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.


  1. The RowCruiser had not been designed when I chose to build a row cruising stretched Walkabout. I've thought about the differences between the two boats and decided that, as always, there are tradeoffs:

    1) Speed. The RowCruiser is faster, 6 kts sprint vs 4.5 kts and 4 kts cruise vs 3-3.5 kts. I would appreciate a faster boat, but in practice the Walkabout has cruised in company with other rowboats and kayaks and keeps up fine.

    2) Seaworthiness. Both boats have many sealed compartments, but the RowCruiser is better as the cockpit is self draining. Walkabout's open cockpit can hold a lot of water that has to be bailed.

    3) Weight. The RowCruiser is 100 lbs lighter, that would be a big help dragging up a beach. You mention car topping, but I think it is too heavy for that. Both boats really need a trailer, and both can easily be single handed.

    4) The big difference to me is the space on board and how it is used. RowCruiser has a small dedicated cockpit and a small fixed sleeping cabin. Walkabout has a large (9.5' by 4.5') open cockpit that converts to sitting headroom full cabin for sleeping. Maybe it's my age, but the small spaces of the RowCruiser do not sound comfortable for extended cruising. On Walkabout there is space to stand up, stretch, even walk back and forth on the open sole. I'm now set up for forward facing stand-up rowing also, as a break from sitting.

    Colin Angus has written in favor of dedicated hard cabins, but his main argument is that tents are hard to do and usually poorly made. I agree that boat plans do not typically include good instructions for a tent, and that making a tent is a different set of skills from bulding with wood. It took several tries, but I now have a sturdy, waterproof, simple to deploy tent that offers much more room and would be a far more comfortable living space if trapped by weather for a few days.

    Having said all that, I still want a RowCruiser and am planning to visit the RowCruiser workshop next month on Tomales Bay to see one in person.

  2. Hi Rick... excellent comparison.

    I agree that tents can be easy to set-up and effective... you've proven that with your Walkabout. I do like the idea, though, of just being able to tuck in to a hard cabin, without having to set up... especially when raining. The corollary is that in RowCruiser, one has to cook outside, while you'll be comfy dry in your tent...

  3. There's an account of a failed attempt to finish the Everglades Challenge in the prototype rowcruiser. It's on the Facebook/Watertribe page. Doesn't sound like the boat was the problem.

  4. Hi Rick... Wasn't aware of that... given the EC, and it's difficulties, I'm not surprised by an early exit by any boat... I see the RowCruiser as an ideal boat for those of us who love to row cruise and have the stamina/strength to do the EC.

  5. I was really impressed with RCruiser perfection until I saw that onboard kitchen on the photo. I cooled down a bit as it was too perfect to me. No kidding. Cooking ashore makes you relaxed not only perfect. We always need to take land into account while cruising. Actually, it' a part of cruising. Well, may be it's my too personal point of view ; ) What do you think on it?

  6. Hi Wojtek... In the US, especially in the East, places to land and camp are few. There are exceptions, but in general, it's a problem. And local police will chase you unless it is a designated camp area, and usually you have to make reservations for the camp sites... very crowded in the Summer.
    Given all that, I opt for sleeping on board.
    Regarding the RowCruiser, what do you do when it's raining and you want to cook a meal? Maybe a big umbrella? Other than that, she is one great oar cruiser! See Rick (Thompson) and my discussion above in these comments.
    How's your Batto coming along?

  7. Hello Wojtek,

    I envy the access to campsites in many European countries, whether for foot or water travel. There is a movement in the US to create water trails for human powered boats, with designated campsites at regular intervals. Reservations and payment are still required, so it is not easy to deal with weather delays.
    In my local cruising ground of the Sacramento River Delta there are very few beaches to land for even a short lunch stop, most of the shoreline is thick reeds or man made rock levees. Overnight usually means on the hook or at one of the many small marinas in the Delta. A trip that includes a marina stop every few days with showers, restaurants and pubs is not such a bad way to row cruise!


  8. I would add some form of a Bimini, a sliding hatch cover or a pop top at the hatch. Space for doing something when it is raining in essential.

  9. Let me also add the 'Bimini' is also necessary for shade rowing on a hot, sunny day. Last summer I got myself into a case of mild heat exhaustion. Not good.

