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 Chapter 14


In looking back over the advice I have given in previous chapters, I realize that I have the same problem that Ann Landers encountered late in life. After giving marital advice for decades, her own marriage ended in divorce.

Assuming that Ann followed her own advice, she must have wondered if it had been, in some measure, defective. Possibly from the very beginning.

For her, the beginning consisted in the Ann Landers Rules for Necking and Petting, available to any young person who sent a stamped self-addressed envelope to her office. It was, for its time, quite a liberal set of rules. Instead of attempting to ban the rather passionate kissing that teenagers are likely to get up to, she insisted only that the mouths remain closed. The "petting" consisted in the touching of body parts below the neck. She wasn't Victorian enough to say that they shouldn't be touched. Instead, in her reasonable way, she only placed certain restrictions on the procedure. These rules, governing the first physical contacts of a sexual nature, could then be expected to heavily influence adult sexuality.

Ann, in the hour of her divorce, must have wondered whether she had necked and petted too much or too little. Should her hubby have been denied routine access to her bed, to be admitted only when he had performed nobly in some area of life? Or should she have performed the Dance of the Seven Veils thrice weekly on their dining room table for his benefit? The answer must now consist, as someone has said, in an Enigma wrapped in a Mystery. Or perhaps the other way around.

My problem, a little less exotic, is that I now row in a way that violates most of the rules I have laid down. I will try to explain. I hope to do so without rationalizing in an attempt to attain the sort of surface consistency so despised by Ralph Waldo Emerson.

There have been two main discoveries. First, it's not great for the back to row a nine foot boat for five hours or so. Even if I went to the trouble of pausing to stretch a bit every hour or so, I would still be bent double on getting out on the dock. That's not a good sign. Second, I found that it's quite possible, and great fun, to row my twenty-eight foot sloop. She's an old (1965) Cal 28, weighing about 9000 pounds as rigged and provisioned.

There was some talk, in an earlier chapter, of sculling such a boat. Many people do scull somewhat smaller lighter sailboats, but I have established, at least to my own satisfaction, that rowing is more efficient. It also gives much more directional control.

It takes a few strokes with little apparent progress to get the boat moving, and this may be what discourages some people from such an endeavor. However, once moving, she proceeds in a stately fashion with relatively little effort. The boat has a beam of about nine feet, so long oars are required. I use 12' Douglas fir handrails, backed by 1 x 2s of the same material with 1 x 4 paddles extending the oars another 27 inches. These paddles often strike people as being too narrow, but, because of the length of the oars and the consequent leverage, they're perfectly adequate. Besides, we still want the oars to move through the water, as opposed to being stuck in it.

The butt ends of the oars are rasped down to fit the hands, and are then counterweighted with lead strips. It thus takes only a moderate downward pressure on the handles to lift the paddles out of the water. Since the long oars have a limited range of traverse, the angle with the direction of the boat is always close to a right angle. That helps maximize efficiency.

Now for some more take-backs. I earlier said that it's a mistake to push the oars instead of pulling them. I now push the oars. I also ridiculed the sorts of oarlocks that have pins through the oars and prevent feathering. I now use just such oarlocks.

Okay, there are some reasons. One of the points here is to convert rowing into an abdominal exercise. In a half standing position with feet fixed leaning against a swivelling seat/backrest, I stretch out backwards to straigten my back with my hands and oar handles almost touching my shoulders. I then dip the oars and force them forward. As I bend forward against resistance, it's a bit like some of the ab machines to be found in gyms. While there is some bench press action, it's subordinated. This is as it should be. The arms may wear out, but the abs go practically forever. With some qualifications to be made later, it's the opposite of ordinary rowing.

I began using wooden peg oarlocks similar to the ones on the nine foot boat. However, I soon discovered that I was wasting energy combatting the torque of the long heavy oars. Since there's no problem of stability, as in a racing shell, and the oar angle doesn't change much during the stroke, I bit the bullet and bored 3/16" holes through the oars for bolts. (The pins that come with such oarlocks tend to fall out). I have never had reason to regret that decision.

One little problem arises in meeting other boats in narrow channels. Since the oar spread is some 28', there isn't much room left. But it's easy to steer right, let the oar handles go, and allow the considerable momentum of the sloop to carry it past the other boat. Of course, there are people in marinas who don't manage their boats very well, and one has complained about being confronted with "some sort of Viking ship." Some panic, go full astern, and run into things. But that doesn't happen very often.

There are also some interesting variations in sloop- rowing. In addition to the swivelling seat, which allows me to throw my whole 210 pounds into the stroke, I have a swivelling foot-rest raised up to the level of the seat. There are adapted bicycle straps for the feet, making it possible to lean way back without falling over backwards. It's still an abdomminal exercise, a lot like doing sit-ups, but of a different, more horizontal, sort. It's nice to be able to do that for a while, and then put my feet down on the cockpit floor for the more nearly vertical exercise.

