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Musings and historical perspectives on paddling vs rowing?

Discussion in 'Open Forum' started by Tsuga88, Nov 4, 2021.

  1. Tsuga88

    Tsuga88 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Any thoughts on the popularity of rowing (both canoes and other craft) through time?

    I'm used to thinking of canoes being paddled. If you wanted to row, you'd get a rowboat or scull. (Paddles are for canoes, oars are for rowboats, duh!) Recently however I read a review of a canoe rigged for rowing, and the reviewer claimed they could make it twice as far in half the time rowing vs paddling even with a double-blade. A bit more digging revealed similar sentiments. So why don't more people row canoes? I gather rowing in general used to be more popular - where there used to be rowboat rentals at the park, now there are kayak and stand-up paddle board rentals.

    I'm thinking mostly of the last couple hundred years or so and mostly of pleasure boating, but recognizing that many of our boating customs and traditions originate in the working history of each boat, regardless of where it originated, wider musings are welcome. And, how does the above relate to selection of canoes vs Adirondack guide boats through history?
     
  2. Michael Grace

    Michael Grace Lifetime Member

    I wonder if a big part of the choice isn't a preference for traveling backward vs. forward (in which you can see where you're going). Traditional rowboats including Adirondack guideboats and various skiffs are often so wide that a paddle (single or double) becomes cumbersome. A canoe, on the other hand, is usually narrow enough for a paddle and has good responsivity with a paddle. So what about rowing a canoe? It has been done for a very long time. Manufacturers often built canoes capable of being rowed by attaching oarlocks in a variety of manners, and they sometimes sold special rowing seats. Here is one of many examples of rowing canoes, an early-1900s Morris:

    https://forums.wcha.org/index.php?threads/unusual-morris.17381/
     
    Tsuga88 likes this.
  3. OP
    OP
    Tsuga88

    Tsuga88 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Rowing kits are still being manufactured today - the review I mentioned was in reference to an Old Town Osprey, and Old Town sells (or sold recently) add-on oarlocks; Slipstream Watercraft apparently also offers a rowing rig adaptable to any canoe. Seeing where you're going does seem like a big advantage to me - the few times I tried rowing (in a scull) I found looking over my shoulder to steer one of the toughest things to adapt to. I guess rowing is more biomechanically efficient but the whole looking backwards thing turns some folks off.

    Great point about boat width, hadn't thought of that aspect but it makes a lot of sense. At a certain point your paddle/oar needs to be so long that you'd need an oarlock to support the weight, as well as the leverage gained in propulsion.
     
  4. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Many recreational rowers will commonly add mirrors to help reduce the number of times that they need to turn around. See https://www.adirondackrowing.com/rowing-mirror/ and https://www.ghboats.com/options/accessories/rowing-mirror/ for some examples. Double paddles can be heavy and tend to drip in your lap (even with drip rings). Single paddles require less efficient corrective strokes to go straight. There are advantages and disadvantages with everything as you probably know.

    The "selection of canoes vs Adirondack guide boats through history" usually reflected the problem to be solved. Travel on big open lakes tended to favor boats and rowing. Travel on narrow twisting streams often favored canoes and paddling (or poling). Kayaks, paddle boards, and other small craft each have their own collections of strengths and weaknesses. All of them can be fun, depending on what you want to do with them.

    Benson
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2021
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  5. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Think of a guide boat as an Adirondack truck. The wide hull and deep sides made them super stable when carrying large loads. They very good in big water. Even though you are rowing with your back to the direction you are going, the boat is forgiving enough that you can aim it where you want to go even in big waves and wind. The very long oars provide great leverage so even when it is heavily loaded you can make good progress. A nice feature of the guide boat is that the passenger is facing towards the person rowing. A guide could keep his eye on his sport. The sport can see where the boat is going. You won't be spending the day talking to the back of someone's head. The single disadvantage I have found rowing a guide boat is that the length of the oars makes traveling in tight places a real challenge.
    A rowed canoe is fast but in comparison, somewhat unstable. It's been my experience that getting in and out of a canoe that is being rowed is a bit more of a challenge than doing the same thing with a guide boat. Unless you are docking, getting into and out of the middle of a canoe by yourself is a bit tricky.
    Having said that, once you are on board, they can go like stink.
     
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  6. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    I'm still stuck on rowing through time...

    And then there's Row v. Wade, which i think had something to do with fishing.
     
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  7. Dan Lindberg

    Dan Lindberg Ex Wood Hoarder

    I don't understand this? "Wanted" to row?


     
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  8. OP
    OP
    Tsuga88

    Tsuga88 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    All good stuff here.

    Part of what's interesting to me about this is what's gone in and out of style through time. Are people more interested these days in the scenery (paddling, one person facing another's back but both looking forward in a canoe) than they are in facing each other and talking to their companions? I think the trend towards solo water craft recently (solo canoes, kayaks, SUP) might echo this sentiment. Seems like the days of rowboat picnics with your sweetie are a thing of the past. Likewise a guide facing their 'sport'? Is it our social norms or the advent of the motor that made rowing less prevalent? Or is it still very setting/situation specific? How vibrant is the guide boat community these days, compared to say recreational (plastic bathtub) kayaking?
     
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  9. Benson Gray

    Benson Gray Canoe History Enthusiast Staff Member

    Style has clearly had an role but the "setting/situation specific" function has probably had a bigger influence in most boating decisions. The impact of small gas powered motors has been huge. Fisherman have always wanted to get to the best and most remote fishing locations as quickly as possible. Rowing a double ended boat was once the usual solution but the arrival of the outboard motor quickly made boats with transoms much more desirable. A modern bass boat is the logical extension of that.

    There was a time in the late 1800s and early 1900s when small watercraft were one of the few socially acceptable ways for a courting couple to get some private time. A canoe usually put them in closer proximity than a boat so canoes became very popular. The arrival of inexpensive automobiles with comfortable back seats quickly displaced canoes as the courting vehicle of choice.

    The current trend does seem to be toward solo watercraft but the concept of "Paddle your own canoe" has been around for a long time. Good statistics about small boats today are difficult to locate but I would guess that guide boats and other rowboats are much less common than canoes which are in turn significantly less common than kayaks. All human powered watercraft combined are a small fraction of the total number of motor boats.

    Benson
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2021
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  10. Craig Johnson

    Craig Johnson Lifetime member

    So you can go faster rowing then you can paddling. Is the goal of being on the water to go as fast as possible? Not for me, I’d rather noodle along the shore and enjoy myself.
     
  11. OP
    OP
    Tsuga88

    Tsuga88 Curious about Wooden Canoes

    Great analogy for someone who's only passingly familiar with guide boats. Interesting about getting in and out of the middle of a canoe, though surely it depends on many factors - I think of solo canoes (paddle and pole) who are clearly comfortable getting into the middle of a canoe, but then poling canoes at least tend to be much more stable. And of course a rowing rig would complicate things....

    @Benson Gray Thanks for the historical context. I figured folks on this forum (and you in particular) might have this type of historical insight.


    Likewise I'm usually in a paddlecraft to noodle. But once in a while the put-in is at one end of the lake, and the bog with cool plants and abundant wildlife is at the other end. Or, sometimes that head-wind kicks up at the end of a long day when you're far downwind of the put-in or your campsite....
     

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