Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do You Want a Compass to Row?

According to Ritchie Navigation, the advantages of using a compass are:

1 Real time compass headings whether your boat is dead in the water, on a plane or moving slowly against an outgoing tide, the compass gives the boat heading. 

2 Straight line steering helps the helmsman avoid steering a serpentine path when steering by the compass heading.
3 Reliability in all situations is a given and it works without power.

I'd add, Able to continue when locked in fog. I can think of two situations I’ve been in when the fog became so bad that visibility was reduced to just feet… The compass enabled me to continue to the destination.

But what if you don’t have a compass?
Point the boat to where you want to go, them immediately look over the stern of the boat and select an object (e.g., tree) centered over the transom. As you row, keep that object centered. Periodically check your heading, since wind and/or current can move you sideways, and you can miss your target, even though you have been faithful in keeping that tree over the center of the transom. 

To maintain a straight line, in calm conditions, use the wake of the boat as a guide for maintaining a course. Note that wind/current can still blow you off course, in spite of maintaining a straight course.

I use the Ritchie ‘reverse reading compass’, available at

Ritchie Reverse Reading Compass

When mounting the compass, make sure there are no nearby metal objects. or wires with current, which can affect the accuracy of the compass. The Reverse Reading Compass pictured here has compensation adjustments which enable you to correct for minor compensation errors. See Ritchie instructions for compensation adjustments.

Reverse Reading Compass Mounted in my Lillistone Flint

The lubber line (the red line on the compass which must be aligned with the bow of the boat) shows the heading of the boat. In the first photo, the boat’s heading is 350 degrees, read from the floating card in the center of the compass. The movable bezel around the base of the compass is a way to remember what course you want to maintain.

To use the compass, point the boat to where you want to go, or, using a chart, identify the magnetic course, then either move the bezel so that the desired course is directly under the lubber line. Or just remember the course.

As you row, you’ll notice that you may have ‘wandered’ off your intended course due to wind, current, uneven pulling on the two oars, or just plain being mesmerized by the joy of rowing. To correct the course, turn the boat so that you move the red lubber line toward the desired course.

I like having the compass: I maintain a straighter course when using it… and it’s comforting to know I can still row to my desired destination in spite of low, even zero, visibility.

In the next blog, we’ll show you 7 examples of foot stretchers.

Need Readers' Help: Sliding Seat/Rigger

I'll be publishing a post in this blog (scheduled for May 22) focused on sliding seat and sliding rigger rowing systems. I'm looking for examples that you have built.

Please email me photos and brief description (or a link to your site) of your custom built rowing rig to OR let me know in a 'comment' below what commercial (e.g., Piantedosi) rig you use, what boat you are using it in and comments you have about it's use.

Thanks for your help.


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Is This the Perfect OarCruiser?

The Colin Angus “RowCruiser”…

  • Length Overall: 5.7 m (19')
  • Weight: 67.2 kg (148 lbs)
  • Waterline Length: 560 cm (18' 7 ")
  • Width: 112 cm (44")
  • Watertight compartments: 5
  • Sprint speed: 9-11 km/hr (6 knots)
  • Cruise Speed: 5-7 km/hr (4 knots)
  • Maximum recommended touring load: 400 kg (880 lbs)

I was entranced when I first saw this design… This was the first design that fit my definition of an oar cruiser outlined in this blog:
  • Small/light enough that I can either car-top it, or man-handle it myself on and off a trailer…
  • Primarily ‘oar-powered’… any sails are auxiliary and typically for down-wind only...
  • High length to width ratio (especially at the waterline) for speed and reduced resistance…
  • Low, especially at the ends to reduce effect of head/cross winds…
  • Sea-worthy enough for coast-wise rowing…
  • ‘Cruise-able’ enough to sleep in and carry all I need for 3-5 days without re-supplying.

How does the Colin's “RowCruiser” fulfill this definition?
  • At 148 pounds (67kg), it’s just able to be car topped by one person… and easily loaded onto a light trailer.
  • Obviously oar-powered. She can be rowed either with a sliding seat or fixed seat. If I were to make a sliding seat, I’d make foot risers that were at least 15” (38cm) wide in order to help maintain balance in rough water conditions. (Note that Colin has added available plans for a sailing rig, with outriggers, for full sailing capabilities.)
  • Waterline length (18’ 7”, 5.7m) to waterline width (32”, 81.3cm) ratio is 7:1.
  • Freeboard forward is 20 ½“ (52cm), while at the stern it’s 16 ½” (43cm).
  • With a self-draining cockpit, full decks, massive water tight compartments (with hatches closed), “RowCruiser” is very sea-worthy.
  • She is designed to be cruised by one person with a 6’2” (1.88m) totally enclosed but ventilated berth, plus generous storage space in the aft compartment. In addition, Colin provides plans for a ‘kitchen’ that can be used in the cockpit for cooking and eating, then stored while rowing.

The Prototype "RowCruiser"

Two People Can Take Day Trips

The 6' 2" Berth for Warm, Dry Sleeping, Fully Ventilated

The 'Kitchen'

Heading Into a Secluded Anchorage for a Good Night's Sleep After a Day's Row

Colin Angus, designer of the RowCruiser:
“The RowCruiser offers comfortable sleeping accommodation for one person without sacrificing performance. This boat moves at about the same speed as a sea kayak, and will travel comfortably in rougher waters.
The RowCruiser makes multi-day excursions extremely simple; drop the anchor and retire into the comfortable cabin when you’re tired. The watertight design protects the occupant from the heaviest of wind and rain, while an over-sized hatch vent provides plenty of ventilation and keeps condensation at bay.”
See RowCruiser for details.

What do you think: 
  • Is this the perfect oar cruiser? 
  • Why or why not? 
  • What would you want different? 
Let us know using the Comments below.

In the next blog, we'll talk about compasses in oar cruisers.

All photos used with permission from Colin Angus.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Merrill Creek Reservoir: A Compact Venue

Merrill Creek Reservoir, located about 5 miles North East of Phillipsburg, NJ.

Google “Merrill Creek Reservoir” for map and directions to the ramp.

Map of Merrill Creek Reservoir

The man-made reservoir is owned by the “Merrill Creek Owners Group”, a consortium of 7 electric companies in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The reservoir is connected by a 3 mile tunnel to the Delaware River. In the spring, water is pumped from the river to the reservoir, then, during the summer months, water is fed back to the Delaware River to replace the water lost through evaporation in the cooling of 14 power plants.

The reservoir is 650 acres (2.6 km^2) in area and 235’ (72m) deep. There is abundant wildlife (fish, birds, deer) both in the reservoir and the surrounding protected woodlands and fields. There is a 5.3 mile (8.5km) hiking trail surrounding the reservoir.

Though boating/fishing is encouraged (concrete ramp and trailer parking lot), gas powered boats are not allowed.

In addition to the quiet and abundant wildlife, one interesting feature is the ‘forest’ of dead trees in the north end. When the reservoir was constructed in 1988, most of the trees were removed, but this set of trees was left standing.

Looking ENE at the North End of the Reservoir

Looking WSW from Merrill Creek as it Enters the Reservoir

…Worth a visit for a quiet paddle or row, with lots of birds and fish.

For more information:

In the next blog, we’ll introduce you to what some say is the best oar cruiser there is.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Oar Outrigger Options

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.