In fact, there is yet another variant. With the feet down, I can lean back, as before, but begin the forward stroke by extending the arms. Since the boat is already moving, it doesn't take much effort to start the oars. Then, with arms mostly extended, I do my stomach crunch. That is what accelerates the boat, and this method is particularly effective when short spurts of speed are required. The kayakers laugh when I speak of doing "timed speed trials", but it does no harm to make the world a little more amusing.

Now for the cherry on top. In push-rowing, it's easy to bring the oars back for the next stroke. What if one added resistance to the back stroke which would help with the power stroke? I consequently rigged up a pulley on the boom near the mast with a thirty pound weight. Going back, it's easy to yank up the weight, and then, when the oars are dipped, another thirty pounds is added to the power stroke.

In theory, this would seem a great idea. In practice, it didn't seem to make much difference. The trouble may have lain with the friction inherent in the weight and pulley mechanism. I wondered about bungee cords.

It has long been known that, instead of lifting weights, one can stretch bicycle inner tubes. The tube can be placed behind the back and stretched forward, under one foot and curled upwards, held high and stretched outward, and so on. Larger and smaller tubes can be used and can be grasped in different places for different amounts of tension. The possibilities are almost infinite. Japanese judo players have long used these simple but highly efficient techniques, and one can do much the same thing with bungee cords.

The trouble is that there's almost no way of knowing how much force is being applied, and, hence, no way of measuring progress. The Japanese apparently don't feel the need to go to a bar after the workout and announce,

"The drinks are on me today, I pressed another five pounds and set a new pr."

In the rowing case, it's nice to see that weight going up and down, and adding to it. Of course, when the boat is rolling in a swell, the weight goes swinging dangerously around, but there's always a downside, right? On the other hand, one has to question an arrangement that doesn't make the boat go faster.

The bungee cord alternative doesn't involve a friction- producing ninety degree change of direction. They simply go from the mast to each oar handle. For each oar I use a pair of doubled 32 inch West Marine "super" bungee cords attached end-to-end to another such pair. So, for each oar, that amounts to a 64 inch double cord attached to a loop that goes over the oar handle. Instead of attaching directly to the mast, I use a rope and pulley which allows me to adjust the tension by causing the cords to "take up" at different phases of the stroke. For most purposes, the cords should become taut when the oars are about 40% of the way back. But you can tighten up for more speed or loosen up when you're tired. You can also have more tension on one oar than on the other if you're not highly ambidextrous.

On speed trials, I got my top speed up from 2.3 mph to 2.6 or more. More important, the cruising speed is raised from 1.5 to 1.9.

All this is fine in calm water with light breezes. But it quickly becomes hard or impossible to overcome a brisk head wind or a strong tidal current with oar power alone. This is when I move to row-sailing. The idea is to have enough sail up to tack out against the wind or current, but not go too fast to row. I use a little mainsail, much smaller than the one intended for the boat, and, at times, a second- hand jib which went with a much smaller boat. Instead of struggling against a mechanical disadvantage, good for the ego but injury producing, it's fun to add visibly to the speed of the boat. People may wonder why I don't put up more sail and knock off the rowing, but they don't understand.

In the ocean with the sloop heeling over, it's hard and unproductive to row with the leeward oar. So I put both hands on the windward oar and row with that alone. I ordinarily steer with the tiller between my knees, but, using adjustable straps, it's not hard to set the helm so as to counteract the force of the windward oar.

There are a couple of other things which enhance an offshore row-sailing experience. It's good to run the oar out farther to windward, which amounts to shifting to a higher gear to increase speed. I therefore have a second oarlock on each oar which is inside the regular one, and which sticks up. To shift, I pry the oarlock out of the holder, twist the oar, run it out, and stick the inner oarlock into the holder. The only trouble now is that the inner extension of the oar into the cockpit is reduced. That reduces leverage, and there is also no very good place for the second hand on the oar handle.

The solution here is an extension of the oar with a 3/4 inch dowel. I take a five or six inch 5/16 inch stainless steel bolt, bore a 9/32 inch hole into the end of the dowel, and screw the bolt half way into it. I cut the head off the bolt with a hacksaw, and then bore a 5/16 inch hole into the head of the oar handle. The upshot is an oar extension which slides into the oar when required.

Now for the most embarrassing part, a motor. Not a gasoline motor, of course, but an electric trolling motor. When there are goodish seas coming up a narrow channel between jetties, as in so many approaches to the ocean, and there is a head wind, it may be impossible to row and tack one's way out. Particularly if the tide is also coming in. My sloop happens to have an internal well for an outboard motor and a Minnkota 52 lb thrust trolling motor fits down through it. The motor makes the difference, and, even though this is the only time that I ordinarily use it, one does have to get out to sea. The battery that runs the motor is charged with solar panels.

An extension of this idea leads to the concept of the continuously cruising solar rowing sloop. One can't row 24 hours a day for many days, and there are often only very light winds at sea. If you have a lot of solar panels and, say, three batteries, you can row for four or five hours, tie down the tiller, and solar slowly along (1.6 mph) while taking a nap. The Flying Dutchman in such a situation could switch the motor between batteries while the others re- charge, and never land

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