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by Murray Stevens - Saskatoon, Saskatchewan - Canada

Here is the tale of the Oarling and learning how to row with a sliding seat.

This tale started in 2009. We purchased a lakefront cabin in 2009 at a nearby lake. I sailed my Michalak Ladybug sailboat as much as possible, preferring to sail when the boat traffic was low, ideally in the early morning when there would be just a few fishermen out on the water. Often I couldn't do that because there was no wind. I started wanting a rowboat. I looked at several different designs, planning to build the boat of course. Michalak, Welsford, Lillistone, Devlin, Bolger... There were many to choose from but I kept coming back to the Oarling design by Sam Devlin. At Christmas 2009 Sam had a 2 for 1 plans sale so I picked up the Oarling plans and one other boat that interested me.

Near the end of summer 2010, I was thinking I should start building. I emailed Sam with questions about some mods I had seen other people make to their Oarlings. At the end of the email I asked Sam, "just out of curiousity, how much would you charge to build me one?" I was feeling kind of flush due to some good fortune (since totally reversed) in the stock market, I felt that the price was worth it to avoid having to listen to my wife complain about not being able to park in the garage, the dust, the noise, etc. and agreed to have Sam build me a boat.

On the trailer at the ramp

Skip forward to April, 2011. My older son had volunteered to come with me to help with the drive when I went to pick up the boat from Sam in Olympia, WA. (I live in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada and my son lives in Edmonton Alberta, Canada. The night before I left, I told Patty I had bought a boat and was leaving the next day to pick it up. She was greatly impressed!

Ready to go

Chris and I had a great trip out to Olympia and back. I really enjoyed meeting Sam. We were on a tight schedule because of my son's work schedule so couldn't visit Sam's new shop but it was a pleasure spending a couple of hours loading the boat at Sam's home shop where he had built it and looking around his beautiful property. Sam really loves building boats, you can just tell that from talking to him. I think he was as thrilled delivering my 17 foot dory as he would be with a 35' cruising boat. Class guy and I'd do business with him again in a heartbeat.

Getting turned around

When I got the boat home there was still ice on our lake. Sam had convinced me that adding a sliding seat was the way to go so I enrolled in beginner rowing lessons with the Saskatoon Rowing Club. This was time and money well spent. For something that looks pretty straightforward, there are a lot of little things in the technique that make a big difference in rowing efficiently and with lower risk of strain and injury. The rowing lessons were pretty scary to start as the rowing club uses the South Saskatchewan River for most of its activities and the river was running real fast and extremely cold when we started in early May. After two lessons on the river all boating activities were prohibited by the city so we had to move to a reservoir that was much less nerve-wracking.

Left hand over right

Sliding seat technique things I learned from rowing class:

1 - Thumbs on the end of the oars to keep them against the oarlocks,
2 - Left hand on top of the right hand,
3 - Slide your butt forward, don't bend your back when moving forward,
4 - You want your shins to be vertical before you start your stroke,
5 - Back straight, bend forward and then lift your hands to bury the oars
(the catch) - not too deep though as burying them too deep results in shovelling upwards at the end of the stroke and that is inefficient,
6 - Push back with your legs, keep your hands about mid-chest level and hang off your arms while your legs are providing the power. Just hang off them like you are hanging from a bar,
7 - Just before your legs reach full extension, start pulling back with your arms, lean back, pull your hands to your chest and lift the blades cleanly out of the water,
8 - Feather the blades by twisting 90 degrees (knuckles go up), move your hands ahead of your knees, and then start sliding forward. It is important to get you hands out in front to avoid "catching a crab" and putting your blades into the water on the return.
9 - Just as you hands pass your feet, square the blades up again and slide forward to your starting position again.

Stopping for a photo

At first, I could do about 5 strokes before I would mess up in some part of it - usually catching a crab on the return or failing to square up the blades properly before the catch. I can now row for quite some distance at a steady pace and only occasionally blow a stroke. The sliding seat really gives you a good whole body workout. I may row about 3 miles around our little lake at a fairly good pace but not be breathing hard, sweating up a storm or unable to carry on a conversation with someone. For someone pushing 60 years old, I think it is a great low-impact activity that is easy on the joints, ligaments and tendons. The only issue I have had is sore hands, particularly my middle fingers. I think they carry most of the load during the stroke and this has resulted in a fair bit of soreness. I discovered just recently that part of the problem was using my fingers to feather the blades. The last time I was out I concentrated on keeping a firm grip on the oars and using wrist action only to feather the blades. This also resulted in more consistent alignment of the blades for the catch.

Turning again

I hope to contact my instructor from the rowing club before the fall is out to have him check out how I am doing things and help refine my technique. For anybody looking to buy or install a sliding seat I think that getting instruction is well worth the time and expense.

Going along just fine

Everybody in the family has tried the boat out and likes it. Hunter, our 14 year old son, particularly likes rowing it around the lake. He and I had a great little adventure by rowing to the far side of the lake and then dragging the Oarling and the kayak I was in over a small beaver dam into another small lake that is completely undeveloped. We rowed and paddled around this little lake feeling like we had discovered a new world. I am pretty sure that it was the first time a sliding seat rowboat had been on that lake. I think Chuck once told me he found kids liked rowing or paddling a lot more than sailing... it is sure true in my family!

Waiting on the boat lift on a foggy morning in September

During the summer I was very lucky not to have the boat destroyed in a storm. I had been storing it between a couple of trees at the edge of the lake. These trees were blown over in a big storm and the boat luckily escaped with no damage. Since then I have had to store the boat on the trailer and it results in me not rowing as much due to the hassle involved in launching and retrieving at the boat launch. Hopefully by next summer I will have cleaned up the mess of trees and have another boat lift for the Oarling. Then I should be able to get it on the water whenever I want.... which is often.