Chris Duff's 'Northern Reach' with Custom Outriggers... Details Below

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Outrigger Options

(Note: This and the following posts were originally published in 2016... they each focus on a different aspect of powering small boats with oars. This post was published March, 2016.)

Following are examples of oarlock outriggers… some elegant and some not, but all do the job of providing spread to the oarlocks enabling the use of longer oars.

Selway-Fisher 15' Adirondack Guide Boat Outrigger
Outrigger on a Selway-Fisher 15’ Adirondack Guide Boat for David O' Dempsey. Note the thin metal plate on the outboard side of the gunnel that absorbs the torque of the rowing stroke. These outriggers fold 180 degrees to enable coming alongside docks and other boats.


Custom Wayland Marine Merry Wherry Outriggers
Chris Duff, a long-distance ocean rower, had these outriggers built for his 19 foot “Northern Reach”, a modified Wayland Marine Merry Wherry.


Monfort’s ‘wing’ outrigger is similar to many commercial outriggers. I would make the interior angle greater than his 60 degrees for fear of hitting my knuckles on the ‘catch’ portion of the stroke. I would also have a third bolt at the apex of the wing attached to a cross beam or the forward edge of the aft deck.


Simple 'Hinge' Outrigger

“RowerWet” uses this simple outrigger on a canoe as described in this "Instructables" article. I would be concerned about rowing torque either twisting the hinge and/or loosening the fastenings. Fastening a 3/8 or 1/2 inch triangle of plywood to the bottom of the hinge, with the base of the triangle (6 inches) a tight fit against the outside of the gunnel and the apex at the end of the hinge, would provide sufficient strength to prevent the twist from doing any damage.


Model of Gavin Atkin's OarMouse Outriggers
Galvin Atkin’s OarMouse plans show another outrigger. Based on those plans, I made a model and here are photos of the outriggers. The outriggers slide under two vertical “L” shaped runners attached to the inside of the topsides as shown in this photo.

Side View of the Outrigger
This is a side view of the outrigger. The oarlock socket would be mounted on the upper right. The angle of the (white) top to the vertical slide accomodates the flare of the topsides.

Two Braces Support the Oarlock Platform

There are two braces to support the top of the outrigger.


Outriggers that Slide on the Coaming and are Removable
These outriggers (from a model) hook onto the coaming. They can be slid on the coaming to make room for a passenger and/or to adjust the rower’s location for fore and aft balance.

End View of the Sliding Outrigger Model
This side view of the outrigger shows the ‘hook’ that goes under the inner strut on the coaming.

There is no single best outrigger… they each have their pluses and minuses. Hopefully, these samples will give you ideas on how you can make outriggers for your oar cruiser.
In the next blog, we'll introduce another New Jersey rowing venue.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Oar to Boat Connection

(Note: This and the following posts were originally published in 2016... they each focus on a different aspect of powering small boats with oars. The following post was published January, 2016.)

What are some of the options for oarlocks, sockets, leathers and buttons?

Oar Locks

Probably the simplest oarlock is a single “thole-pin” with a loose lashing around the loom of the oar and the thole-pin as shown below.

From Small Boats, by Phil Bolger, page 32


Tom the Rower's (http://drunkrowing.blogspot.com/) large dory has his own variation of a thole pin oarlock. The oar is fastened to the thole pin by a loop of line that goes from the top of the pin, over and around the oar between PVC buttons screwed to the oar and then back around the pin under the oar. He changes ‘gear’, by shifting the loop from button to button. Clever.

Tom the Rower's Custom Thole Pin Oarlock

Tom stated (see Comments in my blog on “gears”,
(http://theoarcruising.blogspot.com/2016/01/change-gears-when-rowing.html) that he could not feather with this arrangements. Since his oar blades are only 3.5” (89mm) wide, he says they don’t present a windage problem.


The oarlocks below are available through Duckworks and are the locks I use on my Ross Lillistone “Flint”. They are pictured in the ‘gears’ blog mentioned above.

Duckworks “Seadog Premium Brass Ribbed Horn Oarlocks”


The “Douglas” design oarlocks (below) have two distinct advantages over the ‘horn’ locks above:

1.    The front of the oar is directly over the center of the pivot point and therefore the oar does NOT have the tendency to ‘walk’ as you stroke. (However, I have never felt my oars ‘walking’ (toward the center of the boat) using the ‘horn’ oars above as Bolger talks about in his book, Small Boats, on page 32-33).

