Know-how – August 2006

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12 tips for rowing A dinghy

12 tips for rowing A dinghy

Getting from an anchored or moored boat to shore is a problem that, like the tools for chart-plotting, has never had a perfect solution. Most boaters carry or tow an inflatable dinghy — I call them “bubble” boats — equipped with an outboard. Some traditionalists, like me, still carry or tow hard dinghies, which we row.

I must admit I’m not a big fan of inflatables, likely because 2-stroke engines and I don’t get along. I can never start 2-strokes, be it an outboard, lawn mower, snow blower or chain saw. (A new 4-stroke outboard with electric start in time might change my attitude.) And bubble boats don’t row worth a darn, so aside from them being dive boats, I have no use for them.

Rowing is a reliable, quiet, civilized method of propulsion. And when you row in a new harbor or anchorage, you meet more people and are invited for more drinks. Here’s how it works.

After settling in, I deploy the dinghy and begin rowing around our new surroundings. I’ll stop to look at a boat, and invariably someone pops up and asks if I need help with something. I tell them we just pulled in and noticed their beautiful boat, so I rowed over to take a closer look. I’m usually invited aboard, shown the boat, introduced to the crew, and offered a drink. I invite them to visit us, and move on to the next boat. After a while, I snake-wake my way back to our boat, having met some nice people and made some new friends. Not a bad way to arrive at a new location.

To reap the advantages of rowing a hard dinghy, you’ll need to perfect your technique.

1. Basic rowing is simple. Facing aft with the oars in their oarlocks — I prefer ring oarlocks — lean forward with your arms and back straight and oar blades perpendicular to the water.

2. Brace your feet, dip the oars so the blades are immersed and, keeping your arms and back straight, return to an upright position while driving with your legs.

3. As the boat gathers way and you approach vertical, bring your arms in, keeping your back erect.

4. Lift the oars enough to clear the water and cock your wrists so the blades are parallel to the water. You’re ready for the next stroke. If you’ve done it right and are in a decently designed boat, that stroke you just completed should propel the boat about 1-1/2 boat lengths.

5. Judge the effect of wind and current on the dinghy as you approach your landing. Try making your approach upwind or upcurrent, and come in at about 45 degrees.

6. One boat length out, pull on your inboard oar to start the boat turning parallel to your landing and let the oar rest on the gunwale. Keep the outboard oar ready to use as a pivot and to increase your control.

7. Back-water with your outboard oar, slow the boat and pivot the stern in toward the landing.

8. Ship your inboard oar by lifting it and the oarlock from the gunwale.

9. Make a gentle touchdown, secure the boat, relax and have a beverage. Any landing you can walk away from, dry, is a good one.

Unfortunately, hard dinghies are less stable than inflatables and don’t have the carrying capacity. However, rowing dinghies provide greater control when trying to beach in moderate to heavy surf. Here’s my technique:

10. Turn the boat so the bow is facing the breaking waves.

11. As the wave comes to the boat, row into it at right angles, cresting the wave and then letting it carry you ashore using the oars to maintain direction.

12. Row backward in the troughs and repeat the procedure as the next crest comes in. I’ve never had a dinghy yaw out of control and broach in surf.