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 Chapter 6


A twelve foot aluminum rowboat can be a good seaboat, though not as good as a rubber boat. Unlike the latter, it loses most of its bouyancy when swamped. However, the foam under the three seats does keep it afloat and on an even keel. It can still be rown in that condition, although it doesn't row very well with water slopping over the gunwales.

However, the aluminum boat does have some advantages over the smaller rubber boats. In normal sea conditions, even some fairly vigorous ones, you can stay dry. Such a boat has a tremendous carrying capacity, and, as we'll soon see, it's possible to actually live on it.

It's more difficult to find a good aluminum boat than a good rubber boat. Almost all such boats are designed for motors. That means high perpendicular transoms that sit several inches deep in the water. For rowing, you need a boat which can be ballasted and loaded in such a way that the transom is entirely, or almost entirely, out of the water. There is a nice Alumnacraft 12' boat which rows very well, and others can be found.

A twelve foot boat fits most waves nicely, and, if it's aluminum, the bow will rise so quickly to the waves that, even when you're rowing hard against a strong head sea, it's almost impossible to drive the bow under the oncoming wave. If you catch a quick look over your shoulder, it may look bad. But it'll be okay. It's better not to look back at all and just trust to the boat.

The trim of an aluminum boat is just as important as that of a rubber boat. If you make the mistake of taking another person aboard, and seat that person in the stern, the transom will be in the water and it'll be like towing a bucket. It's better to put the second person in the bow, even though that makes steering more difficult. In fact, it's better to have three people, with the larger of the two passengers in the bow, than to have two with one in the stern. With one exception, soon to be noted, it's best not to invite anyone along and not tell anyone where you're going.

The next problem is the oarlocks. Most modern ones made of metal break under strenous use. Moreover, a big sea, coming from an unexpected direction at the wrong moment, can lift the oar out of the oarlock. Then, too, if you're rowing a boat that's been swamped, it'll be almost impossible to keep the oars in the oarlocks. Even if none of these things happen, it takes a little care, and at times a little downward pressure, to keep the oars in the oarlocks. It's better not to have to think about them at all.

The old oarlocks were wooden, with a post sticking up, and were much better. The adaptation for an aluminum boat is as follows:

Take a 2 x 6, about two feet long and drill a half inch hole near the middle. Take a half inch bolt of some three inches and affix the 2 x 6 to the boat, running the bolt down through the hole intended for the metal oarlock. The 2 x 6 will now be lying flat on the rail. To keep it from swivelling, use 3/8" lag screws from underneath, both fore and aft and both inboard and outboard. If you get it just right, the washers on the lag screws will press hard against the knurled aluminun rail of the boat. Finally, mount a 2 x 4, some eight inches long, vertically on top of the 2 x 6 to pull the oar against. It should be slanted slightly aft, so that the the force of the oar will take it slightly down.

The oars come next. I use mostly eight foot oars, but seven footers can be acceptable. Shorter ones are useful only for children. Needless to say, oars with oarlocks already attached to them are the worst of all. Choices of oars are usually limited, but get the heaviest most rugged ones you can find.

Traditionally, oars are leathered at the point of friction against the oarlock. I find it better to use short sections of PVC pipe. It slides over the oar with room to spare, but, when you drill and fix the pipe to the oar with small nails, you use washers around the nails to "pad the oar out to the pipe." The pipe will eventually wear away and have to be replaced, but it prolongs the life of the oar, and also turns against the oarlock with very little friction. You make a small loop of rope to hold oar to oarlock, and the slack can be taken up by running a bungee cord from the rope to the forward end of the 2 x 6.

I have one set of eight foot aluminum heavy duty oars intended for lifeguards and made by Carlisle. It took a long time to find them, and to persuade the company to sell me some, but they seem almost unbreakable, and don't need sheathing. The only problem is that, in winter, the aluminum conducts the coldness of the water to your hands. But they do have rubber grips, and that helps.

The main problem with the standard aluminum rowboat, particularly when trimmed by the bow to keep the transom out of water, is that it will turn to the wind. In fact, with a strong cross-wind, one finds oneself rowing practically with the windward oar alone.