2.    To me, the big advantage of the Douglas lock is the 6 degree angle of the forward (pivot) side of the lock. When used with a square or “D” shaped loom, the oar blade is tipped back 6 degrees which is the ideal angle of the blade during the power portion of the stroke… steep enough to keep the oar in the water, but not so steep that the oar dives.

Douglas Oarlock diagram and dimensions

Also see an article reviewing the Douglas Oarlock:


The oarlocks below are manufactured in Sydney, Australia (http://www.gacooarlocks.com/)

Gaco Oarlocks

Gaco also sells sleeves to enable the locks to fit in either 1/2” or 7/16” sockets. A visit to the site is well worth your time. It contains a series of articles on boats, rowing, oars, etc.


Sockets can be top mounted, or side mounted. It is critical that the socket be firmly attached to the boat. I’ve found that (even large) screws are not good enough. The screws will work loose over time. They did for me, and I now use a combination of bolts with cap nuts and washers, along with screws, to attach the sockets. Since doing that, I’ve had no issue of the sockets working loose.

Sockets can be purchased with oversized holes for the oarlock pin, but they include a nylon bushing so that the lock pivots in nylon vs. metal to metal… much smoother and quieter… and replaceable.

Leathers and Buttons

Leathers perform two functions:

1.    Protect the oar from wear at the oarlock

2.    Help to make feathering easier and quieter.

Buttons stop the oar from sliding out (into the water) of the lock. The button can be an integral part of the ‘leather’ or added separately.

Traditionally, leathers have been made of… leather. Shaw and Tenney,
http://www.shawandtenney.com/productdisplay/leather-kit, Duckworks http://www.duckworksbbs.com/hardware/oarlocks/oarleather/index.htm and others sell kits to enable you to apply real leather to your oars.

The photo below is of leathers I applied to a set of oars. The kit came with instructions on how to trim the leather to fit the oar and to sew it on the oar with a ‘herringbone’ stich. The button (supplied in the kit) is cut to the proper length and then, in this case, attached with escutcheon nails (about one inch, brass, with round domed heads).

Leather leathers

But leather is not the only option. On these oars below, I used 1/8” Polyester Solid Braid Line from Duckworks (http://www.duckworksbbs.com/line/polyester/sbraid/index.htm). Jim Michalak (jimsboats.com) suggests making a button by creating a “Turk’s Head” out of bungie cord. No matter how tight I made the Turk’s Head, the button slipped. I finally had to glue it to the loom. Now that I’ve installed the gear changer (See “Change Gears When Rowing”, http://theoarcruising.blogspot.com/2016/01/change-gears-when-rowing.html ), the button is really not necessary.

Oar 'leather' and button made from 1/8" line and bungie cord

There are other alternatives for ‘leather and button’. Consider the Martinoli Oar Sleeves with Buttons from Duckworks 
http://www.duckworksbbs.com/hardware/rowing/sleeves-rs/index.htm often paired with Douglas Oarlocks discussed above.

Another option is Seadog Adjustable Oar Collars, http://www.duckworksbbs.com/hardware/oarlocks/sd580101/index.htm My concern with these is that the amount of gearing flexibility is less than 4”.

There are many alternatives for how to connect the oars to your oar cruiser. Make your decision based on the severity of weather conditions you row in, how long you expect your boat/equipment to last and your wallet.

In 'comments' below, let us know what oarlocks, sockets, leathers and buttons you use and what would you change if you were to do it over again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Making Spoon Blade Oars

(Note: This and the following posts were originally published in 2016... they each focus on a different aspect of powering small boats with oars. The following post was published August, 2016.)

Oars are the ‘drive train’ for an oar cruiser. Just like the engine, transmission and differential in a car, we need them to be sized correctly and strong enough. This post is a rewrite (because I’ve made changes to the oars) of a 2014 article in Duckworks called “New Oars for Raven”.

