I’m still rowing.

Apparently, I’m the only one.

In the vast anchorages of the Caribbean, this is so unusual as to be considered truly eccentric.

Currently, I am in Le Marin in Martinique. I pulled in here on the way to Antigua because the Starlink only connects one time in five and if it’s the inverter that’s the trouble, I’ll have to take it back to Trinidad. Also, I’ve been trying everywhere to get an 8mm gipsy for the anchor windless. Sometimes I think cruising is nothing more than an exotic shopping expedition.

But it meant that yesterday, I made four trips between the anchorage and the dinghy dock – a total, according to my track on Navionics of more than three miles.

On my second trip – with only 50 yards to go, someone in a RIB with 15 horsepower on the back offered me a tow. I really must check my schoolboy French for: “It’s all right. If I don’t do this, I have to go to the gym.”

And it’s true. My son the doctor informs me that over the age of 60, you don’t make any more muscle – so, at 75, it’s really important to hang onto what you’ve got left.

Which, as I say, is why I am not buying an outboard after all.

I came very close to it.

Here was my problem: When I found Samsara seven years ago, it was as if the clock had spun backwards. I owned a Rival 32 in the 1980s – that was Largo. Suddenly, I could go back to the way things were. I could be 35 again!

Nobody had RIBS and davits in the 80s, so I looked up the smallest, lightest two-man dinghy – and came up with the 3D Twin-Air at just 2.3m and 13.8kg.

I knew which outboard I would put on it: The Suzuki 2hp. I could pick that up in one hand and swing myself over the guardrails and into the dinghy.

Well, that’s what I could do 40 years ago. Strange how the new one had to be laid on the side deck and then sort of shuffled into place. Also, it wasn’t really “new” at all and had acquired many of the cantankerous habits which come to us all in middle age. When it failed to start on the way home for Christmas and had I to wait for the tide the next day, I decided to give myself a present of an electric one.

Just think of it: No carburettor, no choke – no petrol. Not even any maintenance…

The little Haswing Osapian 40 weighed just 7kg (and only cost £150). Admittedly I had to add a 60ah battery which weighed as much as the Suzuki – but at least it was smaller to manhandle.

For a season, I glided silently about the anchorages of the south coast and the Channel Islands and, eventually, The Canaries.

Silently and slowly. If I wanted the battery to last any time at all, I had to limit myself to 2kts.

Well, I can row at 2kts.

Moreover, if I was rowing, I was getting some exercise. Also, I didn’t have to faff about putting it all in the dinghy and taking it all out again.

And here’s another thing: Nobody’s going to steal a dinghy without an outboard: The dinghy thieves of the Caribbean regularly abandon their purloined RIBs on the beach. The outboards, however, are never seen again.

So, I put the electric outboard on eBay and took to rowing. I might take longer to get where I’m going, but I have all the time in the world – and while I may get a bit wet going to windward in a blow, I have never yet failed to arrive.

And this was all fine and dandy – until one of the rowlocks broke.

These, I discovered, were made of plastic in moulded rubber housings glued to the tubes. Never mind, Sunny of Sunny Yacht Services in Gran Canaria made me stainless steel copies.

And all was good for another year – until, one evening in Falmouth, the moulded rubber split.

There was no fixing this – but on the other hand, the dinghy was five years old. Also, I had the wrong oars: I had lost one in Alderney and bought a new pair in Weymouth – longer and with curved blades just like the Oxford and Cambridge boats. It turned out the rowlocks weren’t designed for that kind of power.

In the end, I gave it away to someone who had an outboard and ordered a new one (promising myself that I would use only the oars which came with it.)

And everything was fine for another year – until, last week, the moulded rubber split in exactly the same place.

Was I going to buy a third new dinghy? I had written to the makers and pointed out their design flaw, but it seemed they didn’t understand the concept of rowing. Anyway, they never wrote back.

The solution was to buy yet another (and this time, heavier) dinghy. I could haul it aboard with the staysail halyard.

Or maybe I could repair the old one well enough for emergencies and get a really reliable outboard. Four-strokes are reliable – and the lightest is the Honda 2.3. But that still weighs 13kg – and that’s without the fuel and oil. Also, you mustn’t turn a 4-stroke upside down (which can happen if it weighs 13kg and there’s any chop in the harbour…)

Alternatively, there is the ePropulsion electric outboard which comes in two parts – neither of them weighing more than 11kg.

As if to compensate for this, it costs twice as much as a petrol one. Also, it has to be fed with electricity – a commodity not always available aboard Samsara.

But first, I had to manage a repair of the rowlock.

There wasn’t room to get a bolt through it. But I do have a 1½mm drill bit – and any amount of sailmaker’s thread.

Invisible mending

…and preventative measures on the other side.

I’ve tested it – all that rowing yesterday. There is no sign of the thread pulling through the rubber. In fact, I have a reel of black thread for some reason, so you wouldn’t know it’s been repaired at all. On the first trip to the dinghy dock (when I didn’t know where it was and ended up rowing 0.8 miles) it took me just 25 minutes – that’s 3kts.

And when I found the dinghy dock jam-packed with RIBs, I just pulled mine over the top of them all, upended it onto my head and went and tied it to a tree.

10 Responses to Rowing

  • I’d love to have one of those pram dingys sawn in two with a little rig to sail in the mooring.

  • Having some physical strength is so important. I read so many articles about pulling your self back on board if you fall over the guard rail (with lifeline) No one seems to mention being strong and exercising. I’m 60 and 5′ 10″ 97kg and I can still do a couple of chin-ups. Of course it takes some effort, a bit like rowing does.

  • I bought a little Chinese 2 stroke outboard. It makes an utter din going just over rowing speed. Can’t wait to ditch it!

  • Another great post John. I’m 64 now, and I was wondering why I couldn’t add more muscle ! And there was me thinking it was because I don’t train . Stick with the oars. Fair winds to you.

  • Great! I also row, and love removing complexity.

  • Hi John,
    Glad to see you’re still getting about…yes, exercise + rowing = totally alien concepts to many. However, I’m from teenager of the sixties when outboards were similarly considered.
    It’s great exercise…why else would people buy rowing machines? You’ve got the real thing…bravo…p.s. I don’t think Arnie’s much worried!!

  • Tobago to Martinique… Is this the start of The Voyage II? Fair winds to you!

  • Love reading your posts. Hope you are keeping well
    Keep going sir

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