For years, I was content to row out to sea directly into the wind, and then turn around and come back. People made fun of my lack of versatility and the, to them, monotony of my regime. So I modified my procedure.

You first get the kind of oarlock with a pin that goes through the oar (something that prevents feathering which you would ordinarily shun), pierce an old oar for the pin, and mount the oarlock at the mid-point of the transom. The oar will then stick out aft some six feet, and can be used for steering. Since there will be no one in the rear seat to steer, you run light lines from a point near the blade of the steering oar to the main (wooden) oarlocks on each side. Cheap and effective cleats can be made by driving goodish nails close together, and then bending them in opposite directions. Once the steering oar is properly adjusted to steer straight ahead, it hardly ever needs to be re-adjusted.

A steering oar is entirely within nautical tradition. The whaleboats launched from whaling ships (one for each mate, and sometimes a captain's boat) were steered in that manner. Yuppies won't know this, and may jeer, but the arrangement will allow you to easily row a straight course come what may.

Let's next suppose you to be a fortyish gentleman who has come to Maine to recover from his fourth divorce. The ex- wives communicate with each other, and with you, and they seem to agree on the basics: You have money (good), and are good at sports, particularly endurance sports (medium/neutral). But you're pretty hopeless at everything else (icky-phoo).

This, of course, is not true. You have many interesting projects, the most recent of which is to make a movie short of two persons simultaneously swinging at the same golf ball from opposite sides. The ball is on a tee, and it isn't clear exactly what will happen when it is hit by two drivers at once from opposite directions. Although you have several times hired people to perform this action while you set up with your camera, they have all backed out at the last minute.

It does have to be admitted that some of your projects have self-destructed in one way or another. No matter. You're in a camground right on the ocean, and your aluminum rowboat rides proudly at its mooring a hundred yards from shore.

The air on a fine Maine morning is unbelievable as you pop your rubber boat in at a little high-tide beach and row out. The occasional visitor to Maine might make an awkward transition from rubber boat to rowboat, getting the two separated with his feet in one and his hands on the other. That leaves nothing to support his body, stretched out in between, and creates an amusing spectacle. The nearby lobsterman will smile, and will wait to effect a rescue until the tourist has proven that he can swim. You, on the other hand, give the lobsterman a cool knowing look and back into the stern of the rowboat. You then grasp the rail behind you and lift yourself backward over it.

It always surprises you anew to see how easily an aluminum boat rows. A touch on the oars and it shoots ahead. In still water, even a gentle stroke creates a satisfying wake astern, and to each side. Because the oars are so much longer than those of a rubber boat, you have less sense of effort. Soon, however, you're trying to beat your previous year's record from the mooring to a buoy offshore.

The Maine coast has been scraped out by the glacier, with each of the many peninsulas running north and south. There are also many islands scattered off the coast. Some of the islands are thickly wooded with pines, but many are bare of trees with tall grass changing shade with the seasons. These islands were used by European fishermen quite early on, well before the pilgrims of Plymouth, and men were evidently left on them to winter over, hoping that the ships would return in the spring.

Since it's summer, there are yachts scattered over the water. Most are sailboats, which is okay, and even they thin out as you get offshore. Eventually, when you stop rowing to eat and drink, you find yourself drifting in perfect silence with nothing but ocean in one direction and the low outlines of islands in the other.

Just as you finish downing your tuna fish and spicy V-8 juice, you catch sight of what looks like an old-fashioned sailing ship slipping along between you and the islands. The fad began when some old lumber schooners from the early part of the century were fitted out to take tourists. Since then, many more schooners have been built. Most are too small to have ever earned their keep carrying lumber, and have cabins where the hatches would have been. Still, they are seaworthy, have good lines, and are fun to watch.

You normally try to catch up with boats that you see, and you charge briskly after the schooner. While she heels prettily under a press of canvas, including a main topsail, she isn't very fast. Lining up her masts against the shore, you see that you are catching up. After an hour or so, you do cross behind her stern and edge gradually up her lee side some thirty feet away.