I searched for oar plans and found these (Note, this link no longer works. A copy of the plans are on this post.)  They are for 7.5' (2286 mm) oars. I expanded the spoon and loom length proportionally to create 8' (2438 mm) oars. I ripped two clear, straight 8' x 4" x 3/4" (2438 x 102 x 19 mm) Radiata pine planks to 1.5" (38 mm) width, swapped two of them end-for-end so the grain would be opposing each other, stacked them (with wax  paper between the two stacks), slathered Titebond 3 on the facing surfaces and clamped tight overnight. Result was two 1.5" x 1.5" x 8' (38 x 38 x 2438 mm) straight oar loom blanks.

Layup of four 8' x 1.5" x 3/4" (2438 x 38 x 19mm) for the two oars

On the table saw, tapered the oar blanks according to the plans. Result was a 1.5" (38 mm) square cross section that ran from the handle end to the lock location and tapered from lock (1.5" (38 mm) wide) to 3/4" (19 mm) wide at the spoon end. I kept the glue joint parallel to the blade face.

Used a band saw to cut the curve into the loom for the spoon blade. The end of the loom was now 3/4" by 1/8" (19 x 3.2 mm).

The band to be glued on the face of the blade came from 1" by 1/4" (25 x 6 mm) Western Red Cedar, tapered down to 1/8" (3.2 mm) at each end.

The blades were cut from 1/4" (6 mm) Okume, after checking that it would make the bend in the blade. I penciled in the edges of both the loom and the ‘band’ on the blade to act as index lines for masking (the blue stuff) to minimize glue spreading.

A trial layup (see below) showed that the loom was not tight up against the blade about 6" (152 mm) from the end of the loom. Using a pair of wedges, I was able to force the loom up against the blade… then glued and let dry for two days. A sigh of relief when I undid the clamps and it retained the required curve.

Layup for gluing the blade to the loom

Using a draw knife, thumb plane, 1.5" (38 mm) plywood template and sandpaper, I rounded the loom starting at the lock, out to the start of the blade.

Tools used to shape the looms

With a chisel, rasp, file and sandpaper, shaped the 5.5" (140 mm) handles. Pictured below is the handle shape (1" to 1.25" [23 x 25 mm] diameter).

Tapered handles

Sanded everything and then applied two coats of Watco Teak Oil to everything except the handles. Added two coats of urethane varnish on the blades. The picture below shows the shape and curve of the blades.

Finished blades

To protect the oar at the lock, I wrapped the loom with mason’s string.

Using Duckworks 5/32" (4 mm) Solid Braid Polyester Line and Nylon Micro Clamcleat with Fairlead, created adjustable stops for the oars which enable quick adjustment for changing the 'gear' on the oars. This works really well.

The picture below shows how the clamcleat is mounted on the bottom side of the oar with the line looping around the lock and hitched to blade side of the loom. The toggle hanging below the lock is a 7/16" (11 mm) cylinder, bored down the center to take a short piece of the polyester line. A slot is cut half the length of the toggle to enable it to pivot (for removing the lock), yet prevent losing the lock during normal use.

Adjustable stop and toggle to hold the lock

The oars have been in use for three seasons. Only maintenance has been a light sanding and another coat of varnish on the blades. There has been no delamination or opening of any glue joints as the result of using only Titebond 3. I’m very happy with the design/build and would do the same for the next pair of oars I build.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

What are Common Oar Dimensions?

(Note: This and the following posts were originally published in 2016... they each focus on a different aspect of powering small boats with oars. The following post was published February 7, 2016)

Here we’ll talk about how various designers dimension their oars.


Koti uses the following table:

Oar Length as a Function Oar Lock Spread

He suggests selecting an oar length between the light blue and red lines if you are strong or rowing in smooth and low wind conditions. If you’re not that strong, or wind/wave conditions are more difficult, then select an oar length between the yellow and black lines. Note that “Beam” is the beam at the oarlocks.

Does this mean you need to have two sets of oars? Not necessarily… you can adjust the effective length of the oar by using ‘gearing’… see the post “Change Gears When Rowing?".

