued pulling the heavy wooden boat with the heavy wooden oars. I managed to get back in before I got into any trouble but then couldn’t figure out how to fasten her to the mooring. Still not sure if I told anyone or if it was discovered, thankfully, before she had time to drift away or beat herself up against the wharf. I was able to row our little plywood dinghy but if she was in the water it usually meant Pete was close by and it couldn’t be wrested from him for love nor money – I was sadly always lacking in any items which he would have found barter worthy.
I never liked aluminum boats – to me they were to boating as fighter jets were to hang-gliding. They just didn’t sound right going through the water, they were unkind to the bare knees and offered no cosy cuddy for a kid to curl up in out of the cold. Fibreglass boats were slippery and plastic and seemed to have no soul.
Then I grew up and started to go solo and quickly learned about things like maintenance and wood rot and painting and the weight of a thing. It was all very discouraging. And then I found Rosie.
Well, the kit for what was to become Rosie. It was the best of both worlds; wood and fibreglass and epoxy and varnish. (How many worlds is that really?) There is an intimacy achieved with the building of a wooden boat that can’t really be understood until you have done it. My hand has passed over every square millimetre of Rosie’s surface perhaps a couple of dozen times through fairing and sanding and laying on epoxy and later, five coats of varnish. If that sounds like a lot of work for something I only use every couple of weeks, if that, it was indeed. Was it worth it? In spades. Do I have what I want? Oh my heavens, yes.
What did I learn from building my CLC Expedition Wherry? To be patient. To tune out the nay-sayers and little red devils which perch on your shoulder. To respect the advice of experts. To ask for help but only when essential. That I should have researched the total cost beforehand. I learned how to move an 18 foot strip of 1/4 inch plywood without bending it. How to plane and sand and lay on varnish. How to be meticulous when necessary. My greatest errors were in underestimating the amount of time, dollars and space the project would require. I coped. I succeeded.
I chose to wait so long before I reviewed Rosie’s performance because the first trip or two out were pretty ragged. I launched her with oars all akimbo, a wriggly seat and a small case of nerves. She was so pretty, I was terrified of doing damage. And damage her I did; getting her on and off the trailer and later, letting her drift under the outboard motor of another boat. There was no damage from rowing with the oars poorly adjusted but it made for unsatisfactory performance. I had completely forgotten that when I rowed sliding seat years ago it was in a quad and I was rowing sweep not sculling and thus only had to maneuver one oar. Sculling with two requires symmetry and attention. Relearning curve, yes indeedy.
I am now comfortable in maneuvering, rowing, and launching Rosie by myself but am still not practiced enough to get her up to hull speed. Indeed, that is one of her problems: she goes too fast!! No sooner have I launched and taken a few paddle strokes, then I am there already. I will have to venture much further from home if I would like to spend a whole day rowing without going back and forth over the same ground. Here in Liverpool, open ocean appears just past the bridge and it is not very far up the river before you come to the rapids. Thank goodness I bought the trailer. Next stop: Lahave River.
Rosie’s other big problem is that she is too pretty. Invariably, during launch or haul-out someone comes over and wants to chat. “That’s a pretty kayak….” they say. Anyhow, my concentration becomes interrupted and I miss a step and either fudge the launch or drive off without all my gear after hauling. I plan to write Chesapeake Light Craft later and ask them when they plan to design an invisibility cloak for their vessels. Essential when you want to get away in a hurry or apply your full attention to getting on the trailer safely when you are exhausted from rowing in the heat.
I jest but she does have one down-side. Because of the outriggers, it is very difficult to get the wherry close to the dock for getting in and out (should I say boarding and disembarking?) I usually just push her off from the ramp and walk into the water next to her and climb in. I have bought a pair of flat neoprene sneakers from MEC which dry quickly and sit flat on the foot supports. If you don’t like wet feet then you might need a sandy beach for launching. This also makes it difficult for beach-combing but I have no problem skidding her up on a good bed of kelp. I haven’t yet tried carrying cargo for an over-nighter or a picnic. That will have to wait til later. I also haven’t quite adjusted to my little rear-view mirror which is a big challenge even if you are not dyslexic.
There is always a running list of things I need to buy or make. Like a larger mirror to clamp on the combing or an oar tether which won’t interfere with rowing – when the oar accidentally swings out my arms aren’t long enough to reach it. Hmmm, maybe a short gaff would do the trick. I need a ditty bag to put at the end of the slide for my camera and beverage. I need a long piece of webbing with a clip to feed over the forward roller so I can stay at the back and control the stern while hauling. She has a habit of jumping the rear roller and this has already caused some pretty serious scratches. And a cleat for the painter, and a picnic bag just smaller than the hatch, and a drink bottle that doesn’t roll around and clatter, and I’m sure there’s more.
Is the Expedition Wherry the right boat for you? She is if you want a full body work-out and don’t want to go out in the wide open ocean or carry a large bulky load. There is a fair bit of stowage but you are limited by the hatch size. You do need to be fairly nimble for getting in and out. You also need a trailer or alternatively, a really good system for car-topping. She is on the heavy side. If you have never rowed a sliding seat rowboat before it would be well worth your time to go to a local rowing club and take a lesson or two. Or at least a YouTube lesson. There is a rhythm required which keeps you from banging your knees and catching your oars. I still have difficulty rowing in the bigger swells without catching the oars. Indeed, the second time I went out I was rowing in an area with swells coming in, the tide and current running out, and the wind blowing perpendicular to all. I felt like I was trying to row in the tank of a Cuisinart. That would have been fine if I could have reached over the side and dipped me up a nice strawberry daiquiri or margarita.
If you decide to build your own Chesapeake Light Craft boat here’s some advice. 1. Read the instruction book before you start. Then read it again. Then a third time. 2. Gather everything you need before you need it. When they say you need a thousand and then some clamps they aren’t joking. 3. Count everything and label it before you start. Many of the cut-outs look very similar and can be easily confused. My hardware package was actually missing a few items as well but the kind folks at CLC quickly alieved my panic and put the items in the mail long before I needed them. 4. If you don’t want dust on it or in it, remove it from your workshop before you start. Epoxy dust is as invasive as nanobots. 5. Read the tips and tutorials on the CLC website. They have built more boats than you can count. Then read them again so you’ll really know where to look when you need it. 6. Buy more clamps. 7. Save all the cardboard. I used the packaging again and again to move pieces of glued wood or to make temporary surfaces. 8. Stop when you are tired. If not you will surely make mistakes. If you do make a mistake, sleep on it. Ideas for resolution had an uncanny way of popping into my head just as I was waking in the morning. 9. Know your help. Any person who assists you needs to be attentive and able to think quickly and have the patience of Job.
Yes, Rosie meets expectations. She is fast, stable and responsive. She tracks like a dream but you can turn her on a doubloon. Indeed, she feels like an extension of myself when I am rowing. And if I never row her again (Knock on wood for saying that) she will make a darned fine lawn ornament.
© Judy Parsons 2015 – click on any picture for a larger view.