  10. Ionach34... Makes a lot of sense... 2(?) years ago, there was a fellow rowed part of the Texas 200... He had a Bimini top that protected him from the Texas sun, and yet had little wind resistance. Thanks for the input... Tom

  11. Thanks for explanations, I agree that limited access to the shore makes a difference. That's good reason for self-sufficiecy. As for Batto, the hull is assembled and fiberglassed. More in June, to get the boat ready for summer. I would be happy if you reviewed home built sliding seats some day in this blog, Tom.

  12. Great idea, Wojtek... I'll add it to the 'pending' list... Thanks!

  13. Colin Angus here - the designer of the RowCruiser. Yes, a bimini would be a fantastic addition for a bit of shelter from sun and rain in the cockpit. We made a really simple Bimini for a rowing raft we were using on the Amazon, which would work well in the RowCruiser. It was just the fly and poles from a cheap Coleman tent. It could be raised and lowered in about two minutes (we'd take it down whenever it was windy), and just needs four anchor points for the poles. You can see it here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/angusadventures/7959386840/in/album-72157631473786560/

  14. Great suggestion, Angus... Thanks


  15. Hi Colin, that's a nice scene!

  16. I suppose I have as much experience with the RowCruiser as anyone, except Colin, since I've been rowing the prototype nearly weekly now since May, 2011. I've rowed on lakes, rivers, and oceans. I can state unequivocally that camping in the RowCruiser is like back packing on land. Sure you are going to get wet when it rains; sure the inside sleeping berth is going to get wet from wet, dripping cloths, just like tent camping on land; sure it can be hot, as is backpacking in the desert. The boat handles magnificently on rivers (and very resistant to boils), and tracks well with large following waves. And if you are claustrophobic, the sleeping berth is probably not for you. I recently rowed the RowCruiser during the Everglades Challenge 2016; the reason for not finishing had nothing to do with the boat and had everything to do with route selection and the weather; several solo kayaks did not finish, either. To read about my EC attempt and the boats performance, see this: http://evergladechallenge.blogspot.com/

    1. Hi Steve... thanks for sharing... your write-up (Evergladechallenge) is very detailed and provides a lot of insight into row cruising, especially in adverse conditions.

  17. Oh, and regarding cooking on the RowCruiser: a Jet Boil is a remarkable invention--very safe--just hold it away from you for 2 min 30 seconds, time it takes to boil water. Yea, when doing this inside the sleeping berth with the hatch closed it can be a little scary, but so is using a Jet Boil inside a tent. Just use common sense! Or, lift up the lid and set it down inside the rowing cockpit or on the side. The latter is very stable and safe. Or, hold the Jet Boil out over the water.

    And I must add that the flexibility the sleeping berth adds to an adventure, eliminating the need to look for a "camping spot", is in my opinion huge. Brings the notion of "stealth camping" to a whole new level!

    1. I've heard many good things about the Jet Boil, appreciate the info.
      In my neck of the woods (New Jersey), stealth camping is the way to go.

  18. Colin & Steve - Too bad about last year's R2AK, I was rooting for you guys. Not so interested in this year's crop of plastic multi-hulls. Is Colin entered this year?
    Sleep aboard stealth camping opens up a lot of places. There are nature preserves near me with no camping allowed, but on the water in your boat is actually legal. Wag Bags and a Luggable Loo meets no-discharge requirements for a boat with no thru hulls.
    Many places near population areas are verboten for any kind of camping, but on the nearby waterways you are fine aboard your boat.
    Shallow draft rowing boats almost always have a place to stay even at full marinas, they let me tie up where big boats don't fit and sometimes don't charge.
    Agree on the JetBoil, simple, fast and relatively safe (compared to alcohol or gasoline stoves).
    Norseboat has a little bimini:
    I copied it in wood and canvas as passenger protection:
    More work than Colin's but the flat horizontal fabric works OK up to moderate wind. Could be used over the rowing station.

  19. Hello Rick, Colin is doing the R2K solo in his novel ketch rigged RowCruiser.

    Yes, I was able to "camp" outside a state park campground that was full, because I stayed out on the water! This whole water stealth camping "thing" opens up lots of possibilities when you are tired and want to "camp." I'm sure if you asked a Ranger if it was legal or not they'd say "ugh, I don't know..." Their jurisdiction ends at the shore, I'm sure, and I'm equally sure they've never thought about it. Best, Steve

    1. As in the Army, if you ask, the answer is probably "No.", so don't ask.


  20. I was just advised by Marty Loken that the RowCruiser workshop scheduled for April in Tomales Bay has been cancelled and moved to October in Port Townsend. That's too bad, I was hoping to see (and possibly try out) a boat.