 Oar Designs

Following are a sample of oar designs created by small boat designers…

Jim Michalak

Jim, in both his book (Boat Building for Beginners (and Beyond)) and at www.jimsboats.com/webarchives/1999/1Jan99.htm#Rowing3 (Note: this link does not work... go to www.jimsboats.com, scroll to bottom and click on "THE WAY BACK ISSUES". Click on "1999" >> "January 1st 1999" >> "Rowing 3") diagrams an oar made from a single 8 foot "2 by 6" (1½” by 5½”) (38mm by 140mm):

Jim Michalak Oar from a "Two by Six"

If we placed the pivot point (oarlock position) 3 inches outboard of where the loom changes from square to round, the gear ratio would be 2.5. If this point were to be the center of 6” (152mm) leathers, we could adjust gear from a ‘high’ gear of 3.0 to a ‘low’ gear of 2.1.

Gear = outboard length (tip of blade to oarlock) divided by inboard length (oarlock to end of handle).


R.D. Culler, in his book, Boats, Oars, and Rowing, page 44 gives dimensions for 8’ (2,44m) oars.
R.D. Culler's 8' Oar

And on page 61, he diagrams an 8.5’ (2,6m) spoon-blade oar. If we place the oarlock 3” from the handle end of the 13” leather, then the gear would be 3.5. If we placed the oarlock 6” from the handle end of the leather, gear would be 3.0.

Culler's Design for an 8' 6" Spoon-blade Oar


Phil Bolger
 (Small Boats by Phillip C. Bolger, page 30) provides a diagram of a 7’ (2,1m) spoon-blade oar from “Old Town Canoe Company”. According to their site, these are no longer made.

Old Town Canoe Spoon-blade Oar Dimensions

On this oar, placing the lock 3 inches outboard of the button would produce a gear of 2.7, the same as the oar below.

Bolger's Suggested Changes to a Mass Produced Oar

The diagram above shows how Bolger would modify a “mass produced oar” to make it lighter and more efficient.

John DeLapp

John, in the Winter 1990 issue of Ash Breeze (Note: This link no longer works.(http://www.tsca.net/puget/resources/oars/),  published a diagram (below) for how to make a spoon blade oar. I followed his instructions to make the spoon blade oars I currently use on my Ross Lillistone Flint.

However, I found the handles (shaped as he recommends) so uncomfortable to use that I replaced them with ones similar to those that R.D. Culler recommends: 1” diameter at the loom end and 1¼” at the end of the handle. I’ve been using these oars for over 2 years and find them excellent. The description of these oars and how I replaced the handles can be found in a Duckworks article, “New Oars for Raven” available at http://www.duckworksmagazine.com/14/howto/oars/index.htm#.VrDuv86cHb0.

Diagram for Making DeLapp Oars

Assume lock is 2.5 inches from button, gear is 2.3


Concept2 Oars

“Hatchet” (aka “Cleaver”) bladed oars were first designed in 1991 by Dick and Pete Dreissigacker . The advantages of the hatchet blade are that the blade has more surface area for a given oar length (thus oars can be shorter) and that the amount of shaft in the water is reduced compared to a more traditional blade shape.

Pictured below is a Concept2 Fat2 sculling blade:
Concept2 "Fat2" Blade

Blade length is 18.1" (46cm), width at tip 6.5" (16.5cm) and width at widest point is 9" (23cm). Overall oar length is measured from the end of the handle to the point on the blade at the arrow, an extension of the center line of the shaft.

Recreational rowers are beginning to use hatchet bladed oars because of their higher efficiency.

I was not able to find a pattern, nor building instructions for these oars. If anyone knows of either a pattern and/or instructions, let us know in the Comments below.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

CATCH: Augmented Rowing -- Solar Sails

Been having an email conversation with "Gus" over the last couple of months... I was fascinated by his concept of using hardtop covers (what Gus calls 'lids') for sun/rain protection rather than 'canvas' tents/shelters. He then told me about his 'solar sails' and I was hooked... rather than try to paraphrase all that he has done, I've decide to just link you over to his site.

The title photo above shows the lids and solar sails... fully described in his blog... his photos and workmanship are outstanding... and fun to read. Strongly recommended.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

A (Not So) Radical Oar Cruiser

Sam Devlin’s Mallard is a boat designed for duck hunting.

Sam Devlin's Mallard

The design is based on the Barnegat Bay (New Jersey) Sneak-box. The big difference between Mallard and the Sneak-box is that the Sneak-box has the deck and bottom meet at the sheer line and is carvel planked.

