Mark Wallace's Black Skiff

Saturday, December 24, 2016

John Welsford's Mollyhawk & A Texas 200

John Welsford’s Mollyhawk is 15% longer than his Seagull, but the widths and heights are the same. Though flat bottomed, she is narrow on the bottom, with flaring sides reminiscent of New England dories. With plenty of rocker, she makes a fine row boat. Plans are available on Duckworks.

Andrew Linn in One of the Two Mollyhawks Built at Toledo CommunityBoathouse

Mollyhawk is 5.336m (17 1/5 feet) long,
with a beam of 1.226 m (4ft 1 in) and
weighs 42 kg (93 Ib.) approximately.

Rick Laudervale and Andrew Linn Rowing Another of the Mollyhawks

Andrew Linn:
“She FLIES on the water - just slips along like a queen. Both Rick [Laudervale] and I weigh over 200lbs and you can see how nicely she trims [photo above]. What really surprised me was her maneuverability. The keel is just deep enough to get her to track nicely but she can turn in her own length.”

John Welsford:
“Recreational or sports rowing boats are often pretty easily upset, the narrow waterline beam making them very tender. In this boat, though, the bottom is wide enough to allow one to stand up within the boat (carefully), stability which, although it does knock a little off her performance, makes her a much more versatile craft and only about three minutes in the hour slower than her more sophisticated sister Joansa featured [in this blog post]." 
"Rowing a boat like this is nothing like most boaties have ever experienced, they move incredibly easily using very little energy, and once the technique of [establishing a rhythm in the oar stroke] has been mastered, it can be rowed for hours on end at a speed that would surprise many sailors. A good recreational rowing boat, unlike the delicate “toothpick” that the competitive rowers use, can cope with even quite extreme weather conditions, and with an experienced rower in charge will ride over seas that would put much larger boats at risk." 
"Mollyhawk! She looks as simple a boat as its possible to be, flat bottom, straight sides, transom, some seats and oarlocks. But they perform a lot better than many flat bottomed boats, and they do that because there was a heap of study, several tow test models, and two full sized prototypes before the shape was finalised." [dwforum Nov 27, 2016]

Rob Fisher and his son rowed the 2016 Texas 200 in a Mollyhawk… following is his description taken from his .pdf file.

"Rowing Tips for the Texas 200

By: Rob Fisher 
Now that the 2016 Texas 200 is over, my son and I have recovered, I wanted to capture some thoughts and suggestions for future rowers. Our significant effort for training, planning, and rowing allowed us to be 1 of 18 boats to arrive at all camps in 2016, rowing a total of 224.6 miles over 6 days and 10+ hours each day of continuous rowing. I hope these thoughts will help future masochists.

1. Boat Selection

What boat to row, selection is one of many trade-offs. You will have to deal with
very diverse weather, wind and water conditions. First you need to be able to
carry considerable cargo loads for all your gear and provisions. Just consider the
weight of the water we carried this year was 216 pounds. We experienced high
winds in excess of 20 mph from different directions, high waves and some
current. We built the Welsford Mollyhawk with two rowing stations. Weighed in
at ~170 pounds for boat and rowing stations. LOA is just over 18 feet, 4 foot
Freeboard is needed for the high waves and cargo capacity, but it creates a lot of
windage. There were times when we clocked in at 3.5-4 mph without rowing
going dead down wind. The trouble was that it wasn’t in the direction we wanted
to go. Despite our amount of freeboard we still took waves over the side, over
the stern and one over the bow. 
Get an estimation of the weight you think you will carry. The single biggest load
was our water. We carried 26 gallons at the start. We carried it in 1 gallon jugs
which was great. It allowed us to move it around the boat to balance it
depending on the wind and wave conditions. We were consuming 4 gallons
each day for 2 people so we kept the empties in case we needed extra ballast
later in the week. The first days we had the highest waves and the extra ballast
from the water made our boat really stable. 
Sliding seat or fixed seat is a personal choice. We have always rowed sliding
seat. We prefer it as it allows you to use your leg muscles when rowing.
Through our training, [we found] if we rowed with the sliding seat compared to no sliding, it increased our speed by ~50%. 
Seat comfort (or lack of it) is extremely important and we underestimated this one. We used carbon fiber molded seats with thin padding. They felt fine for the first 20 or so miles for a couple days, but nothing feels good after sitting 11 hours every day for 6 days. By the end of the trip our back sides were suffering. 
One thing we didn’t have was a rudder. Traditionally in a row boat you don’t
really need one. Just take an extra pull on one side or the other to change
course. We found with the wind and waves it took considerable effort to keep the
boat on course. On day 2 we had a side wind of 20+ mph and there were times
we rowed for miles with the starboard oar only to go where we wanted.