  21. I also wanted to say something about feathering under adverse conditions--I know this should go in your post on the topic, BUT: Feathering is fine under calm and moderate waves. Very nice when your blades skip over the waves, and move forward through the wind with little resistance. However, under adverse conditions, when it is all you can do to keep the boat moving forward (like the distance between the puddles is 2-3 feet!), and you need control to keep nose-in, feathering will not work, in my experience. You need short, choppy strokes to control the boat. One simply doesn't have time and stroke length necessary for feathering. The time lost in a long stroke may be enough for the bow to start turning. Plus, in my last Everglades experience, I didn't even have the energy to feather--kind of amazing because you wouldn't think feathering takes that much more energy, but it does. When you are near the exhaustion point feathering is just too hard and inefficient (IMO). I don't think I'm alone in this view--I know some long distance ocean rowers don't feather at all (Roz Savage made this point). And I believe Colin Angus developed tendenititus from feathering during his round Vancouver Island. I think his wife Julie did also on their trip from Scotland to Syria--from feathering. So I think rowing form/style advocated by rowing coaches kind of falls apart in some regard for long term endurance rowing. Another point concerns the back swing--I have almost eliminated it. I find that if I lean too far back to make that hard stroke I develop back problems. So for me a more upright form, with only moderate leaning back works best.

  22. Steve, thank you for the insight.

    I added a comment in both the 'feathering' and 'rough water rowing' posts to reference your post above.

    I too have reduced the back swing, such that at the end of the drive, the oars are no more than 40-45 degrees aft, but increased the forward lean (using fixed seat rowing) so that the catch is at about 50 degrees forward.

    I wonder if Colin and Julie would have developed tendinitis if they had used the 'unrolling fingers' technique of feathering, or at least lessened it.


  23. Yes thanks Steve, good to hear you have these issues too. You say the bow begins to turn if you don't have oars in the water, I struggle with that into strong wind. Do you try to go straight into the wind or at an angle? Beyond some level I cannot stay directly into wind and waves, and the boat is more stable at 30 - 45 degrees off. Thanks to Colin's advice I no longer fear turning broadsides so much (if waves are not breaking), and the boat can sit that way to rest.
    Agree on limiting layback to just past upright, I already have back problems...
    Yes feathering falls apart when tired. I prefer hatchet blades, round looms and shaped grips to control blade angle. Very loose grip on the return. If I don't feather but the blade hits a wave it just knocks it into feather, then closing the hand on the shaped grip brings the blade back to catch without wrist rotation.

  24. Rick and Tom, I'm kind of a one-trick-pony with respect to rowing in different boat designs and oar handling--I know about the RowCruiser and "tulip" blades but not much else. I think bow design bears somewhat on this discussion but not sure. Colin is truly the expert. But, I can say that under "the worst" conditions with large breaking waves either bow or Stern straight in is the safest and most stable. Even when forward progress is impossible you can hold the Cruiser straight in and rest. I find quartering wears out the opposite arm--sometimes you can quarter forward with the windward arm almost at rest but you pull twice as hard on the opposing oar. Hatchet blades are a mystery to me as I've never used them. I know Colin prefers the spoon design but I don't know why. With regard to feathering--I can say that at some point the additional finger movement required is just too much. Like the strength and required neural pathway break down. It was very strange. Although I can feather in my sleep, under the conditions I described--sleep deprivation and exhaustion--I couldn't do it. All I could do was hold onto the oars and pull. And if my grip was too loose the oar would get knocked out of my hands and that was frightening because of loss of control.

  25. Steve - I think this just shows that the combination of conditions and endurance you are able to handle is beyond anything I have done (or am likely to do). I've been tired and frightened quite a few times, but most of my trips are a whole lot easier than what you do for fun!

  26. The great outdoors allows us to find our individual setpoint for having fun, which is what it is all about. For some camping in an R V is "camping". For others it's slung in a hammock on a cliff face. But: "if it ain't fun don't do it."

  27. Rick, I second your statement about Steve! He's amazing...

  28. Rick and Tom, it's been so refreshing to meet rational people like yourselves that share this passion we have for rowing. Hope we can meet on the water some time!