Mallard, on the other hand, is built with plywood, is V-bottomed and has narrow topsides. However, though constructed differently, the overall design concept is very similar. The adaptation by Sam Devlin enables Mallard to be easily converted into small oar cruiser for protected waters.

And the design is quite capable of extended oar cruising: In 1876, Nathaniel Bishop rowed a sneak-box (Centennial Republic) 2600 miles down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, sleeping aboard (under a wooden hatch) many nights. Bishop’s book (Four Months in a Sneak-Box) is available, free, at this link.

Plan Overview of the Centennial Republic

Details of the Centennial Republic

Note that Sneakboxes (15’/4.6m) and Duck Boats (12’/3.7m) (example) are two sailing class boats still being raced in Barnegat Bay, looking almost like they did over 140 years ago. In the late 1950’s, I helped my father build about 15 Duck Boats for the Bay Head (NJ) and Island Heights (NJ) Yacht Clubs.

Mallard Specifications:

  • Length 12’ – 11”/4.6m
  • Beam 4’ – 10”/1.5m
  • Draft 5”/127mm
  • Design: “V” bottom with 15° deadrise
  • (Maximum of 15hp Outboard)
  • 8’/2.4m oars would be about right for the 4’ 4”/1.3m span (oarlock to oarlock) 
  • Displacement 155 lbs/70 Kg (Design specifies 3/8” (9mm) plywood for hull and ¼” (6mm) for deck)
  • Max Load 580 lbs/263 Kg

Overview of Mallard plans

Commentary from Sam Devlin:

“This is an old and venerable design by now with the first design and boat built more than 20 years ago as I write this. She is of the “SneakBox” type of boat with the transom accommodating up to a 15 hp outboard motor, but she also rows or poles very well. In fact, of all the “SneakBox” types of boats that we design and build, the little Mallard is the best at rowing. There is positive foam 3 point flotation that allows the boat to float level and upright even if the cockpit were full of water.” 

Suggestions for an ‘Oar Cruiser’ version:

  • To reduce weight, I’d build with ¼”/6mm plywood, since I would not use any outboard
  • Reduce the size of the cockpit opening, unless I was planning to carry a passenger
  • Make the coamings higher than the 1-3/8” (35mm) specified, especially the forward and aft ones, and raise the oarlocks a corresponding amount. See the post on Rowing Geometry for how to set up foot rest, rowing seat, oar locks and oar length.
  • Add a removable rowing seat and foot brace.
  • Add a temporary ‘tent’ shelter.

Please comment below: From your perspective, how feasible is Mallard as a protected waters Oar Cruiser?

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Oar Cruiser with Sleeping Cabin

NOTE: My understanding is that Wayland Marine is no longer viable, the most recent two owners have passed away... Does anyone know if the Company/plans/patterns/etc. were purchased by anyone?

Wayland Marine’s Merry Expedition and Colin Angus’s RowCruiser are the only two oar cruisers (I know of) that have a dedicated sleeping cabin.

Description & Specifications from Wayland Marine

"The Merry Expedition is built on the ocean proven hull of the  Merry Wherry Two and Merry Sea with the added feature of a hurricane deck's cozy sleeping cabin and self-bailing cockpit design. Plans are available to enable you to convert your existing Merry Wherry Two or Merry Sea to either the Chris Duff inspired Iceland version [pictured above] using Cedar Strip construction or to the Merry Expedition version using the standard "Stitch & Glue" plywood construction."

Merry Expedition
  • Length..............................................19' (5.8m)
  • Width...............................................39" (991mm)
  • Beam at waterline............................29" (737mm)
  • Carry Weight (hull only)..................90 lbs. (40.8Kg)
  • Rowing Weight Single Rig Only.....110 lbs. (49.9Kg)
  • Capacity...........................................450 lbs (204Kg)

Merry Wherry Two, the hull used for the Merry Expedition

Chris Duff modified (click on "Boat Construction" in this link) a Merry Wherry Two for his extended expeditions.  As noted above, the plans for the Merry Expedition include both Chris’s strip built cabin and the standard plywood cabin.

Chris Duff's custom Merry Wherry Two in a more tranquil setting than the 'surf' photo at the top 

Every time I do a review, it seems to become my new current favorite design... I think this one will remain in my top 3. Your opinions welcome!