Some of these schooners are floating singles clubs, filled with secretaries from New York City. They're signed up before they find out how many of them are to be crowded on board, and how low the male/female ratio will turn out to be. It's immediately obvious that such is the case here, and you pull closer to engage the ladies in conversation.

The food, you are given to understand, is awful. Not telling them that your idea of a big lunch at sea is tuna and V-8, you sympathize. There are also a good many other complaints.

The captain, evidently suspecting you of fomenting mutiny, comes forward and asks you to leave. He says that you are dangerously close, which is nonsense. You pointedly ignore him. This leads to a further exchange of views during which you notice one particularly beautiful young lady. She's much too attractive to have to hunt men in this way, but you can imagine the circumstances. She's at loose ends, perhaps recently divorced, and her friends, who do have to actively hunt men, have talked her into coming. Not very enthusiastic to begin with, she is now even angrier than the others at their treatment.

Pulling a bit ahead, you take out one of your cameras and photograph the ladies at the lee rail as the schooner forges past. There are further words with the captain, and the beauty joins in the argument in support of you. As you again overtake the schooner, she and the captain are shouting at each other over the heads of a dozen secretaries, he red- faced and she looking wonderfully dangerous.

Despite all the facts pointed out by your ex-wives, it isn't such a surprise that this lady seems to look favorably on you. You have popped up suddenly out of the ocean to argue with the man she so resents. And, now that the resentment has turned to active hatred, her enemy's enemy must indeed be a friend. Not only that, beautiful women love men who take good pictures of them, and you have just taken a (hopefully good) picture of her. Whatever virtues you lack, a sense of timing is not one of them. You call out to her,

"If you jump, I'll rescue you!"

The tears of rage have just come to her eyes, and she bounds over the rail in an instant. You are there before she has taken more than a few strokes, and, as the captain, on the point of apolexy, lets loose with threats and obscenities, you lift your new passenger gently in over the stern. She says, in a clear calm voice,

"Thanks. I'm Diane."

You seat her in the bow behind you in order to trim the boat properly. It also allows her to change, without embarrassment, into the dry sweatshirt and pants you have on hand. She seems none the worse for her dunk in sixty degree water, but you suggest that she warm up by taking an oar.

One of the nice things about an aluminum rowboat is that there's plenty of room on the rowing seat for two people. Moreover, even if one person rows much harder than the other, the steering oar can be adjusted to compensate. You provide Diane with gloves to protect her long tapered fingers, and, as the schooner fades into the distance, you happily row together in the opposite direction.

Diane turns out to be a tax lawyer with moderate to medium guilt about serving the rich so blatantly, and is an engaging conversationalist. She seems to be single and about thirty, and, as you suspected, she did go on the cruise at the behest of two friends. She remarks,

"That awful captain started being bossy and obnoxious even before we left the harbor. If it hadn't been for my friends, I would've left then."

"Were all the passengers women?"

"Practically. A lot of them are looking for men. And they're disappointed. Worst of all, they landed us all last night and sent us to bars."

This is the opportunity you've been waiting for, and you say,

"I'm recently divorced, and may be looking for someone eventually. You're way out of my league, but you might know someone a bit older who'd be appropriate."

Diane, relieved of the implicit pressure, is delighted.

"Oh yes. In fact, I'm sure my friends on the boat would like to meet you. It's too bad for you that one of them didn't jump instead of me."

The naughty look she gives you lets you know that she knows that you're glad that she was the one who jumped. On the other hand, she really does seem to be an enthusiastic matchmaker, and that might come in handy at some point. You respond tactfully, but somewhat playfully. Diane won't become your fifth wife, but permanent friendship is a definite possibility. She'll enjoy introducing you to her friends as "the man who rescued me when I jumped ship in mid-ocean." And, of course, a long-lasting friendship is much better than a short-term marriage.

After a wonderful dinner and a night sleeping in your rented car while Diane, over protests, takes your little tent, you drive her to the Portland airport. You there get her phone number and a very nice hug and kiss.

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