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Thread: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2017
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    Default Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Hi everyone. This is my first post here, though I've lurked around off and on for the last 10 years or so as I've dreamed of building a boat of some sort. I'm looking for some thoughts on a boat(s) for my particular situation. Apologies in advance for the rambling post, but I figure more information is better than too little.

    The short version is this: can Dave Gentry's Chuckanut 15 be built successfully as a fixed-seat rowing boat that can carry one small passenger in addition to the rower, and is there a better alternative design of similar size, good for a big lake, that is reasonably easy to build?

    I live in Madison, Wisconsin, a couple blocks away from a large lake (Lake Mendota) that is popular for sailing. We (me, wife, two young kids) occasionally canoe in this lake in a neighbor's 17' Grumman. The water is sometimes rough (due to wind or wake). There are also several areas of flat water nearby (many are part of the Yahara River) that we sometimes explore. My wife likes boating, but hates single-bladed paddling and being perched up on a high canoe seat (yes, I know, she should try kneeling).



    I built a drop-in rowing rig for the Grumman canoe (you can barely make it out in the image above) and it makes things much more comfortable. The canoe is better balanced and the center of gravity is lower since I (215 lbs) am sitting only 6" off the floor, so only a few inches above the waterline. Plus we can go farther with less effort. My wife definitely prefers rowing over paddling (as do I). She rowed competitively in college. The rowing canoe setup works pretty well but it isn't our boat. We can continue to use it whenever we want, but probably can't make any modifications to it (such as adding/lowering seats). Plus it's aluminum. And adding a second rowing station (plus having seating for the kids) would be a trick.

    Our ideal boat(s) would be something that all four of us could fit in OR it would be two boats that could each be used tandem or solo. I'm 6'4" and about 215 lbs, Wife is 5'10" and about 130 lbs, two kids (6 and 4 years old) total about 80 lbs right now (that's 425 lbs total). Ideally if it's a single boat it would allow the occasional use of two rowing stations, even if it required one of us to straddle the other. It would be great if the boat(s) could be used as the kids get bigger AND be used once the kids are gone. But I know it's typically recommended to build a boat for now and another boat later on as needs change. The ideal boat(s) would also be easy to carry/roll down the street to the lake (a half mile walk) and light enough that I could cartop it/them.

    HOWEVER! We live on a tiny lot with a tiny garage and minimal storage space. Storing a 17' canoe is a challenge as our garage is only about 9 feet wide by 17 feet long (and crammed full of bikes and stuff). Even though we could get a big beamy 17' boat in the garage, we don't want something that will take up that much space. This obviously is also a limitation for building. Ideally I would build and winter the boat(s) in my basement (there's a door with a tight stairway through which a take-apart would probably fit and a window that is 19" by 32"). So I'm looking at a boat or a pair of boats long and narrow (up to 17' but 15' would make my life much easier), or a take-apart boat with a wider beam (no section being longer than 8' and a mild sheer line)

    Over the weekend CLC was in town doing a demo day. We tried out a few kayaks and row boats. We weren't big fans of the kayaks they brought (I wish they'd brought the Mill Creek 16.5). But we all loved the Skerry. However, it is too big to conveniently store (unless I made it a take-apart), a bit expensive, and my family is already at its weight limit. Plus the build time is a bit longer than I want. They didn't bring the Passagemaker, which is designed as a take-apart. But looking at it online, it doesn't make me excited (plus the cost).

    I've never built a boat and I consider myself a beginner to intermediate woodworker (I've built a few pieces of furniture that turned out well). I'm pretty interested in skin-on-frame due to affordability, ease of construction, and especially light weight. Especially since it seems materials for a SOF can be had for about the cost of just the epoxy for a stitch and glue boat of similar size. I've also looked at Storer's minimalist plywood designs and have an Oz Goose on my radar as a future sailing build. I live near a lumberyard that stocks BS1088 ply, Sitka Spruce, and probably WRC. Cypress is also readily available in the area.

    So all that said...a pair of Dave Gentry's Chuckanut 15 is at the top of my list. I could build both (one at a time) and store both in the basement, as well as hanging in the garage. It would be easier, compared to a bigger boat, to take out solo and/or with one kid passenger if the other half of the family wants to stay home. The question is would the Chuckanut be decent for rowing with a small passenger? Could/should I broaden the fore shape of the cockpit for a big more elbow room when rowing? How would I add oarlocks for fixed rowing (I think I saw somewhere where someone put a sliding seat in a Chuckanut)? I like the Chuckanut over Gentry's Ruth because of its decks and apparent greater stability and 18' is a lot to store. But I suppose I could shorten Ruth and partially deck her?

