So far we are very pleased with the performance of our boats. We became interested in rowing instead of paddling because of the use of our legs, which for this particular trip, keeping our lower half fit will be necessary on later legs. After learning that expedition-style rowboats are not currently being made and Jill Fredston suggesting that we might be able to alter double kayaks (which sounded expensive and potentially tricky), we came across plans for Angus Rowboats. After a couple of months work (mostly nights & weekends) and with a lot of help from my friends Erik LeRoy and Zach Shlosar we had the boats finished. I must confess that until we set the boats in Bellingham Bay, the extent of our rowing experience was in a beat-up 8' aluminum skiff at Bonnie & Seth's cabin. But despite our lack of practice, the motion is really quite fluid and truly works the entire body. Rowing with a sliding seat allows the legs to push and greatly increase the range of motion of the oars. They say that first it's legs, then back, then arms, both in terms of the order of the stroke and the amount of force applied. I feel that the legs are doing all of the work, however, the force of the legs needs to be transferred through to the back, which ends up being the most fatigued muscle group. Caroline might argue it's the hands--she has developed blisters on top of blisters, now turning to calluses. My greatest complaint is my tailbone. I cut 16" off my sleeping pad and taped it doubled-up to my already-padded seat, but no matter what you do it's a lot of time sitting on a small seat. The new boats seem to perform very well in a range of conditions. So far on this trip we've been in bigger water than ever with our kayaks and fared well. This is partially due to having oars that can brace well, but more to the size and beam of the boat. They are tanks--18' x 3'. It feels more like being in a canoe than in a kayak. This is great for breaks and pee-stops on the water.
It is hard to say how much faster than kayaks the rowboats are, but I might guess 1/3 faster. We tend to average 3+ miles/hr, but this can be as low as 2 in rough water or with headwinds, and as much as 4-5 with favorable winds. In a 10 hour day on the water without adverse conditions, we can cover 30 miles including short breaks in the boats.
Some may wonder how Caroline's & my speeds compare given our size and strength differences. I would say there is very little difference, probably due in part to the hull speed of the boats and largely to Caroline's endurance. I feel I am working plenty hard and am beat by the end of the day and realize she has to be working harder.
The biggest drawback to the boats is that they are heavy. I don't know the total weight with all the components, but I would guess around 80-100 lbs. This is a lot boat to haul up slimy rocks and over logs twice a day, especially in contrast to our Dyson baidarkas, which are easily carried by one person. I made a sling of webbing that Caroline can throw over a shoulder and clip to the handle to help hold the boat off the ground. Having oars and a rigger also makes it difficult to pull the boats up to a dock or to each other, which can be an inconvenience, especially when it's rough. Going backwards is generally not a big issue, though in some conditions, the constant head-turning gets old. To sum it up so far, we are happy with the choice of the rowboats for the first leg of our journey. It is a great feeling to lean back on the oars and watch the shoreline glide by with 3 weeks of provisions on board.