2. Training 

I can’t emphasize this enough. What does it take to go from rowing in a racing
shell for a couple hours a week, to rowing 10+ hours a day, for 6 consecutive
days in a boat fully loaded with gear? One can potentially row and push yourself
for a day or two, but doing it 6 days in a row requires some base level of
conditioning unless you want to suffer a lot. 
Our training started in January, 5 months before the event. We were either
rowing on the water or on a rowing machine 6 days a week. During the week we
rowed one hour each day, then on the weekends we extended the distance using
a modified marathon training plan[see chart below]. During the long training days, we were able to test the boat, food, hydration, different weather and build physical conditioning.
In January we rowed 7 miles one Sunday and it took us 3 days to recover. At
that point we wondered how we could row 40+ miles each day for a week. The
key for us was having a written plan and sticking to it, never give up. 
Basic rule, build up miles for a couple weeks, then drop back to rest and build some more. At the end do a gradual taper to rest before the event. 
We developed a rowing strategy so that we could stay hydrated and fueled. We
would double row for 25 minutes, then one person would take a 5 minute break
to eat and drink while the other person single rowed. Then switch and start over
again. We did this non stop for 10+ hrs each day. We also took one long break
just over half way through the day. This allowed for more stretching and rest.

Rob Fisher's Training Regime for Rowing the Texas 200

3. Sun Protection

One constant for South Texas is the heat and sun. I can’t emphasize enough
how un-relenting it is. There are two strategies for sun protection. Use tons and
tons of sunscreen and hope you don’t miss something, or cover everything up.
We chose to cover up since we would be sweating a lot. Lightweight clothing
takes some of the heat load off your body. We didn’t want to get sunscreen all
over our hands and oars.

4. Hand and Physical Health

If you have rowed at all, you know that blisters are inevitable. The single most
important thing for a rower is keeping your hands healthy. We used a variation of
techniques during the trip. During all our training we found the single biggest
factor in hand health was keeping our hands as dry as possible. Wet hands turn
soft, soft hands get hot spots, hot spots become blisters. 
Our routine was to start out in the morning with bare hands for the first 3-4 hours of rowing until the sun started getting strong. Then we would tape up our hands and put on gloves. The gloves worked well for sun protection and to some extent they soak up
excess sweat. 
When we took a break every 25 minutes, the gloves would come off. This allowed for the hands to breath and dry a little. The tape was changed out a couple times a day. The tape helps protect from blisters and gives your fingers some extra support. Following that strategy, we had very few blisters.
The ones we did get weren’t debilitating and could be managed. We also took
hand sanitizer for cleaning our hands and oar handles. If you have ruptured
blisters, you don’t want an infection.

5. Hydration and Nutrition 

Rowing non stop all day long takes a lot of food and water. We consumed 2
gallons of water each day per person for food and drinking. We figured we were
burning something like 400-500 calories each hour of rowing. We started the day
with a hot serving of oatmeal. We joked that it should be an Olympic event to eat
one serving, but we never went hungry. 
One serving oatmeal:
   1 cup oats
   1 T chia seeds
   ½ cup dried fruit
   ¼ cup sunflower seeds
   ¼ cup pumpkin seeds
   ¼ tsp cinnamon
   1 T brown sugar
   2 cup water for thick, more is better 
It was nice to have a hot meal for breakfast. For the remainder of the day we
had snack food (no lunch). We tried a lot of different things for snacks. Keep in
mind it’s hot in Texas. Anything with chocolate becomes a mess. This includes
chewy granola bars which melt in the heat. Some different ideas we tried;
    various granola bars,
    peanut butter filled pretzel bites,
    various different trail mix,
    various nut mix, 
   dried fruit, 
   peanut butter crackers 
   and cheese crackers. 
We actually had to force ourselves to eat. Since you are exercising a lot you
don’t really get hungry and if you are feeling hungry or tired, it’s too late. Eat
small portions and eat often, even if you don’t feel like it. 
Before the trip we portioned out snacks into small Ziploc snack bags and then divided out our snacks into gallon Ziploc bags for each day. 
Doing this helped when we were tired, all we had to do is pull out the food bag in the morning and we were ready to go. No thinking required. We ate on average 350-400 calories each hour. The hardest part was having enough variety. After 5 months of training, we were sick of pretty much every possible snack. For example, rowing 40+ miles over 10+ hours. Eating every 30 minutes comes out to 20+ snacks for the day. After a week, you need a staggering 120 snacks.

6. Navigation

Rowing offers an additional challenge for navigation since the rower faces the
wrong direction the whole time. There are very few landmarks on the TX200 so
a GPS unit is very helpful. Getting off course or zigzagging around adds a lot of
miles on a 40 mile day.
We used a handheld GPS and had our paper charts as backup. I made a GPS mount that attached to the rigger between the rowers feet so that you could look at it while rowing 
We made a course with all the way points for each day which was a direct course because we didn’t know any better. We didn’t take into account that the wind shifts during the day by as much as 90 degrees and changes direction as you progress north and east along the route. 
If we had to do it again we would have pre-planned alternate routes in case the wind changed. This was something we did not expect since we hadn’t done this before." 
I personally thank Rob for taking the time (and candor) to write this... informative and well written!

Love to see your comments below…


  1. Great piece. I've also built a Molly Hawk. It's a great boat. What size oars did you use? Did you use outriggers? How was the sliding seat rigged?

    Thanks Carl DS,

    1. Hi Carl... in an email exchange with John Welsford, he told me that he "thinks" that Rob used a commercial rigger and seat... He says Rob had 'hatchet' style oars, which supports the idea of a commercial rig.
      Note that John includes in the Mollyhawk plans a sliding seat design and 9' oars.

  2. I've attempted to contact Rob Fisher through his Facebook account but been unsuccessful... Hopefully someone reading this who also knows Rob can get him to respond to your question.