    I could obviously build (or just buy and modify) a canoe geared more toward rowing with lower seats and oarlock outriggers, which would also allow rowing and paddling. But it would need to be pretty long for all four of us to fit with two rowing. A SOF Rushton design of some sort? Sort of a skinny Adirondack Guide Boat? And I love the idea of a real pulling boat (specifically the Shenandoah Whitehall) but storage would be a challenge due to the beam. I've also looked at lots of other designs that are very appealing (Adirondack Guide Boat, a skin on frame LFH17, St Lawrence River Skiff, and several other small boats in Gardner's books) but they all fell off the list due to size, complexity, or lack of detailed plans.

    So if you're still reading this, don't you have anything better to do? And what do you think of my thought process and boat options? Anything I'm not considering?

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Ask Dave.
    There is no rational, logical, or physical description of how free will could exist. It therefore makes no sense to praise or condemn anyone on the grounds they are a free willed self that made one choice but could have chosen something else. There is no evidence that such a situation is possible in our Universe. Demonstrate otherwise and I will be thrilled.

  3. #3
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    Aug 2017
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Oh yeah. Something I left out of my (absurdly long) original post was that I planned on just asking Dave these questions directly, but decided to post here because he seems to frequently reply to threads here and I've read Dave's responses to other people's questions and it's been very helpful (so maybe if he responds here it will help someone else Googling in a few years). I also wanted to see if people had other ideas for boats for my purpose.

  4. #4
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Your family size and lack of space pose some serious constraints, meaning the perfect boat(s) might not be out there and you have to make some tough choices.

    I currently have a 14' narrow boat that I row with a fixed seat and outriggers. I find I don't use it very often because attaching and detaching the outrigger with bolts every time is a pain and the boat is a bit on the narrow side (3' wide) for me to feel very safe in it on the ocean. Also I don't have a cart yet and with all the foam and large water containers I own stuffed inside as flotation it is pretty heavy to drag around and wrestle on the car roof. I wouldn't even dream carrying a kid in it.

    I built a skin on frame kayak once and the skin was ballistic nylon with a hypalon paint; it was seriously tough. I took a class and it took me a long time to build; I thought plywood could be easier and faster, but now 20 years later that I'm actually building stitch and glue plywood boats I'm not sure anymore.

    For young kids that won't sit completely still you'd want a boat with some decent intitial stabilitiy, probably about 3' beam on the waterline, which generally translates to about 4' beam overall in a rowing boat made to row without outriggers. The Grumman canoe has that because its bottom is essentially flat and most canoes are about 3' wide overall. The vertical sides make paddling easier and rowing harder. The rowboats out there with a 3' beam overall (like the Ruth) probably have a waterline beam of about 2', which you might find pretty tippy, especially with kids. Watch videos of narrow boats on U-tube, especially the part about getting in, which can be tricky unless the water is very calm.

    So, unless you go with a wide-bottomed canoe shape and live with the rowing outriggers, you'll end up with one 17' boat with 4' beam or 2 boats 12 to 15' in length and 4' beam to accommodate everybody. Even the skerry would get crowded pretty quickly as the kids grow.

    Can a small lean-to be built onto the edge of the garage to store the boat? Is your garage tall enough that a hoist system on the ceiling could solve your storage woes? Light boats, including skin and frame, have to be carefully supported in storage so that they don't deform over time, like hogging in the middle. I wouldn't recommend even thinking about storing one on its side.

    Just saw a thread today mentioning a folding boat, the fliptail dinghy from Wooden Widget http://forum.woodenboat.com/showthre...vas-boat-plans . However even the 9' version won't accommodate an adult and child in great comfort and eventually you would need four of them. It's main selling points would be the quick assembly and minimal room it takes up in storage but due to the short waterline length it probably won't row as nicely as the Grumman canoe.

    Is there a place to rent rowboats or a messabout/get-together of a wooden boat club anywhere within a few hours drive? If so, make it a weekend outing and try all the different models you can get your hands on; you'll get a better sense of what's out there other than CLC.

  5. #5
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Gentry's Whitehall? Hang it from the garage ceiling when not in use.

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Quote Originally Posted by Yahara View Post
    The short version is this: can Dave Gentry's Chuckanut 15 be built successfully as a fixed-seat rowing boat that can carry one small passenger in addition to the rower, and is there a better alternative design of similar size, good for a big lake, that is reasonably easy to build?
    Sorry about the slow reply - I do lurk here, but not all the time.

    As above, I would recommend my Shenandoah Whitehall - she will easily take the whole family, and she's already a rowboat - a very good one, too, if I do say so myself. One person can very easily roll her in a dolly, or cartop her and carry her to the water, so you can use her solo any time.
    Making her a two-section boat wouldn't present much of a problem - just extra build time, expense and weight.
    Hanging from the ceiling, or along an outside wall under the eaves, is an option for most all of my boats.

    In any case, yes, one could adapt the Chuckanut 15 for rowing, and she does have higher freeboard than Ruth, along with the decks. I'd put the passenger aft, modify the coaming for more room up front, and sit on a little box or stool. It would likely be crowded unless your passenger was one of the kids.

    Ruth, however, is fine with a passenger and (somewhat) choppy water. And, yes, one could easily add fabric decks - but I've never once taken water over the side of mine, even with a frisky 45lb dog aboard.


    All these boats can be built in a couple of weeks or thereabouts, even by a novice.* If you didn't want to build in the basement, one could easily get everything ready and then assemble the frame in the garage over a weekend.

    Hope this helps a bit -
    Dave

    BTW, here's a pic of a just completed Chuckanut 17, up in Alaska, that was modified for rowing - he is using a sliding seat, and is very happy with her.


    * "Can" is the operative word here. Some people take months or years - life happens.

  7. #7
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Quote Originally Posted by BOI View Post
    So, unless you go with a wide-bottomed canoe shape and live with the rowing outriggers, you'll end up with one 17' boat with 4' beam or 2 boats 12 to 15' in length and 4' beam to accommodate everybody. Even the skerry would get crowded pretty quickly as the kids grow.

    Can a small lean-to be built onto the edge of the garage to store the boat? Is your garage tall enough that a hoist system on the ceiling could solve your storage woes? Light boats, including skin and frame, have to be carefully supported in storage so that they don't deform over time, like hogging in the middle. I wouldn't recommend even thinking about storing one on its side.

    ...

    Is there a place to rent rowboats or a messabout/get-together of a wooden boat club anywhere within a few hours drive? If so, make it a weekend outing and try all the different models you can get your hands on; you'll get a better sense of what's out there other than CLC.
    I'm not opposed to a canoe shape with outriggers, but once the beam gets above 33" (my window size) it might as well be 48" really, as far as storage goes.

    I can't build a lean-to on our garage for various reasons....however, you asking that made be think a little harder and I realized that I can perform a little minor surgery on the side of our closed-in porch to remove some siding and enlarge the opening to the crawl space. The new opening could be somewhere around 60-70" wide by 30" high. The full-height depth is about 12', at which point there's an HVAC duct. The clearance under the duct is about 2 feet and then there's another 15-plus feet of depth beyond that. In other words, I could fit a pretty wide array of row boat designs up to 12', and some boats 15-17 feet if the sheer height at the transom is low enough.

    Quote Originally Posted by DGentry View Post
    Sorry about the slow reply - I do lurk here, but not all the time.

    As above, I would recommend my Shenandoah Whitehall - she will easily take the whole family, and she's already a rowboat - a very good one, too, if I do say so myself. One person can very easily roll her in a dolly, or cartop her and carry her to the water, so you can use her solo any time.
    Making her a two-section boat wouldn't present much of a problem - just extra build time, expense and weight.
    Hanging from the ceiling, or along an outside wall under the eaves, is an option for most all of my boats.
    Thanks for the reply, Dave! With my new-found crawlspace storage area, your Whitehall is looking more and more appealing. I'm working my way through Gardner's Building Classic Small Craft but will go ahead and skip to the Whitehall sections and learn a bit more about the general design. Any concerns about a SOF boat being thrown into a crawlspace and exposed to sub-zero temperatures? Does the boat need to be fully cradled in storage or just propped up level? I could possibly get the boat through our living room window and hang it from the ceiling in the living room during the winter...but I'm not sure my wife would go for that.

    And thanks for the info on Ruth and the rowing Chuckanut. Looks like I've got choices.

  8. #8
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Quote Originally Posted by Yahara View Post
    Any concerns about a SOF boat being thrown into a crawlspace and exposed to sub-zero temperatures? Does the boat need to be fully cradled in storage or just propped up level? I could possibly get the boat through our living room window and hang it from the ceiling in the living room during the winter...but I'm not sure my wife would go for that.
    No problems with sub zero temps. She's under cover now, but for about 3 years I stored the original Ruth on a rack outside (upside down), completely open to the sun, snow, rain and the occasional bird nest. A couple of saw horses is all it takes, no cradles necessary.

    Hope this helps!
    Dave

    BTW, it's almost always faster to get an answer from me via email: GentryCustomBoats@yahoo.com

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    How old are the kids? We have two sons, and at one point in their development the wife and I and the youngest would be in one boat, and the older boy would paddle his own kid-sized kayak. That worked well for a couple of years, anyway. Maybe start with the Shenandoah, and add a kidyak when the older child is ready to paddle on his or her own.
    -Dave

  10. #10
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    Default Re: Compact family rowing vessel (or pair thereof)

    Thanks Dave and Dave!

    Good idea about adding a kidyak (or two) later on. Our oldest (6 and a half) saw CLC's Duckling at the demo day and begged to take it out. He'll probably be ready to be in his own boat in a a year or two when he's a stronger swimmer.

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